What a difference a week and another poll makes. March 8, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Okay, been leaning on the SBP a lot this week, but lean I will given that things look – unfortunately – a bit shaky for it. What strikes me sometimes is that it is in many ways open in its class affiliation than other supposedly more pluralistic outlets, though one suspects they don’t quite see it that way. And that’s useful because we’re perhaps getting an opportunity to see the messages that emanate from that quarter as unmodified and unspun as they might possibly be. But it does have one great quality that sets it above other Irish print media, it generally addresses matters seriously. One may not like or agree with their conclusions but they’re rarely back of an envelope populist stuff (you know who I’m talking about) – well except in the Backroom column from time to time or from some of their more egregious guest commentators.
Anyhow, Pat Leahy writing in the SBP at the weekend argued that ‘FF support stems from coalition unpopularity’. And perhaps it did when the last RedC/SBP poll was taken two or so weeks back. But in the meantime we’ve had another Sunday Independent poll which showed FF’s star waning and SF and Independents/Others up. And yet, precisely the same headline can be written with the words ‘SF and Independents/Others’ replacing FF. Because of course coalition unpopularity is a reason for the rise in support for various parties. But it has to be noted that the popularity or otherwise of opposition formations also is a factor. So FF could take an hit, albeit it’s not entirely clear what precipitated that hit.
One very good point Leahy makes is this:
The dramatic movements in political support also show the volatility that underpins the apparent stability on which international commentary about Ireland so frequently focuses.
There is a lot of movement between the parties, but no sign of critical mass for the “a-plague-on-all-your-houses” vote that took Italy by surprise last weekend. Not yet, anyway.
In a way we’re seeing the comfort of the stability of the alternating two and a half party system familiar to many of us through the 1960s to the late 1980s replaced by a curious sort of stability between formations of near equal support electorally. And yet the most striking aspect is this. The polling support is wildly at odds with the monolith that is the FG/LP Coalition in terms of seat numbers in the Dáil. Perhaps the none too slow attrition of the FG and LP votes is in part due to this, that there’s a sense they were gifted with too much representation in 2011 and that given what has ensued subsequently they’re now being punished in near equal measure. Leahy certainly thinks so, suggesting that:
Research by Red C suggests that there is a much greater penetration of the “broken promises” perception about the government than many people in the administration realise.
And he points to focus group research on 2011 voters who are switching back to FF (or were two weeks back) and their reasons for doing so, with failure to honour promises being the key reason for same.
Now Leahy continues as follows:
But why should the disillusioned support go to Fianna Fáil and not elsewhere?
Because Fianna Fáil is the only alternative in the centre, and the centre is where the great majority of voters are.
Well, that’s interesting in itself because it cuts right across the argument that the voters are champing at the bit for the return of one M. McDowell and a revenant party of the right of right of centre. And indeed why should they be? For all the fluff from his direction one is hardly going to stop voting LP and FG because they’re too far to the right. Though it seems to me, and this is particularly in light of the most recent polling data, that that centre Leahy talks about may well be tilted a little further to the left than he suspects, given the rise in SF and Independents and Others support. And there remains one great problem with FF. Few aren’t aware that the present coalition is in effect continuing the approach of its predecessors, those predecessors being… FF!
Which is why some of what Leahy says seems premature:
Last week, in a speech at Queens University in Belfast, Martin confirmed this is where he sees Fianna Fáil’s future. Condemning Sinn Féin as the “all-purpose, anti-everything party”, he said Fianna Fáil’s positioning was as a “centre-ground alternative offering responsible opposition”.
This could mean anything, but what it probably means is that Fianna Fáil does not intend to change its traditional catch-all appeal by moving either right or left.
So will the rise of Fianna Fáil continue? The conditions are certainly there for it right now. The coalition is likely to remain unpopular, at least in the short term. But if an economic recovery gathers pace, the country exits the bailout and immediate obstacles like the Croke Park ballots and the property tax are overcome, the conditions will be there for the coalition to recover support.
Then the perception of broken promises might fade in the face of one big promise being kept: economic recovery.
I mentioned last week that there’s an element of whistling in the dark about much that emanates from the orthodoxy, but the economic recovery one seems to me to be the single greatest example of same. Were that correct one would expect, that for example, the Rainbow coalition of the mid 1990s would have done far better than it ultimately did. But I think it also ignores how much the sense that the crisis was self-inflicted by the current and previous political class now pervades the electorate. And that I think is one of the reasons why the SF and Independent/Other vote remains strong (just about 40 per cent of the electorate). In a way it an odd line for others to take because it cuts against the attitude that the crisis is existential while simultaneously assuming that economic growth alone would be sufficient to gift support back to parties.
But the question might be, what on earth did they expect? Plaudits and cheering in the streets because they ‘mean well’ and are well intentioned? And yet with this crew in government (and their predecessors) one really doesn’t know. Something has been made of P. Rabbitte’s unfortunate – for which read fairly disgraceful – off the cuff quip about … ‘diminishing … at an event last week. I tend to filter out that sort of stuff generally, but there’s a sort of insouciant glibness that is not merely revealing of his worldview and his detachment from the realities of life for many in this state, but of something approaching a contempt for the issues that exercise many Irish citizens.
If the LP does even worse than current projections indicate it will be because of seemingly small but telling stuff like that. And deservedly so (in many, but not all, cases).
Certainly gone is all the chat about FG single party government in the wake of the next election and it will be instructive to read Adrian Kavanagh’s outline of seat numbers on foot of the most recent poll. Because a situation where FG and FF and SF and Others/Independents have similar vote shares would be most intriguing in terms of the possibilities for government formation.
But of course there are other issues. How likely is it that FG and LP will see yet further attrition. Given the scale of cuts ahead very likely indeed – though it is interesting to note that on Croke Park there’s been a certain muffling of the message now that the unions are expected to step up to the plate and do the decent thing by acquiescing to that measure. Perhaps there’s a sense that it is best to tamp down some of the rhetoric (a message not quite taken on board by some of the most vociferous voices of the past five years) for fear of upsetting matters. It was notable this week how the government sought to suggest that ‘stability’ had ‘returned’. That’s a message I’m certain they’d like to gain wide currency. But, the polls say otherwise. And that volatility may well begin to disturb some if it continues as it is at the moment.