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Those polls… October 4, 2010

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

A very welcome guest post from AK of the Irish Election Literature Blog on the latest crop of polls.

For Fine Gael the polls, especially the Irish Times one makes grim reading.
Look back and think of the period in 2009 when Fine Gael were top of the polls and top of the world. George Lee was added, then they were the biggest party in the Local and European Elections…. there was even heady talk of a possible overall majority.

Richard Bruton shone with his bad banks good banks, dissection of NAMA and haircuts, he appeared full of ideas, was a man who understood what was happening and offered credible solutions, Not the ‘it was Lehman’s Brothers who done it’ nonsense from Fianna Fáil. It was also thought that an election was imminent at some stage in 2009, there was no way the government could last the year.

Then the main debate about what to do with the banks, etc was over. The Government carried on regardless with their economic framework of NAMA, bank bailouts and cuts. Fine Gael offered cuts too, indeed they boasted about warning over previous public sector pay deals. George Lee quit, Gilmore read the public mood on John O’Donoghue and other affairs, etc, etc…. the focus off Bruton it went back to Kenny and the electorate wondered what had Fine Gael actually got to offer? 
Allied to that Brian Lenihan supposedly ‘grew into the role’ and got ill. 
So Bruton previously the star when talking about the banks and the economy was quiet. His talents mainly lay in creating policy and making it coherent to voters. George Lees departure didn’t help him either. Then the heave has damaged him and others in the public eyes too.
 Also since the heave (and Bruton wasn’t that visible in the months prior to the heave) its Enda Kenny, James Reilly , Leo Varadkar and Michael Noonan hogging the airwaves. Occasionally others such as Lucinda Creighton and Simon Coveney appear but bar Noonan they don’t convince. (I’ve never taken to Reilly. It could be the beard)

The problem now is that who would they bring in to replace Kenny? There isn’t much to inspire. For all the talk of Labour not having policies, Fine Gael could have detailed policies on everything but are unable to get them across. What are the major policy differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? There are probably differences but at this point in time they are not being communicated effectively.
 Like Cowen, Kenny is damaged goods, the public have the image of him as a buffoon, reinforced by cartoonists and radio impersonators. Some of their recent stunts have been foolish and backfired badly and has only added to his image as a buffoon.
 Kenny had also portrayed himself as the Captain of a united team and an inspiring manager able to get the best out of his team.

The heave put paid to that image. They are in big trouble, with the incredible prospect of seat losses. Not alone that but what were regarded as target seats such as Dublin Central, Dublin Mid West, Cork East and Kildare South may not drop their way either. 
A change in leader may help but who to put in? They need a leader that communicates with the Dublin Electorate in a way that Kenny can’t and they don’t have one.

Taking the three recent polls it looks as if Fianna Fáil, despite their best efforts to go lower, may have bottomed out anywhere from 20% to 25%. This despite being in power when the mess was made of the country and then making an unholy mess when trying to fix the Banking sector and all the other things that have gone along with it.
 To say the least, Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael doesn’t seem to be a convincing alternative either. 
The recent Millward-Brown Poll, aside from the headlines, did have some notable indicators hidden in its depths.
 The dissatisfaction of FF supporters with the government is at roughly the same level as those satisfied. The question of alternative leader to Brian Cowen throws up a massive endorsement for Brian Lenihan, not just from Fianna Fáil but from Labour and Fine Gael voters too (the Irish Times MRBI poll also had Lenihan as overwhelming choice to succeed Cowen)
Although the question was framed “Who should lead Fianna Fáil instead of Brian Cowen?” the result suggests that Lenihan has a far wider appeal with voters than Cowen (no hard feat). Which brings me back to the 20 to 25% level Fianna Fáil find themselves at. Lenihan is seen by many (especially
 in the media) as competent and also relatively untouched by the Bertie era. I have heard people saying “He’s doing his best” and so on and one wonders were he not ill how much more critical would people be.
 So to a degree Fianna Fáil are at that level despite Cowen’s unpopularity. Were Lenihan to step down, they will surely go lower.

It’s also worth noting that a number of those FF TDs that have lost the party whip did so over Hospital closures or downgrades in their constituencies. Each week there are different well attended protests over local Hospital services throughout the country. History shows us that Hospital candidates can take votes from everywhere. Whilst normal Fianna Fáil voters may not be tempted by Kenny or Gilmore they may well be tempted by a Hospital candidate.
 The Irish Times Poll which had Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael neck and neck is probably a bit out as no adjustments were made when factoring in Undecideded voters. I can’t imagine that Fianna Fáil will do better than Fine Gael from undecided voters. 
Fianna Fáil will be happy as they appear to have arrested a tide and all going to plan could get 30% of the vote at an election. That’s seat losses but not total wipe out.
 Regarding their core vote (and that of other parties too) , put yourself in the shoes of someone who has been voting Fianna Fáil for a lifetime. They may have a personal relationship with the TD or Candidate be it friendship or having had something done by them many yeas ago. Without a credible alternative it would be very hard to switch.
 There is a horrific budget in store. Fianna Fáil will be all out to tell us that its because of the budget deficit rather than the banks. Still its very hard to see how the cuts can be carried out without some political blunders like the pensioners last year.

Labour’s vote between the three polls varied alarmingly. Some Labour people reckon that they are on around the 25% mark. This from canvassing but also from the polls before the 2009 Local and European Elections where Labour in polls did better than they did on the day. 
The Millward-Brown poll had using one of the seat prediction models had Labour winning more seats than they had candidates. 
It’s fairly certain that the softest vote is the Labour one as possibly over half of it won’t have voted Labour before. The way things are at the minute they should at least exceed their 1992 performance.
 There are going to be some serious challenges ahead. God knows what horrors have been planned in the budget and even the Croke Park deal looks in danger.
A big danger is that having committed to the €3 billion in cuts Labour will be faced with choices they can’t win with. For example cuts to the dole or Health Services so as to keep the Croke Park deal intact. In the run up to the budget expect the bash the public sector and their pay and conditions (“We Can’t afford it”) lobby to fill the airwaves and media.
 There will be attempts to paint Gilmore as redder than red (I’ve noticed myself a huge increase in ‘Eamon Gilmore Communist’ searches) but I can’t see that having much impact.
 I’ve had a conversation with a number of people wondering had Gilmore been Taoiseach on that fateful night two years ago would he have been so trusting of the banks, I don’t think so myself but we’ll never know. 
Still though as long as Kenny and Cowen are at the helm Labour’s fortunes should be OK. To a degree all they need to do is repeat Lenihans quote ‘The Cheapest bailout in History’…..
The biggest Party after the next election? I have my doubts and maybe REDC were the correct poll. But this budget might finally break the backs of some of the Fianna Fáil core.

For The Green Party there was little or no solace. Their support was evenly spread throughout the country which being on 2 or 3 % is bad news. At that level its hard to see even Trevor Sargent holding on. I wouldn’t be surprised either to see Fis Nua candidates put up against each Green TD to further impact their chances.

Sinn Féins support, like Labour’s, differed between the polls. I think they will return with perhaps seven seats. A loss of O’Snodaigh and gain of seats in Donegal. Adams is still also fairly popular in the leaders tables. The Independents/Others vote is holding up between 8 and 10%, again the support is fairly evenly spread regionally. In Dublin most of that Independents/Others vote is to the Left. So the prospect of either PBP or The Socialist Party having Dáil seats must have increased. Of course it should bode well for Maureen O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath, but it’s hard to tell from a national poll.

Lots to think about as we look forward to a budget and then an Election?


1. Dotski - October 4, 2010

Excellent post (as ever) I always enjoy reading your analyses.

Personally I think LP are above 25%, Landsowne and MRBI both have pretty much as good a record as RedC, and both have them low to mid 30s (so have Quantum, but I’d not use that…!) and the trend is up.

I do think though that there’s a 5% or more of the electorate who are extremely mobile between LP and SF, which is showing up on the polls, i.e. it only takes a good news day for one for them to take a rake of these votes. A lot of these must be ex-FF votes that have determined to vote against FF this time, but haven’t decide for whom.

While this would make the election somewhat unpredictable, I think a fair bit of that vote will drift to Gilmore/LP, in the same way that soft FG/LP votes tended in the past to drift to FG, as voters move towards a GE where it’s presented as a choice of Govt/Taoiseach – something that was to LP’s disadvantage in the past, but probably will be in their favour this time.

I do think though, as you implied I think, that there will be some seats where they will field insufficient candidates to take full advantage, and if FG partially recover, and/or LP fails to seal the deal, this could see them fall short of the promise these polls hold out.

Still, interesting times….


WorldbyStorm - October 4, 2010

Interesting point about churn between LP and SF.

I’m still convinced that in the Indo camp there’s a fair few FFers. Now, if FF like Indo candidates emerge they’ll go there, much as the hospital candidates hoovered them up in 2002, but now the timelines look bad for that dynamic.


sonofstan - October 5, 2010

I think I’ve suggested this before, but a huge potential iceberg for an incoming FG/LP coalition is this: what if Labour win most votes but, for the reasons you (Dotski) mention, FG win more seats?

Labour will then furiously contend that Gilmore ‘ought’ to be Taoiseach, and, with disaffected elements in FG, who will already be furious at Enda for a bad election performance….well, who knows?


Dotski - October 5, 2010

very possible. I think in that case you’d still have a FG/Lp coalition, but there’s a number of big prizes in a coalition. Besides Taoiseach, there’s having a majority at cabinet, having key posts (e.g. Finance) and how much of the programme for govt is what you want, and how much is your partners.

I think if one party had more votes and the other had more seats, these would have to be divided up, so you could conceivably see Kenny made Taoiseach, but in return for 8/15 Ministers including Finance from LP, and a PfG which saw LP priorities. This could in practise be better than Gilmore as Taoiseach, but Bruton as M/Finance and a majority Fg cabinet with a PfG that would be no better than the current crowd.

Also possible is that SF and the GP pick up the spare LP transfers, and a LP/SF/GP coalition got enough votes. Unlikely I know, but if you’d told me a year ago that the combined left vote would be where it is now, I’d have laughed.


2. Dotski - October 4, 2010

Yes, the problem for Indo-FF candidates masquerading as “Hospital candidates” is that it appears unlikely that this election will see a Dail elected where Indos have a particular pull, as they’ll not be in a position to bring down the govt.

This shouldn’t especially hit left-wing Indos standing on a distinct policy platform, but anyone pretending they can get a local issue “sorted” will look a bit impotent.


WorldbyStorm - October 5, 2010

That’s true though then how do we account for Lowry? What does he offer?


irishelectionliterature - October 5, 2010

You are correct that Independents are unlikely to have the same sway Healy-Rae, Lowry et al had in the past. That said they will have the same if not a little more sway than a backbench Fianna Fail opposition TD would.

There is a nasty budget on the way, it will be hard for many FF voters to abandon to FG or Labour yet far easier to justify voting for their local Independent.

As for what Lowry offers, have friends down that neck of the woods….
Lowry offers himself as a martyr to them up in Dublin (especially the Meeja).
Lowry offers himself as hard done by and shafted by Dunnes.
Lowry offers himself as a hard worker for constituents etc etc


Dr. X - October 5, 2010

In other words, he offers ‘vinjince, be jasus’.


Dotski - October 5, 2010

true, I think though that Lowry is a particular case, but I think that even he will see his vote squeeze in the course of the GE campaign, as it becomes evident that he’ll not be able to call many shots in the next Dail. I still think he’ll be elected quite handily, but not by as much as in other circumstances, and he’ll be part of a much reduced band of his type – most if not all other OTH TDs are likely to be left-ish.

Some IFF-ers will get preferences, but the indications I see are that LP are picking up in rural places like Roscommon Sligo and Donegal – latest MRBI poll had them at 24% in rural areas, and I think 17-18% in Connaught-Ulster (where they used to be about 2%) which limits the possibility of those IFFers to get in – you need the 1st prefs to get those transfers.


3. Ronan L - October 7, 2010

Very interesting post. For me, the big question Labour have to answer is how they would reduce the deficit. I heard Joan Burton on the radio this morning and she actually seemed to be moving *towards* her Apres Match impersonator, rather than away from all the talk of “radical costed proposals” and “on the ground”!

I’m not a political scientist, so I’ve no idea how many people will vote for a protest party, rather than the ideal of an “alternative proposals” party, so to speak. But the arithmetic of the government expenditure means even with substantial new taxes and tax increases, if we’re to have anything close to a deficit of say 5% of GDP by 2015, either Croke Park is off the table or else a lot of schools and hospitals close. And where does Labour stand on that choice?


WorldbyStorm - October 7, 2010

“either Croke Park is off the table or else a lot of schools and hospitals close. ”

Is that genuinely the only choice? Croke Park or schools and hospitals… Nothing else?

On Tuesday we saw Ray Kinsella seeking a longer period, 10 years, in which to deal with the deficit. That amongst other suggestions would be a start…


crocodile - October 7, 2010

The suggestion that public service employees should make more sacrifices to save services, while tax breaks continue, the corporate sector makes no contribution and property taxes are ‘politically unfeasible’ is sickening.


irishelectionliterature - October 7, 2010

Stating the obvious …The choices taken now as to how to cope with the deficit the banks etc will decide the choices taken in the next few years.
Just as the choices taken by administrations here for the last 13 years (and especially that choice 2 years ago on the banks) have led us to our current positions.

If, as it looks, that the choice taken now is a spiral of cuts, tolls, tax and more cuts then it will be very difficult to get out of that framework, especially if it was Europe/IMF that instigated it.

Oddly enough…. this four year plan may suit Labour. They would be in power for the cuts but able to blame FF/Greens for having committed to them.
It depends on how detailed this 4 year budget is. But FF in opposition , having ruined the country and then framed the budgetary strategy would hardly be in a position to criticise it.


4. Ronan L - October 7, 2010

Hi Worldbystorm,
We have a situation where expenditure is €70bn and receipts are €50bn (in gross terms – too many people refer to net, but that is pointless IMO and actually makes things look worse than they are).

Ray K talks about a longer period. In a perfect world, certainly, but who’s going to lend us the money as we drift towards a debt-GNP ratio of 200% by 2020? No country in the modern world has ever got that close (that I know of). The EU and IMF have already said that 2014 (presumably negotiable to 2015 but more than likely no longer) is time enough to get our act together, while the markets don’t seem to want to give us even that long.

I would be in favour of raising taxes substantially, for example corporate taxes up to 15%, reducing tax credits back into line with the OECD average and putting in place by now world-standard property taxes and water charges.

But I can’t see total receipts getting above about €56bn by 2015. (This would represent a 20% increase in the tax take in five years.) I would love to be proven wrong on this, incidentally.

Therefore, we’re talking about reducing our €70bn down to €63bn over five years. Which unfortunately is actually reducing €73bn to €63bn by 2015, as because of our deficit, servicing the national debt will increase by about €3bn over the coming five years, so that it will be a bigger expenditure item than education. (That is clearly not a good sign.)

Where will this €10bn come from?
Currently, €20bn in the Croke Park agreement is ring-fenced.
The €8bn or so in national debt has to be paid (at least the way the system is set up now).
The €22bn in social welfare could get reformed and streamlined and downsized, etc etc, and save us perhaps €3bn.
We could get another maybe €2bn from our investment budget, which currently only stands at €6bn.
By process of elimination, then, it is the remaining €14bn, non-pay current expenditure, the raw materials of our schools and hospitals, armies and agencies, where we have to deliver €5bn in savings? Such cuts of 40% in project budgets seem to me completely unrealistic. But if not there, then where? If you leave social welfare out of it, then it has to be the Croke Park agreement.

Ray K’s suggestion is also somewhat hollow. We would still have to make the cuts. Postponing them for five years would leave us in the same place but with a higher level of debt and thus destined to be permanently precarious in the markets. No-one wants to be at their whim.


WorldbyStorm - October 8, 2010

I’ve noted your cost cutting suggestions in the past, and to be honest I’ve found them a little bit, and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, facile.

It’s extremely easy, as anyone with personal debt knows, to look at an outline of debt and cut and cut and cut in theory. But in reality there are any number of factors that militate against it.

Sure, we can follow what you’re suggesting by cutting PS wages, or whatever, but as a process that results, and by the way I’m not PS myself and for various reasons I don’t have a horse in this race (except for a considerable concern that the economy in general will crash and we’re all screwed), in an end which will see massive mortgage defaults etc to add to those already there. Putting aside the deflationary aspect of what you propose, and Michael Taft has written eloquently on this, not least in the following:


…how do we wind up in a better place for this economy? We don’t. In other words this seems to me to be a counsel of despair or a counsel of passivity and acceptance of others diktats.

Ray K’s point is that a decade offers us more chance of growth, that it offers the opportunity to get a certain degree of shall we call it reciprocity from the EU, an EU whose bacon we saved not 18 months ago, etc.

Now, either there is a rational argument that more time allows a debt to be repaid, a debt which is the key issue in terms of increasing the costs of borrowing etc, which by the way I think on any moral level isn’t one that either you or I incurred but one which despite that we apparently have to discharge – and that I have a funny feeling is a sentiment shared by more and more Irish people in this state, something that as in Iceland will be manifested politically sooner rather than later.

And that makes a nonsense of either the EU’s timetable, or indeed your own. Because at some point people will turn around and tell the ‘markets’ (who in and of themselves demand entirely contradictory outcomes, i.e. nominal fiscal ‘stability’ and growth) to fuck off, if you’ll excuse the expression. And rightly so.

Because while the outline you give above is lovely in economic terms in political terms its pure poison for this polity and economy.

So hollow Ray K’s suggestion may be, but if I were in power, and I had half an influence on what was going on that would be precisely the course of action I would be recommending, because if it isn’t followed….

Well, I’ll leave you with a final thought. I’m pretty close in to some political thinking in this state, a coincidental outcome of my job, and I’ve noticed that there is a much more serious pessimism abroad since the outline of our situation two weeks ago, a fear if you will about how the public will respond now that the true scale of the bills have been brought home. And rightly so. Societies do shift, and change and engage in their own ways and if that’s the case it will be in ways that I suspect the markets aren’t going to like at all.


5. Ronan L - October 8, 2010

Hi WorldbyStorm
Thanks for that response – I certainly don’t disagree with the general sentiment of your outlook, but my attitude is more McCarthy-ite: we need the money and we don’t have it ourselves, therefore we have to borrow it. It’s not a question of cut or not (which is Michael Taft’s deflationary point), it’s cut versus counterfactual. How on earth do we survive and borrow to pay for our schools and hospitals if no-one is willing to lend to us?

Our Government, and all Governments, borrow and that means that bit that’s borrowed is essentially done at least in part on the terms of the market. We’d all prefer to be free of their whims but unfortunately we’re not.

Although I sense the two of us are probably not going to inch any closer on this…


WorldbyStorm - October 8, 2010

Hi RL, let me clarify my own doubts as to that part of your analysis.

By the way, I’m not trying to get on your case re the Croke Park agreement – I find much of the rest of your analysis on the broader issues interesting and disturbingly convincing in parts, but I am concerned by the lack of regard for the deflationary impacts of tearing up Croke Park.

You say that the government’s arithmetic on tax and borrowing leads you to a conclusion where you counterpose schools and (I’m presuming either wage/job cuts). It’s fair enough that you ball park the first figure on taxes (some of which I’d agree with, not least a relatively mild upward tick in corporation tax), but of we can’t be absolutely sure of the form or nature of same. Moreover, of course you’re correct our problem is that we have to borrow to some degree within a context determined by markets.

However from that you’ve calculated a figure where cuts/taxes are insufficient to bridge the gap, and I hope I’m not misrepresenting your position, consequent to that seems to flow a belief on yours and others parts that therefore it is essential to continue to send ‘messages’ in order to placate the markets, said message being in this instance a fare thee well to the Croke Park Agreement.

My problem is expressed by you on your own site when you say the following:

“…nobody wants to cut public sector wages or workers just for the sake of it, particularly given the impact on consumption this could have.”

I agree, at least in so far as the effects are going to be detrimental. But you don’t go any further. Again, as in the link I gave you earlier, it is clear that we can quantify at least some of the effects both in terms of reducing the deficit and impact on the economy. The first is more negligible, other than at extraordinary numbers, than one might expect, the second greater in terms of negative impacts on business, etc.

And if implemented it seems to me on my reading that there would be a necessity then to engage and deal on some level with the subsequent issues relating to personal debt in various forms, such as mortgages etc which remain at pre-Budget levels (pre-crisis levels to be precise) or are increasing as in the case of interest rates.

The alternative would be to see those problems impact negatively back on the banks or other areas and of course in tandem see a wave of human misery.

Which rather spoils the point of the whole exercise in the first place if we’re trying to maximise revenues and minimise exposures.


6. Red C Poll: October | Stephen Spillane - October 23, 2010

[…] Those polls… (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]


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