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The May 2011 Sunday Business Post Poll May 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, or perhaps it’s indicative of a certain weariness with the current political system on my part, but I didn’t find the news that the SBP poll was out anywhere near as interesting as I would have a few months back. It’s not simply that the election has been fought and won [or lost] but more a sense that this level of political activity is not where the focus of leftists will [or perhaps – and I say this hesitantly, because I’m surely not one in a position to be proscriptive – should be].

And yet, that lack of interest is most definitely a mistake on my part, because this poll is very interesting in three key respects.

Before addressing those three points let’s consider the overall results.

Fine Gael is up 2% to 41% – it’s highest level yet in an SBP poll [Check]. Labour is up 1% to 19%. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are unchanged on respectively 16% and 11% while Independents//Green Party and Others have dropped 3% to 13%.

First point? The absolute dominance of Fine Gael and Labour. A few months in and they still command a crushing 60 per cent of the opinion poll numbers. That’s pretty impressive whatever way one cuts it. And yes, they’ve had a number of good months, not least and most recently the visits by the Queen and Obama where the state was able to put its best foot forward. But even so, given the times that are in it that vote hasn’t merely held fast but increased.

Pat Leahy argues that:

…more importantly for the LP leadership it has not seen a fall-off in support for the party since entering coalition (as happened in 1992, when it last entered coalition after an election) despite fierce left-wing criticism, especially from independents in the Dáil. In fact there has been a fall-off in support for independents.

I’ve argued previously that I think Leahy overstates the fall-off in LP support in the 1992 period onwards. And it’s still very very early days yet to make hard and fast prognostications as to the direction of LP support, but he has something of a point nonetheless.

One small caveat, all this is within the margin of error.

Second point? The weakening of the Ind/GP/Other vote. Down 3% from the last poll in April 2011 is within the margin of error, but note that it’s actually down 4% from the 2011 General Election. That would seem to support the idea that this is a trend.

And it’s a troubling one I would imagine for the Ind/GP/Others. It suggests that after the euphoria of the 2011 election in those quarters (bar, obviously the GP) that to know the Independents is not necessarily to love them.

Richard Colwell of RedC in an accompanying article in the SBP argues that:

While it is normal for independents to suffer through lack of media coverage between elections, the scale of this decline so soon after the election suggest that voters may not be impressed by what they have seen so far from the independent candidates they elected.

But Leahy points to another potential reason:

Sinn Féin also maintains its electoral strength, at 11 per cent in today’s poll. A key target for the party is to assume the leadership of the left-wing opposition in the Dáil ahead of Joe Higgins and other Independents – and then to be seen as the effective leaders of the opposition. Given FF’s cautious support for many of the government’s economic policies, that is not an impossible goal.

I’ve been watching debates in the Dáil with some interest and it’s been very noticeable to me, as I’ve mentioned previously that the Independents are somewhat lost due to the diversity of their message. One moment they’re Shane Ross and business realpolitik, the next they’re Finian McGrath and a sort of traditional social democracy [and by the way, some kudos for McGrath who was one of the few non-SF parliamentarians to express any sort of reservations about the visit of the Queen], the next again and they’re Clare Daly and a strongly left wing critique.

I’m not trying to personalise this, but simply point to a dynamic that is extant – Daly, for example, is an effective speaker. But it’s hard to argue that the ULA as an entity has taken on a coherence – the very structures and constraints of the Dáil procedures work against that due to their not having a party status. So the Technical Group is rather like a hydra, multiple heads but working in different directions.

And Leahy’s point can be summed up as follows, that the arrival of SF in significant numbers has changed the situation radically. This is not simply due to their increased numbers, but rather due to the decrease in the numbers of the opposition as a whole. With a subdued – and they are, they really are – Fianna Fáil and an arguably overly variegated Independents/Others SF has had an opportunity to present the most cohesive formation on the opposition benches, an opportunity it has taken. That in contrast to the Technical Group has its own benefits.

All that said, before wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues on the Ind/GP/Other side of the fence, it’s worth noting that in historical terms 13% for them combined isn’t bad at all, at least not in the context of the last five years.

Third point? There’s a little sentence buried away in the SBP analysis by Leahy.

A footnote to today’s poll is the performance of the Green Party, no longer separately depicted in the poll charts, but there in the data all the same. The party’s new leader, Eamon Ryan – whose election was announced last Friday – can take some encouragement from the fact that the party’s standing in Dublin is a relatively healthy 5 per cent. It stands at 3 per cent nationally.

That’s somewhat better than their election result of 1.8%, albeit still within the margin of error and perhaps a bit more dispiritingly not above some of the polls in the run-up to the election including an SBP one from February 2011 . And the Dublin polling data is intriguing although presumably based on limited numbers so open to question. It might suggest that at the local elections the GP will become more competitive, particularly in the wake of the policies the government has signed up to. And if the Ind/Others continue to flag then there’s a possibility that they might pull votes away from them as well.

But that said I’d suspect that memories are too fresh and too raw for that dynamic to become evident too soon. And the next locals remain sufficiently distant and likely strongly competitive with SF and ULA and others keen to maximise upon government woes that they’ll simply be one amongst a number of forces vying. But, that said it’s just possible that some FG and LP voters will detach that way – particularly if the GP argues that they made the ‘right decisions even if they were unpopular’. But then again, on the other hand, what’s in it for such voters?

All this, though, remains in a vacuum. The Summer is approaching fast, there’s a sense that politics is winding down somewhat as the weather sort of improves. There’s also a sense that the big decisions are being long fingered to the Budget. That the government’s rhetoric on the bailouts has hardened to one of pretty much unquestioning support for continuing to implement the decisions made by FF/GP albeit while arguing they were the wrong decisions at the time is a tricky message to convey across time when such decisions translate at the next budget into actual further cuts. Then the nuance, such as it is, encapsulated there may become more difficult to sell.

The most telling indications will come in eight or ten months after the Budget. Then we’ll know how deeply embedded support for FG and the LP is. Pat Leahy notes that:

Recent years have shown just how much the political landscape can move in response to political and economic events, but FG looks set to remain as the largest party for at least the foreseeable future.

That’s crucial. Traditional allegiances have been disconnected, or more accurately shorn away. No party can depend upon the electorate in the way that they did for many many decades. In some respects the very concept of a core vote appears redundant, although we now know more or less where the FF core vote lies.

A small but curious point… Richard Colwell suggests the following:

Sinn Féin also retains the same levels of support as last month, securing 11 per cent of the vote. The figure suggests that the demonstrations against the queen’s visit organised by the party had neither a positive nor negative impact on party support overall.

Surely he’s mistaking the protests during the visit for SF demonstrations – isn’t he?


1. sonofstan - May 31, 2011

ON that last point – it indicates something that someone pointed out here before after some mis-attribution of party affiliation on the left (Joe Higgins to the SWP? something like that anyway). Mainstream political commentators may be reliable at the political centre (i.e. the right) but they’re clueless outside their normal sphere – they don’t know who these people are and they don’t talk to them, and nobody they know votes for them: if you’ll pardon the analogy, it’s like when George Hamilton is forced to do a LoI game – his lack of interest and distaste for these funny people well away from his premiership comfort zone is audible. He gets players names, team names, stadia and history mixed up, he doesn’t even watch it properly or describe it accurately.


WorldbyStorm - May 31, 2011

That’s really true and I think the premiership comfort zone is a great analogy. It’s telling though how a guy actually involved in political polling doesn’t know the distinction – even when it’s been made entirely clear in the media.

That said if that’s true for him then what of those who have less interest again. Did they think that the protests were all SF?


sonofstan - May 31, 2011

Without a doubt, I’d say. I bet if some polling company were actually interested, or some left party had the resources, you’d find a looking glass world where FG/FF/LP voters were concerned with regard to the non-consensus parties. I’d be willing to bet that many nice people think that any of the ULA lot they know of – Higgins, RBB -are Republicans, or that they supported the Soviet Union (if said voter can remember back that far – or maybe more, if s/he can’t)


LeftAtTheCross - May 31, 2011

Yes, there’s definitely an element of distrustful “looney left / pinko / provo” lumping together of the Left in a broad sense amongst people who just don’t really do politics, and there’s a lot of them out there. In my own case I don’t know how many times I’ve had to clarify that “no the WP is not SF”, for example. Not blaming the punters here, the self-inflicted splits on the Left are a huge part of the problem.


2. make do and mend - May 31, 2011

Isn’t there a certain poltical convenience in lumping SF, ULA, or Ming (etc.) into one lump sum in the ongoing Irish political narrative? By grouping everyone outside of the premiership together, we automatically devalue their standpoints and views in one go. A lower league party might have a few good players, but if they were really good the premier parties would have recruited them.

It also helps instill the view amongst people who might have sympathy with some policies of these political formations, but are not taken with the entire package or perceived historical baggage, to adopt the non-political-me attitude. These people then wait for the Champions league final (ie general election and opinion polls), since these are obviously the best teams in Europe, and then make a choice which they can easily jettison once the game is finished. Substance replaced by occassional glitz but based on its own internal logic.

When you cannot govern by dictate alone, you must by necessity manage/manipulate the consensus.


WorldbyStorm - May 31, 2011

Very true. I think that’s a great point.


3. Daniel Sullivan - May 31, 2011

Perhaps he meant that “The figure suggests that the protestations against the queen’s visit organised by the party had neither a positive nor negative impact on party support overall.” Cos SF certainly did protest against the visit, even if it was mostly verbals with some black balloons thrown in for the optics.


WorldbyStorm - May 31, 2011

Perhaps though I think in the public consciousness it was the other protests that took precedence.


4. Joe - May 31, 2011

Are we jumping to conclusions here? That he assumed the protests that got the publicity were organised by SF?
Cos SF did organise protests. Some kind of street carnival in Cork iirc. Not sure what in Dublin. But they did organise protests. So he ain’t wrong on the face of it.


WorldbyStorm - May 31, 2011

That’s a fair point, but I guess I’m just supposing that those protests would loom a lot less large in the public consciousness than the other ones – no? I mean I didn’t see any footage of them during the visit – though the balloons were obvious.


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