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Ah. These polls you bring us… surprisingly consistent… February 9, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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We’ve now had more polls in the space of a week than we saw in the space of some months over the last few years. Four large scale ones between February 1 and February 6th as well as a plethora of smaller constituency polls, the inevitable ‘Quantum Research’ one in the Sunday Independent and an online poll in the Irish Independent yesterday which, oddly, tallied closely with the larger polls. This may well be an expression of the wisdom of crowds, or perhaps their foolishness.

I was suggesting last week some degree of volatility in the polls, but the addition of the latest data makes me reconsider that position.

Why so? Well, as noted by Dotski on Irish Polling Report, the overall figures are relatively close. Which tends to suggest that not an awful lot has happened really across the week and that minds are already made up.

Which isn’t to say there’s no volatility at all. The movement in the Fine Gael vote is fascinating. Whole small parties could live and die within the range – indeed many have. On Feb 1 the Independent had them at 30. The very next day the Red C/Paddy Power poll had them at 37. A more consistent 35 per cent was recorded by Red C in the Sunday Business Poll at the weekend. For Labour the variability has been less pronounced, but they’re a smaller party operating in a zone that they’ve never been seen in previously, one that has them consistently polling in the 20 + area. So their variation from 24 on Feb 1 to 19 on Feb 2 is probably cause for greater concern, though note that loss for the LP was a gain for FG.

But look then at the consistency. Sinn Féin on 12/13 per cent across the week. Fianna Fáil more variable on 15 to 17 across the week. And the Independents ranging from 16 per cent to 11 per cent across the week.

I’ve used an entirely crude Excel spreadsheet to average out those polls from last week – anathema I know to serious psephologists, but what can you do?

Stunning, isn’t it – eh?

And the results of the four polls, from Feb 1 [the Independent Landsdowne poll], Feb 2 [the Red C/Paddy Power], Feb 2 again [The Irish Times] and finally on Feb 6 [Red C/Sunday Business Post]?

When averaged out Fianna Fáil is at 17 per cent, Fine Gael at 34 per cent, Labour at 22 per cent, Sinn Féin at 13 per cent, the Green Party at 2 per cent and Others/Independents on 13 per cent.

Now, the above isn’t at all rigorous, but it is reasonable to suggest that political support for the various parties sits within bands and that broadly speaking we’re seeing some variation of individual party ratings within those bands, but that this is where they’re generally positioned.

And of course there is the caveat that this is just week one. But, what’s most fascinating is how little the polls have varied across this week one.

Fianna Fáil exhibit a much lower bounce than I’d have expected. Sure, their vote is likely to be much more on the day, reaching up one would imagine to 20 per cent plus. And yet, the consistency of the polling data suggests that the toxicity of the brand remains a huge issue. It’s presumably no surprise that the logos on their posters are rather… discreet. Go contrast with Labour if you want an entertaining moment or so.

As for Fine Gael, as ever 33 is a good result. But again, not quite stellar. If Dotski’s spreadsheet is to be believed then they’re going to add about 10 extra seats or so. Which feels about right given that the Kenny effect is alive and well in Dublin, if not necessarily elsewhere. So not quite an historic performance ahead if the polls are to be believed. And perhaps the debate last night may cause them some issues… or maybe not.

As an aside I genuinely am taken aback by the broadly hostile response Kenny gets. I’d have enormous issues with his policy platform, but he doesn’t strike me as anywhere as ineffective as many of his detractors make out. And I wonder if this is simply a trope that is now so embedded, justifiable or not, that it has gained a certain traction with the broader electorate. I’ve said it before though, who of the potential alternatives would do better nationwise, as distinct from Dublin?

For Labour this still spells good news. To have effectively doubled their vote in the space of four years is a significant achievement. At the least they should do as well as 1992, and it would appear they will. I’m a bit puzzled by the projections that put them up around 50 seats or so. In 1992 they just topped 30 on 19 per cent of the vote and it’s hard to believe that even an additional three or four per cent would see them push past 40 seats on a very good day indeed. But, perhaps local conditions will be all.

The Others remains in good shape, though can we trace a decline in their vote across the week? Potentially yes, but still well ahead of their 2007 figure. On 11 per cent they could return 15 plus TDs, a world away from their tally in the Dáil after 2007 of 5 TDs. Mind you there’s some interesting stuff hidden away in those statistics. In 2002, with the fracture of Fine Gael, Independents [not including the SP and Joe Higgins] gained 9.5 per cent of the vote and saw 13 returned. In 2007 they gained 5.15 per cent [this excludes the SP/PBP/WP, etc whose combined vote came to 1.47 per cent] and returned 5 TDs.

Which suggests that unless that vote sped to FF or FG, which seems somewhat unlikely – I’d imagine at 35 per cent FG is at the absolute ceiling of its support, then there should be at least 5 to 10 Independents in the next Dáil

Sinn Féin likewise, continuing to poll above 10 per cent (and a good half or more again of their 2007 figure of 6.94. If it declines there’s still room there for them to retain and increase seat numbers significantly – Dotski suggests 14 to 18, seems a bit on the high side to me).

Where oh where has the Green Party gone? On 1 to 2 per cent no seat of theirs is safe. I can’t see how they could do it unless there remains a strong residual personal vote for Trevor Sargent.

In a way this is a stunning exemplar of just how negative participation in government can be for smaller political groupings, and this isn’t simply about Fianna Fáil because I’m hard pushed to think of a centre or centre left formation [as distinct from the Progressive Democrats on the right] who increased their vote after being in government.

But back to the point made above. This snapshot seems to suggest that rather than massive volatility the situation may in fact be a lot calmer than has hitherto been thought. That said there’s still a pool of people who have yet to decide where [if indeed they actually do] to place their vote. As the IT notes:

The poll shows 61 per cent of people have definitely made up their minds how they will vote but 38 per cent may still change their minds.

Among voters who have definitely made up their minds Fine Gael is on 35 per cent, Fianna Fáil is on 16 per cent, Labour on 21 per cent, Sinn Féin on 14 per cent and Independents and Others 13 per cent.

Interesting to triangulate between core votes and the headline figure:

The core vote for the parties (before undecided voters are excluded) compared with the last poll was: Fianna Fáil, 12 per cent (down one point); Fine Gael, 26 per cent (up three points); Labour, 19 per cent (up one point); Sinn Féin, 11 per cent (down two points); Green Party, 1 per cent (no change); Independents/Others, 11 per cent (up two points); and undecided voters, 22 per cent (down three points).

Again, I’m dubious about seat projections. Sure, we can come away with a general impression, Fianna Fáil are likely to be in the 20-30 range, but that’s far far too imprecise, and a host of local and other factors will come into play. For example, what impact will the discussions over the format of the debate have on FG? Will that be seen as clever positioning, or too-clever positioning?

I don’t have a clue to be honest, and while in the greater scheme of things it may matter little or not if it does have an impact on the FG vote, either suppressing it or increasing it then that will have direct political impacts the far side of the election.

Is the hesitation one feels at all this because we’re literally in uncharted electoral territory when Fianna Fáil would appear likely to fall into third place at the polls behind Labour? And adding to that the unpredictability of how and where the former FF vote will go, or how transfers on the ground will operate. Then there’s the point that despite this being set for an historically low performance by FF we’re now so used to that possibility that any slight return on their part and they’ll paradoxically appear to have recovered a bit.

It”s going to be intriguing whether the votes themselves take on a life of their own and influence voter behaviour.

Take the headline in the Irish Times last week ‘Poll Boost for Kenny as Fine Gael on course to lead next government’. That statement only makes sense in a context where there have been no polls between the last Ipsos MRBI Poll and today’s – because for Ipsos MRBI there’s been a 3 point increase in FG polling numbers since the last one they conducted in December. But of course we have that plethora of polls from other companies and media in the intervening period.

We already know that Fine Gael are doing well from all those other polls. No surprise there. On the other hand Fianna Fáil has gone down from 17 per cent since the last December poll in the Irish Times, which can be presented as bad news for Martin – which it is, of course. But we also know from other polls that the last week of the Cowen regime was seeing FF poll much lower than 17 per cent, and that 15 per cent may represent a very slight increase, or at least a consolidation.

One further thought. I’m no fan of Anne-Marie Hourihane in the Irish Times, but there does seem to be a great fatigue amongst both activists ands much more importantly in this election. I think that’s probably a result of the particularly protracted lead in to it, even if the government was still shy of four years of being in office. This is an election we were told would happen sooner rather than later, that we had comprehensive polling take place prior to it being called and remarkable fluctuations in the poll results. And there’s the point that this government is perhaps the most disliked in the history of the state.

All these combined, I suspect, to create a great impatience with the very process. People want rid of the last government, and want a new one. And perhaps it is that which underlies much of this, again, as stated above that minds are now reasonably well made up and little or nothing will shift them.

That’s a difficult situation for two parties in particular, those being Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, both seeking to maximise their vote share and seat return. Whether their trojan efforts to work against a now seemingly embedded dynamic will prove fruitful will be interesting to see.

Comments»

1. ejh - February 9, 2011

Which tends to suggest that not an awful lot has happened really across the week and that minds are already made up.

I’m sure I saw research somewhere which suggeted that this is normally true of election campaigns – that with some exceptions, they really don’t change very much, and people vote at the end of them pretty much as they intended to at the start.

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2. DC - February 9, 2011

I think Kenny, or at least his handlers, are a good deal smarter than they are given credit for. Look at what at the time appeared to be an off the wall stunt in proposing the abolition of the Seanad. Now pretty much everybody agrees the Seanad should be abolished, and FG has gained real credibility on the political reform issue.

Kenny seems to be a bit of a gambler, which may not necessarily be a good thing, but is somewhat rare in the modern political context, where politicians tend to play things very safe.

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Pope Epopt - February 9, 2011

They are all risk-takers, these days DC. Or rather they outsource the risks to us.

Part of the unreality (and for me at least, tedium) of this election is that all the prospective parties of government (FG/Lab/FF) are acting like the kind of gamblers that just don’t know how or when to cut their losses.

No-one outside of a the SF/ULA and a couple of independents are asking the real question – when and how do we default, and on what parts of the debt?

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Pope Epopt - February 9, 2011

And with whom – this would play much better if there was a united front among the ‘non-core’ nations of Europe.

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3. Consistent Opinion Poll Results – Little Volatility « Tomás Ó Flatharta - February 9, 2011
4. Pidge - February 9, 2011

In a way this is a stunning exemplar of just how negative participation in government can be for smaller political groupings, and this isn’t simply about Fianna Fáil because I’m hard pushed to think of a centre or centre left formation [as distinct from the Progressive Democrats on the right] who increased their vote after being in government.
Interestingly, the only junior coalition partner/government-supporting party to increase its national share of the vote after government was the Workers’ Party in 1982 (and while I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong, that was more of a loose arrangement, right?). Even the PDs have seen their support fall every time.

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LeftAtTheCross - February 9, 2011

SFWP went from 3 seats down to 2 in the Nov 82 election.

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Blissett - February 9, 2011

They PDs went from 4 to 8 in 2002

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2011

…because I’m hard pushed to think of a centre or centre left formation [as distinct from the Progressive Democrats on the right] who increased their vote after being in government.

🙂

But it is a curious one, isn’t it? They managed that trick when no-one else did.

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Paddy M - February 9, 2011

They increased their seats from 4 to 8 but their percentage vote dropped from 4.7% to 4.0%.

Other than 1997 when their vote held steady, they lost votes at every election from 1989 to 2007. Eventually you reach the point where vote management doesn’t work any more.

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2011

Very fair point Paddy.

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ejh - February 9, 2011

Hard to think of an anti-PD point which wouldn’t be a fair one

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Pidge - February 10, 2011

Yes, but their share of the vote went down. The WP’s share went up, even if they lost seats.

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5. EamonnCork - February 10, 2011

Fine Gael 68, Labour 36, Fianna Fail 33, ULA 4, Sinn Fein 13, Independent 12. It’ll be close to that.

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Joe - February 10, 2011

That looks very accurate to me Eamonn. Kinda depressing too. My hopes of an FF total wipeout are gone. My 85 year old mother will vote for them (with my full support I hasten to add, she is and always was a north Cork republican). But I also know several others of all ages who will do likewise.
Four seats for the left (sorry I will not include SF or Lab in that category). It’s a start I suppose.
I would say the above would be a dream result for Martin and FF. They become the opposition and odds-on to win an overall majority after 5 years of FG/Lab austerity.

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6. EamonnCork - February 10, 2011

Labour are leaking votes for the same reason they did during the 20007 campaign, ultra caution based on the ‘what we have we hold’ theory. The reason Gilmore looked so poor the other night was that he was obviously arguing in bad faith. Given the amount of people employed in the public sector, is it too much to expect the party to argue on their behalf rather than try and give the impression they’ll be as ‘tough’ on them as everyone else. Though I suppose 36 seats isn’t to be sniffed at either. Mind you, I can see FF arguing at this stage that if they get more seats than Labour it’s a moral victory. Which does show the depths to which they’ve sunk.

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Pope Epopt - February 10, 2011

20007? Stipe me, surely Irish Labour can’t keep this game up that long? And can I borrow the time machine on Sunday?

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EamonnCork - February 11, 2011

You can but it’s been damaged by morlocks.

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