The May 2011 Sunday Business Post Poll May 31, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, or perhaps it’s indicative of a certain weariness with the current political system on my part, but I didn’t find the news that the SBP poll was out anywhere near as interesting as I would have a few months back. It’s not simply that the election has been fought and won [or lost] but more a sense that this level of political activity is not where the focus of leftists will [or perhaps - and I say this hesitantly, because I'm surely not one in a position to be proscriptive - should be].
And yet, that lack of interest is most definitely a mistake on my part, because this poll is very interesting in three key respects.
Before addressing those three points let’s consider the overall results.
Fine Gael is up 2% to 41% – it’s highest level yet in an SBP poll [Check]. Labour is up 1% to 19%. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are unchanged on respectively 16% and 11% while Independents//Green Party and Others have dropped 3% to 13%.
First point? The absolute dominance of Fine Gael and Labour. A few months in and they still command a crushing 60 per cent of the opinion poll numbers. That’s pretty impressive whatever way one cuts it. And yes, they’ve had a number of good months, not least and most recently the visits by the Queen and Obama where the state was able to put its best foot forward. But even so, given the times that are in it that vote hasn’t merely held fast but increased.
Pat Leahy argues that:
…more importantly for the LP leadership it has not seen a fall-off in support for the party since entering coalition (as happened in 1992, when it last entered coalition after an election) despite fierce left-wing criticism, especially from independents in the Dáil. In fact there has been a fall-off in support for independents.
I’ve argued previously that I think Leahy overstates the fall-off in LP support in the 1992 period onwards. And it’s still very very early days yet to make hard and fast prognostications as to the direction of LP support, but he has something of a point nonetheless.
One small caveat, all this is within the margin of error.
Second point? The weakening of the Ind/GP/Other vote. Down 3% from the last poll in April 2011 is within the margin of error, but note that it’s actually down 4% from the 2011 General Election. That would seem to support the idea that this is a trend.
And it’s a troubling one I would imagine for the Ind/GP/Others. It suggests that after the euphoria of the 2011 election in those quarters (bar, obviously the GP) that to know the Independents is not necessarily to love them.
Richard Colwell of RedC in an accompanying article in the SBP argues that:
While it is normal for independents to suffer through lack of media coverage between elections, the scale of this decline so soon after the election suggest that voters may not be impressed by what they have seen so far from the independent candidates they elected.
But Leahy points to another potential reason:
Sinn Féin also maintains its electoral strength, at 11 per cent in today’s poll. A key target for the party is to assume the leadership of the left-wing opposition in the Dáil ahead of Joe Higgins and other Independents – and then to be seen as the effective leaders of the opposition. Given FF’s cautious support for many of the government’s economic policies, that is not an impossible goal.
I’ve been watching debates in the Dáil with some interest and it’s been very noticeable to me, as I’ve mentioned previously that the Independents are somewhat lost due to the diversity of their message. One moment they’re Shane Ross and business realpolitik, the next they’re Finian McGrath and a sort of traditional social democracy [and by the way, some kudos for McGrath who was one of the few non-SF parliamentarians to express any sort of reservations about the visit of the Queen], the next again and they’re Clare Daly and a strongly left wing critique.
I’m not trying to personalise this, but simply point to a dynamic that is extant – Daly, for example, is an effective speaker. But it’s hard to argue that the ULA as an entity has taken on a coherence – the very structures and constraints of the Dáil procedures work against that due to their not having a party status. So the Technical Group is rather like a hydra, multiple heads but working in different directions.
And Leahy’s point can be summed up as follows, that the arrival of SF in significant numbers has changed the situation radically. This is not simply due to their increased numbers, but rather due to the decrease in the numbers of the opposition as a whole. With a subdued – and they are, they really are – Fianna Fáil and an arguably overly variegated Independents/Others SF has had an opportunity to present the most cohesive formation on the opposition benches, an opportunity it has taken. That in contrast to the Technical Group has its own benefits.
All that said, before wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues on the Ind/GP/Other side of the fence, it’s worth noting that in historical terms 13% for them combined isn’t bad at all, at least not in the context of the last five years.
Third point? There’s a little sentence buried away in the SBP analysis by Leahy.
A footnote to today’s poll is the performance of the Green Party, no longer separately depicted in the poll charts, but there in the data all the same. The party’s new leader, Eamon Ryan – whose election was announced last Friday – can take some encouragement from the fact that the party’s standing in Dublin is a relatively healthy 5 per cent. It stands at 3 per cent nationally.
That’s somewhat better than their election result of 1.8%, albeit still within the margin of error and perhaps a bit more dispiritingly not above some of the polls in the run-up to the election including an SBP one from February 2011 . And the Dublin polling data is intriguing although presumably based on limited numbers so open to question. It might suggest that at the local elections the GP will become more competitive, particularly in the wake of the policies the government has signed up to. And if the Ind/Others continue to flag then there’s a possibility that they might pull votes away from them as well.
But that said I’d suspect that memories are too fresh and too raw for that dynamic to become evident too soon. And the next locals remain sufficiently distant and likely strongly competitive with SF and ULA and others keen to maximise upon government woes that they’ll simply be one amongst a number of forces vying. But, that said it’s just possible that some FG and LP voters will detach that way – particularly if the GP argues that they made the ‘right decisions even if they were unpopular’. But then again, on the other hand, what’s in it for such voters?
All this, though, remains in a vacuum. The Summer is approaching fast, there’s a sense that politics is winding down somewhat as the weather sort of improves. There’s also a sense that the big decisions are being long fingered to the Budget. That the government’s rhetoric on the bailouts has hardened to one of pretty much unquestioning support for continuing to implement the decisions made by FF/GP albeit while arguing they were the wrong decisions at the time is a tricky message to convey across time when such decisions translate at the next budget into actual further cuts. Then the nuance, such as it is, encapsulated there may become more difficult to sell.
The most telling indications will come in eight or ten months after the Budget. Then we’ll know how deeply embedded support for FG and the LP is. Pat Leahy notes that:
Recent years have shown just how much the political landscape can move in response to political and economic events, but FG looks set to remain as the largest party for at least the foreseeable future.
That’s crucial. Traditional allegiances have been disconnected, or more accurately shorn away. No party can depend upon the electorate in the way that they did for many many decades. In some respects the very concept of a core vote appears redundant, although we now know more or less where the FF core vote lies.
A small but curious point… Richard Colwell suggests the following:
Sinn Féin also retains the same levels of support as last month, securing 11 per cent of the vote. The figure suggests that the demonstrations against the queen’s visit organised by the party had neither a positive nor negative impact on party support overall.
Surely he’s mistaking the protests during the visit for SF demonstrations – isn’t he?