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The reverse mud-guard effect: The Green Party is getting spattered with political mud and what about that fight back by the Government? February 2, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

While we’re talking about the Green Party… and ooops… one error in this post with Sinn Féin actually dropping 1% from 9% to 8%. I blame the IT website and the front page article in the print edition both of which replicated the mistake. But that alters my thoughts on SF and its position not one bit…

Just in brief, it strikes me, and the gloom in the GP presumably indicates that it strikes them too, that recovery of the poll numbers, while yet a feasible prospect for Fianna Fáil (or more accurately a not impossible feat) is in their case a distant dream. Remember the heady days of 2007 to late 2008 where the Green Party seemed curiously insulated from the issues belabouring their coalition partners, not so much in 2008 in the MRBI polls, but the RedC polls were much healthier. At one point I suggested that Fianna Fáil appeared to be the mud-guard to the Green Party.

No more of that, obviously. At 3% in an MRBI poll they are, if they didn’t know it previously, in deep deep trouble. I have difficulty believing they’d hold any seat in those circumstances – and note that they are on 3% in Dublin and only 2% elsewhere, something that has interesting implications for other parties positioned on the centre left. The SBP has them on a healthier 5%. Perhaps.

Instead we’re seeing, as we did at the local elections, a reverse mud-guard effect. They’re the ones who are acting as a proxy for Fianna Fáil. Now, let’s not ignore the small point that Fianna Fáil has lost a good half or its 2007 levels of support. But… with all those voters hiding out in the undecided column I think its fair to say they may drift back… But whereas there seems to be movement back to FF in the wake of the Budget and as the situation stabilises there is no evidence of any similar dynamic for the GP.

For the Green Party, already a creature of the transfer even at the best of times, this is disastrous news. Where are those transfers to come from? Hardly from a Fine Gael which will historically tend to transfer to itself or Labour. Almost certainly not Fianna Fáil who will do likewise, in terms of transferring to itself and even now after two and a half years of government doesn’t have that sort of relationship with the GP that it did with the PDs (and in truth is never likely to).

The RedC poll at the weekend in the Sunday Business Post does little to raise spirits either, given that the 5% they gained there remains within the margin of error. http://www.sbpost.ie/news/fianna-fail-up-but-still-struggling-47107.html

While I remain sympathetic to the GP, or at least to some of its projects and personnel, I’d imagine I am – ahem – unusual on the left.

It’s hard to determine precisely why this situation has evolved. The fall out from the snow? A drift back to the larger parties (which if true makes the current strengths of Labour and Sinn Féin difficult to explain). Or is it that the politics of the GP seem like a luxury at this point in time and their proscriptions, however sincerely argued, and in certain instances implemented, are simply not regarded as having any great relevance?

Because on the evidence of their opinion polls the electorate in general didn’t consider their entering coalition some form of original political sin. Quite the opposite, they remained buoyant for a good year or more afterwards with consistently high polling figures. No, the decline set in as the economy tanked.

And whether their continuing decline is indicative that people continue to believe the economy is in dreadful shape and talk of a recovery is far too premature is almost irrelevant.

Another thought. It is two years or so to the next election and yes, there is a stabilisation of sentiment both political and economic. But, we have entered the last year or two of the government, the situation is far from clement or predictable and time is moving on. That election is going to come around very fast indeed.

The yardstick(s) by which achievement is measured must be the thought that occupies at least some inside the GP and how to communicate that to a so far seemingly ungrateful public must be the central question if they are to continue to have a national political presence.

As regards the fight back by the Government, I have to agree with Socialism in one Bedroom who says:

Got to laugh at the comeback-starts-here approach of the media to a 2% shift which would be politically insignificant were it not statistically meaningless. Of course, it’s seen as triumphant vindication of the IMF budget, not an endorsement of the government.
“Electorate Changes Mind, Only Wishes to Hang, Draw FF TDs.”

Precisely. The only figure that can give any comfort to Fianna Fáil is the one that sees a five percent increase in satisfaction with the Government from 14% to 19%. But given that the Fianna Fáil vote is at 22% and the Green Party at 3%, and let’s not even attempt to parse out the Government supporting Independents, that’s lukewarm comfort at best. Or look at it a different way. If we combined the FF and GP vote they’ve actually gone down 1% given their respective increase of 2% and decrease of 1%. Odd that that isn’t headlined.

As regards the rest. Well, to read Stephen Collins one would be forgiven for thinking he was viewing a parallel universe.

Support for the Government, the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil has increased since last autumn, despite one of the toughest budgets in the history of the State, according to the latest Irish Times /Ipsos MRBI poll.


VOTERS APPEAR be giving the Coalition some credit for taking decisive action in the Budget, going on the findings of the latest Irish Times /Ipsos MRBI poll, which show a recovery in the satisfaction ratings of the Government and the Taoiseach.
While the Government’s satisfaction rating of 19 per cent is still very low by historical standards, the jump of five points since the last poll just before the Lisbon Treaty referendum should give it the confidence to continue with its current policies.

Really? 5% is all it takes? From 14%? And he’s really over-egging the pudding when he argues:

The Taoiseach’s satisfaction rating of 26 per cent is in even more respectable territory, back to where it was in November 2008, after going as low as 15 per cent in the first poll of the Lisbon referendum campaign in early September last year.
The recovery in the Fianna Fáil vote follows the same pattern, with the party back to 22 per cent, a figure last achieved in February 2009. The party has a long way to go to recover its historically dominant position in the Irish political system. It is still trailing well behind Fine Gael and has again been pushed into third place by the Labour Party.

So, what starts out as ‘appear to be giving the Coalition some credit’ turns into a ‘recovery’. Panglossian stuff. But reality, as it must, soon intrudes:

The scale of Fianna Fáil’s problem is illustrated by the fact that it is still coming a poor third in Dublin. A breakdown of the core vote of the parties shows Fianna Fáil on a paltry 12 per cent in the capital. Things are considerably better in the rest of the country, with the party on 20 per cent in Munster, 23 per cent in the rest of Leinster and 27 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.

Which is all okey dokey, except of course that FF starts from a much much higher traditional base in those areas. How much so?

Well consider these figures from November 2007 in an article by one Stephen Collins who argued at the time that:

The first Irish Times TNS mrbi poll since the election reveals a big shift in the political landscape since the general election in May. Support for Fianna Fáil has slumped and the satisfaction ratings of the Taoiseach and the Government are down, while the main Opposition parties have made significant gains.

And that:

The detailed figures show that support for Fianna Fáil has suffered a massive decline among working-class voters, particularly in Dublin, and there has been a corresponding rise in support for Fine Gael and Labour among these disaffected voters.

And how bad were things?

The baseline figures for the core vote of the parties show that the worst region for Fianna Fáil is Dublin, where the party has lost a third of its support since the last poll in May. There has been a corresponding increase in support for Fine Gael and Labour in the capital. In Dublin, Fianna Fáil is now at 26 per cent (down 12 points), while Fine Gael is running at 23 per cent (up 10 points) and Labour at 14 per cent (up 4 points).

After Dublin the next worst region for Fianna Fáil is Munster, where the party received 29 per cent support, with Connacht/Ulster being a little better at 32 per cent. The rest of Leinster was easily the best region for the party, with support running at 36 per cent.

And yet Collins believes that now in each case ‘things are considerably better in the rest of the country’ although the figures are lower yet than they were during this ‘massive decline’… Hmmm…

But Damian Loscher of Ipsos MRBI buys into this as well. In Friday’s paper he argues that:

Fianna Fáil, the main party of Government, has also registered a gain, albeit a more modest increase of two points. And while two poll points may seem like a poor return for strong economic leadership, it is important to consider the very real possibility that Fianna Fáil’s support peaked in December following the budget and has since retreated as the reality of 2010 – incomes squeezed, industrial unrest, falling house prices – begins to nibble away again at public confidence.

Well, there’s a thought. I’d imagine that as wage cuts seep into public consciousness, and for most this week and the next two for those on monthly salaries, that too will have an impact. But again, these percentiles sit within the margin of error.

And a trope that has considerable currency these days is brought out again…

But it is far too soon to call an end to Fianna Fáil’s dominance of Irish politics. Indeed, if Fianna Fáil builds on its budget performance and continues to show a willingness to make hard decisions for the greater good, come election time it would not be unreasonable to think that voters will forgive the party the sins of the past for the promise of honest and decisive leadership into the future.

Or alternatively they’ll give them a right kicking. Because we see no evidence that this is assisting the GP. And what of this?

The current leader satisfaction ratings suggest that we are looking for a stronger political leadership than has been shown in recent times. This presents a clear opportunity for the party leader who is prepared to step up to the plate.
The leadership issue may very well be the core decider in the next general election.
I’m bemused as to how he arrives at that conclusion given that Cowen’s increase of 3% to 26% is also within the margin of error, while Gilmore remains by far the most popular leader at 41%.

The editorial is also remarkably positive…

HAVING PLUMBED the depths of unpopularity, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the Fianna Fáil party are making slow but steady progress in assuaging a disillusioned electorate, according to the latest IrishTimes /Ipsos MRBI opinion poll. The findings are still extremely bleak. But, from a Government point of view, the trend is in the right direction and the results will reassure worried insiders that tough decisions and political recovery can go together.


Passage of the Lisbon referendum, Nama legislation and bank recapitalisation, and an extremely tough Budget were key features that contributed to a gradual improvement in public sentiment towards Fianna Fáil. Despite that, three out of four voters are still dissatisfied with the way the country is being run. And, if an election was held tomorrow, Fine Gael and the Labour Party could be expected to form a government with a comfortable majority.

A ‘gradual improvement’ in public sentiment? ‘Slow and steady’? A fascinating analysis. And one that is only supported by them bringing in entirely nebulous interpretations and readings of events… such as…

Six months ago, as the Government staggered from crisis to crisis, an early election appeared inevitable. Having cleared three major hurdles, however, the Coalition parties and their supporters are beginning to grow in confidence. This has been due, in no small measure, to the performance of Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan. Whether that momentum can be sustained will depend, to a large extent, on the effectiveness of Nama, the cost of recapitalising the banks and the introduction of robust regulatory reforms.

These polls indicate in no way that the parties and supporters are ‘growing in confidence’. There is no evidence of ‘momentum’. It’s unkind perhaps to suggest that this is back of an envelope stuff… but it is.

As for the Sunday Business Post, well, they’re delighted with the results from the RedC poll. Fianna Fail up four points? For them there is no doubt…

But today’s poll is likely to encourage the coalition. The rise in government support suggests that, while a substantial part of the electorate objects to the cuts which affect them, there is also a large constituency that wants the government to get to grips with the parlous state of the public finances. This group agrees that cutting public spending – including public sector pay – is a vital element of this.

A large constituency? I’m puzzled by this. At best 32% of the public support the Coalition. And this on a rise of 4 – count it – 4% for Fianna Fáil.

And it’s difficult to know whether the conclusions the SBP draws about cutting public spending are indeed evident in this poll. By contrast I’d be leery about arguing that the support for the other political parties comprising the opposition indicates the opposite, i.e. antagonism to the cuts in public spending, although clearly some of that percentile does include that approach. In fact we’d need to have the question asked outright and oddly the SBP has done so in the past with interesting results…

So perhaps there is a ‘large’ constituency, or perhaps there’s not, albeit I’d think it’s smaller than the SBP would like to believe. Perhaps it’s that 4% who constitute the rise. Or perhaps it’s to be found in the 23% who supported FF up to now. Or perhaps opinions are mixed with support and opposition spread throughout all parties. But as regards public policy lets not draw too many conclusions, and let’s also be a little bit more realistic. For even the SBP must accept…

However, ministers shouldn’t mislead themselves. Support for Fianna Fáil continues to languish at historically low levels, and the Greens remain one electoral misstep away from oblivion .Fine Gael and the Labour Party are still extremely likely to form the next government, and would almost certainly do so, were there an election in the foreseeable future. That said, voters are likely to demand more detail about exactly what sort of government they would form.

Er…no… no it must not… for it’s back to…

Nonetheless, today’s poll shows that harsh measures to reduce public spending and restore the public finances – and this newspaper believes that many of them are necessary, no matter who is in power – will not necessarily bring political ruination.

Or wait… perhaps it will…

At least the ruination will be no worse than that which Fianna Fáil has already brought on itself by disastrous decisions in the past. As it faces an escalating campaign by the trade unions, the government’s resolve is likely to be stiffened. That is no bad thing.

And the SBP believes that that is ‘encouraging’…

There’s an awful lot of wishful thinking going on here.


1. EWI - February 2, 2010

Cliff Taylor was the economics editor at the IT before becoming editor of the SBP, and he’s not the greatest fit for the historical ethos of the paper (in my mind, it’s the sole publication where the Press lives on).


2. irishelectionliterature - February 2, 2010

The main reason the Greens dropped in the polls and Local Elections was that they were expected (maybe false hope) to force an election over NAMA, over Anglo and the host of other scandals that appeared since Sept 2008 when Lehmans went bust.
The Greens rose again in late 2008 because some of us believed the hype about the Bank Guarantee. That it was the smartest move ever and the rest of the world were jeleaous over the fast one we pulled with it.
Then the economy went into total freefall.
This time last year how many of us felt it only a matter of time before th Government fell?
It didn’t fall, because the Greens in part were seen (rightly or wrongly) to be enjoying the trappings of power.


3. dublindilettante - February 2, 2010

You can’t beat SBP editorials for sheer wish-fulfilment. Their “centrist continuity” tract on the local and Euro election results was a classic of its kind (it included the contention that “the Socialist Party had a disappointing election”.)

At times, they make the SWP look like sober, hard-headed realists. Fortunately, no-one who hasn’t already swallowed the Thatcherite Kool-Aid reads the SBP (for anything other than amusement, that is.)


EWI - February 2, 2010

Fortunately, no-one who hasn’t already swallowed the Thatcherite Kool-Aid reads the SBP (for anything other than amusement, that is.)

Have to disagree with that. Yes, you’ve got the cheerleader “economic editor/correspondent” types, but you’ve also got David McWilliams (whose warnings there about the housing bubble I’m damn glad I heeded), Niamh Connolly, Emmanuel Kehoe and others. And in every other Sunday…?


Mark P - February 2, 2010

Oddly, the Sunday Tribune has improved a bit recently. It seems to actually be doing some investigative journalism, and not just about the Adams issue.

The editorial line is still reprehensible mind you.


4. CL - February 2, 2010

The Greens/FF are pursuing a failing economic policy and yet the left has made no gains. Talk of an upturn being just around the corner is probably true but meaningless. Having experienced the greatest economic downturn of any advanced country since the Depression an upturn is inevitable, but it will mean nothing as the total labour force continues to fall and the catastrophic unemployment rate continues to increase.
“The kinds of policies that Ireland pursued – pouring money into banks and not getting back the appropriate amount of money – and cross-the-board wage cuts in the public sector have not succeeded in improving significantly its economy or even market perceptions.”-Stiglitz


5. On George Lee | Stephen Spillane - February 8, 2010

[…] The reverse mud-guard effect: The Green Party is getting spattered with political mud and what about… (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]


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