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Some more thoughts on that Red C Poll… December 4, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bioethics, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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A few days have passed since the SBP Red C poll was released. And that offers time to work through the reasons that it may have seen such significant changes for at least one of the parties. The headline figures were as follows:

Fine Gael 28% (down 6%), Labour 14% (up 1%), Fianna Fail 20% (up 1%), Sinn Fein 17% (NC), Green Party 3% (up 1%), Independents, United Left Alliance and Others 18% (up 3%).

And while all others were broadly within their pre-existing levels of support, it is the FG figure which is most striking. In the space of a month it lost 6 per cent and in doing so dipped below 30 per cent for the first time in a Red C poll. As Pat Leahy put it:

A month ago Fine Gael was untouchable – miles ahead of everyone else on 34 per cent. Not today. Unbelievably, having dropped by six points to 28 per cent, Fine Gael now sees, approaching in the rear view mirror, its old enemy: Fianna Fáil.

That may be overstating it, and yet, and yet, both parties are now 8 per cent apart. That’s the thing with Irish politics, the closeness of FF and FG in terms of what they offer to voters is such that there is some (not a huge amount) interchangeability in that vote. Leahy argues that the death of Savita Halappanavar is a motive force in all this. I think it is to a considerable extent. But it’s very difficult not to believe that a broader dissatisfaction with FG over various issue, plus more immediately the travails of the Minister of Health, have also fed into this and that the abortion issue was in part a means by which this dissatisfaction could be activated.

Leahy makes a further crucial point:

It’s also clear from today’s numbers that the public is a good bit less conservative than Fine Gael on the abortion issue.

It’s arguable that the rather vociferous ‘pro-life’ FG TDs have done their party no good at all and it will be instructive if they moderate their tone in the next while. I put up an interview with Harvey Milk at the weekend where he noted that often a perception of greater strength of right wing attitudes than actually exists can prevent progressives from acting. In the case of abortion that seems to be the case. It is true that the death of Savita Halappanavar brought home the realities facing women in this state for many, but it is also difficult to believe that there had not been a slower shift in public opinion on the matter, and I think purely on an anecdotal level from my own perspective of hearing people on the matter – with all the necessary caveats – I would see that as being probably accurate.

Of course that doesn’t mean there’s a contradiction in all this. It could well be that despite all that FG remains a lot more conservative on the issue, that it is not tagging along after a perceived public opinion, but that its representatives are genuinely attached to much more conservative positions. It’s certainly telling to see names like Brian Hayes placed in the ‘pro-life’ camp.

The irony is that if the FG vote is a form of political collateral damage in respect of abortion legislation then it is truly a case of a party playing it safe and being undercut by changing public opinion – and a further irony, it is not economically linked.

That said on that latter matter Leahy makes a most interesting observation:

Public opinion has also shifted on the budget. Whereas previous surveys tended to show that the public was more in favour of public spending cuts than higher taxes, today’s poll shows that opposition to cuts in welfare payments, especially pensions, is shared by two-thirds of voters. However, a similar proportion (67 per cent) say that tax increases for higher earners – defined as those with over €100,000 household income – should be the first option for the government.
Voters favour further public sector pay cuts, rather than cuts to welfare and pensions, with a fifth of voters (21 per cent) saying it should be the first option, while over half (55 per cent) say it should be an option considered by the government. Just 20 per cent say the option of “higher taxes for all” should be considered, though a similar proportion say it should not be on the agenda at all.

One could dismiss all that as being a case that ‘anyone but us’ should be taxed or should have their wages cut, on the part of voters. But an appetite to increase higher taxes on those better off is at least moving in the right direction.
And he concludes by suggesting:

Overall, this poll shows not just political support but the political landscape moving away from the government parties. It’s not altogether clear what might replace this. But it does remind us of the underlying volatility that the economic crisis has wrought on Irish politics. The crisis has already changed our politics to an historic degree. That change is not necessarily at an end.

That’s the thing. As was put elsewhere, FF is positioning itself to the right of SF and to the left, marginally, of the Government. That may reap dividends, and already it is six points above where it was in similar polling half a year ago. All FF wants is to recover lost ground, as much and as fast as it can. So it will do literally anything to achieve that end. No more the chatter about FF becoming a niche right wing party that we heard in the aftermath of the election. Their ambitions are much much bigger than to be a PD redux. But it could be that their rather minor gain is because others have made the running in this – indeed a not dissimilar dynamic could explain why SF haven’t improved upon their position, given the very public and rather unusual – for them – apostasy from the party line on this particular issue.
Look at the Independents and Others who are up to 18 per cent. What remains striking is how the supposedly impotent and irrelevant Independents and Others continue to command a vast share of the vote. Yet if anything the recent events have shown how even given near non-existent political power they retain an ability to shape the discourse and in ways that are both positive for themselves and immensely damaging to their rivals. Again it seems reasonable to propose that this is a function of the most recent events, and particularly the high profile of Clare Daly, and Joan Collins and Mick Wallace in matters (a lot is made of the fact that those involved mention each others names a lot, but it would seem to be an approach that is not without merit if one wishes to solidify the Independent and Others vote share).
In a way what all this reminds me of is the way that when the opportunity arrived for voters to turn their backs on the Fianna Fáil and the Green Party during the last government they did so and in droves. It’s as if there is a need for ‘permission’ in these matters, and once it is given, or rather taken, then that’s that. It’s not, as Leahy notes, that ‘these positions are set in stone’. FG could recover though I hesitate to use the word ‘easily’. But with so much bad news still in train… it may be that this is a key moment in the electoral cycle.
And a Budget tomorrow!

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1. PaddyM - December 4, 2012

“Fine Gael showed that its absolute priority in this budget is to protect those in the highest-income bracket. According to reports, the pound of flesh that Fine Gael wanted in return for considering even a modest increase in tax on those earning over €100,000 was to cut the basic welfare payments to the most vulnerable people in society.”

Guess which leftie said that?

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