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That latest Presidential poll… October 18, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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If there’s one thing I hate in political analysis it’s that sort of cod psychological approach pioneered by… well, you know who I mean. Certain columnists who argue that every sniff and snuffle of Brian Cowen during his period as Taoiseach was symbolic of his great ‘leadership’ skills and his ability to connect with the plain people of Ireland, or how no television current affairs program can ever be complete unless they’re on it to represent the most hackneyed defence of the status quo as something radical.

But you know, the rise and rise of Sean Gallagher seems for a grim moment almost inexplicable without recourse to such an approach. One wonders is this a sort of catharsis, that Gallagher becomes representative of all those who abandoned Fianna Fáil and now want in some way to find an expression of that. And Gallagher, who left rather later than most, but hardly as late as some – if the polls are to be judged, finally handing in his resignation at the turn of the year is as handy an example as any.

Yet there’s no need to go to those lengths. One can make a fairly straightforward case as to why Gallagher is doing so well and why the rest of the field looks like this:

Mr Gallagher leading for the first time. The poll shows support for the independent candidate rising 18 points to 39 per cent, 12 points ahead of Mr Higgins, who rose two points to 27 per cent.

Support for the remaining candidates has fallen away with all losing support, the poll shows. Martin McGuinness is down 3 per cent to 13 per cent while former favourite David Norris sees his support fall again to 7 per cent. Support for Mary Davis has slipped to 4 per cent while Dana Rosemary Scallon has just 2 per cent support.

Firstly let’s look at those figures. There’s Michael D. Higgins, sitting more or less where he always was. Perhaps his detached, almost aloof, manner isn’t playing quite as well this far into the campaign. Or perhaps he seems less dynamic in contrast with others in the field. Whatever the reason his stock while not falling hasn’t risen much either.

Ironically the assaults by Mitchell have worked, to a degree, but in doing so diminished Mitchell more than McGuinness. McGuinness has seen his support fall. And yet, I can’t help but feel that SF will still be pleased if he comes in on 13 per cent, a good four per cent above their election rating in the face of arguably the most ferocious rhetorical assaults any candidate to any office in this state has ever experienced. Moreover, I’m intrigued to see if that previously higher rating he got in other polls will transfer into…well… transfers. Those who were willing to give him a first preference may be willing to offer him an high transfer. And if so then it remains a win win for Sinn Féin. Has it been difficult for them [and him]? Surely. And the prospect of a win, always unfeasible, now seems utterly remote. But, I still wonder if this is a case of two steps forward one step back for SF. They’ve made their point, they’re a player in a way that they weren’t even a few months back.

For Mitchell, Dana, Davis, et al this is abysmal. There’s little to say about Dana’s most recent woes other than that with what is clearly a split of monumental proportions in her own extended family it might have been sensible to stay out of the fray – particularly given the sensitivities that the glum progress and otherwise of the David Norris campaign demonstrated were extant. I’m fascinated by how Davis’s star crashed and burned. I thought she was much better placed to do well. David Norris must wonder what happened to those halcyon days where he was in high percentages, though as defeat beckons he has seemed to relax. It strikes me that his candidacy though nowhere near as effective as it once might have seemed still represents something of a step forward too.

And Gallagher? Perhaps his relative youth in this field is one factor. Perhaps his bland but consistent rhetoric [actually some of the stuff that he’s coming out with is simply appalling – his comment at a youth forum where he “…described creating an Ireland where every young person could “sing your song””… is he channeling Bono?]. Perhaps as Pat Leahy noted in the Sunday Business Post, the fact that he’s an Independent in a time when Independents are flavour of the year, but better still and Independent who has had links to FF, and his ‘optimism’ – again perhaps not unrelated to his age. And perhaps his rhetoric does strike a chord with a population being told consistently now that a further four years of austerity stretch ahead. Perhaps this is a sort of General Election redux where just as FG and the LP gained from presenting a sunny face of ‘not being the other guys’ so Gallagher is locking into a similar dynamic.

But it’s what’s not said that’s so telling.

Economic matters have, in real terms, been almost entirely ignored in the debates, and unsurprisingly so given the limited powers of the Presidency – and Gay Mitchell yesterday made yet another curious intervention on precisely that issue. But paradoxically because the President does so little in real terms the space has opened up for almost baroque critiques of issues that in general terms are minor. Is Mary Davis really a ‘quango queen’, does the issue of Gallagher’s financial affairs really have the traction they think and so on [though already he’s now firmly in the line of fire of his rivals]. And even where questions remain, those actually asked – as exemplified by Miriam O’Callaghan’s bathetic [and I mean bathetic, not pathetic, though she didn’t cover herself in glory in asking it] question to McGuinness over squaring his religion with murders or knowing ‘every Republican’ [and how telling an insight into how small the world can appear from Donnybrook] – are coat trailing and designed to provoke rather than enlighten.

There’s lots of serious questions one could ask McGuinness; for example, at what point did he believe that armed struggle had lost its efficacy and how did he communicate this to his colleagues in SF, and even if the answers to that are unlikely to be forthcoming at least they’d raise the level of the discourse somewhere above the ‘how dare you you stand here before us?’ and might get us an insight into how he moved from one position to another rather than pretending that there was no move and that his current position is indistinguishable from his original one. But then there’s lots of questions one could ask of all the candidates. What of the seeming radicalism of Higgins as against his loyalty to his party? What of Sean Gallagher’s late, so very late, apostasy as regards Fianna Fáil? And so on and so forth.

What is true is that, even factoring in the particular hostility against McGuinness, we’ve seen a process whereby almost each candidate [bar curiously Higgins – at least to date] has been battered down by a media all too obviously eager to scent blood. I think, to be honest, that it’s gone well beyond what might be called reasonable criticism into a sort of bloodsport.

In the end this is an election which reflects well on almost no-one involved. And while some might see that as the point and of course previous campaigns were dirty, from Eoghan Harris talking about a ’tribal time-bomb’ in relation to the then candidate and now incumbent to P. Flynn’s derision over Mary Robinson. And of course there’s that infamous ‘tape’ from the Robinson campaign. But perhaps what marks this campaign apart is that the media has now stepped up as self-appointed arbiter. But to what end? What precisely do the people in this state want in and as their President? Weeks and months into a campaign that has seemed interminably long I’m still no closer to figuring that out.

And as for winning? I think with two weeks, just about, left there’s plenty of scope for more knocking material to be fed into the public sphere. It’s simply too early to count either Higgins or Gallagher in or out. Or as Richard Cowell puts it in the SBP, ‘the very large shifts in support seen so far mean that nothing is certain until election day, with two weeks of twists and turns still to come’.

Those shifts in support are significant beyond the Presidential Election.

Neither Labour nor Fine Gael, nor indeed any other party – bar perhaps SF whose core support is solid [though they themselves are small enough to have less to lose], can take any great comfort from the churn of votes. There is no clear FG vote in the way there once was. Nor a Labour Party one, nor – obviously in this contest, an FF one. Small wonder that Independents continue to be an attractive proposition. Something unremarked upon in the coverage is that the total Independent vote in the election is now 52% [let’s ignore McGuinness’ non party status]. That’s pretty remarkable given previous Presidential elections, that’s pretty remarkable given the history and nature of the polity.

The electorate, even all these months after the general election, still hasn’t found a home yet and that spells bad news for the Government in particular because it suggests a significant breach of trust with the previous [and current] establishment – even more so if we consider that part of the 48% party directed vote includes Sinn Féin!

And it spells opportunity too.

I won’t have been the only one in recent days to have been getting the totals for those figures on my calculator.

Comments»

1. steve white - October 18, 2011

it political scientist to go merely accusing SG of being fianna fail and put it more bluntly battle between the left and the right, as higgins said, populism more like, gallagher promising things he can’t deliver and there’s nothing more fianna fail then that.

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2. sonofstan - October 18, 2011

And yet, I can’t help but feel that SF will still be pleased if he comes in on 13 per cent, a good four per cent above their election rating in the face of arguably the most ferocious rhetorical assaults any candidate to any office in this state has ever experienced.

Hold on a sec: SF can’t have their cake and eat it on this one – either he’s an independent, and therefore his vote is only tangentially an SF vote, or he is the SF candidate…..

I suspect it won’t stop them claiming whatever percentage McG gets as representing an SF advance, though (unless it’s lower than 9%…)

BTW, I can’t be only person who might consider, depending on the candidate, voting – or at least giving a preference to – an SF supported runner, but for whom Marty is nearly last on the list? (I possibly have slightly more regard for Dana, but possibly not for Mitch.)

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Joe - October 18, 2011

On that last paragraph, SoS. Fear not. You are not alone.

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3. Blissett - October 18, 2011

‘And yet, I can’t help but feel that SF will still be pleased if he comes in on 13 per cent, a good four per cent above their election rating in the face of arguably the most ferocious rhetorical assaults any candidate to any office in this state has ever experienced.’

as a shinner, no I don’t agree. 13pc would be disappointing. I think he could, and should get 15-16, that is satisfactory, but 13 wouldn’t be great by any means

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4. LeftAtTheCross - October 18, 2011

On Gallagher’s popularity, I’ve heard comments that apart from his business like approach (!) that his youth gives him a bit of Obama-like appeal, with the possibility of the pitter patter of little feet gracing the corridors of the Áras being seen as a positive. At this stage I’m thinking that emigration to a class-conscious society like Greece may be an option…

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5. steve white - October 18, 2011

the answer would be 1974 wouldn’t it

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6. CMK - October 18, 2011

Electing Gallagher will be a disaster. Not least that it will say something about a country and society willing to elect an individual who built his profile up exclusively through a TV programme which involves the ritual humiliation of some of his fellow citizens. Who knew about Gallagher prior to his rise to ‘Dragon’ status? Very few outside of FF and the construction industry. So, his profile is built on ‘Dragon’s Den’, a programme that relies for part of its appeal on dragging unfortunates into the limelight so that they can be laughed and sneered at by the nation. A sure way to degrade the Presidency is to elect Gallagher to it; in fact his election would be all the evidence you’d need to abolish it. If Gallagher does succeed in being elected, regardless of his actual record, it will provide succour and encouragement to the ‘we need businesspeople in power to sort this country out’ brigade and before we know it we’ll have a Michael O’Leary or Des Cullen type in cabinet via the Seanad back door. I suspect more and more Lefties here are eyeing the departure lounge…

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sonofstan - October 18, 2011

We were worrying here a while back about the emergence of type ‘post-political’ right-wing populist movement from the ashes of FF – but you’re never quite ready for it when it pops up. The comparison is probably more with Putin than Berlusconi – like the Soviet Communist Party then , FF is an organisation that remains in existence, and retains a certain loyalty among its people, long after any objective reason for its existence has passed. So what you do is take over the zombified party org. and use all of that networked potential towards a personalised, pro-business, patriotic, mildly anti-immigrant platform.

Can we charter a plane, maybe?

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LeftAtTheCross - October 18, 2011

Surely hijacking would be more appropriate. Take me to Havana…

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CMK - October 18, 2011

A very credible analysis. Gallagher’s not even 50 year; 7 years in the Aras while FF rehabilitate. 7 years of austerity budgets and emoting from Gallagher and FF, and by 2018 he’s ready to get stuck into serious politics as a front bencher/minister for FF along with the other pro-business carpet baggers who, you’re correct, will hi-jack FF for their own ends. The presidency is the start of Gallagher’s political career not its end, he’s a baby Berlusconi for sure.

Re: the charter plan: while the departure lounge is getting more and more attractive I plan to stay around and see how things turn out. Hopefully we’ll live to see McDowell, Ahern and the rest of them being air-lifted from the roof of the US embassy as the Irish revolution wins out. Or maybe not. Anyway, ‘interesting times’.

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EWI - October 18, 2011

The comparison is probably more with Putin than Berlusconi

Ahh – you saw him (Gallagher) demonstrating his black belt for the RTÉ cameras the other night, right? “Putin” sprung to my mind as well (I wonder would Gallagher try to start a post-FF party around his personality? Ganley tried to do it, but he’s too creepy by far)

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sonofstan - October 18, 2011

Ahh – you saw him (Gallagher) demonstrating his black belt for the RTÉ cameras the other night, right?

No, actually – I don’t have a TV at the minute: which means I’m at a complete loss with the Gallagher thing because I haven’t seen him on the medium where he obviously comes across best, I’ve never seen the Dragon’s Den, fr’instance. And every other candidate, ‘cept Davis, is someone I’ve known about for 35-40 years: which when you think about it, is part of the problem, and explains a lot of the SG appeal to the yoof.

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7. Seamus Costello Commemoration | Irish Free Press - October 18, 2011

[…] That latest Presidential poll? 07:36 Tue Oct 18, 2011 | WorldbyStorm […]

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8. Blissett - October 18, 2011

A friend of mine told me he’s voting for Gallagher. About same age as me, from a similar background, albeit more rural, he’s a legal trainee.
When I asked him why, he said he was the most ‘normal’ of them all.
Seems like a really banal answer, but still, I think there’s something in that, that he registers with people that he’s not a nut, nor controversial, nor too high-falutin.

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shea - October 18, 2011

a friend of mine in her teens said the same. he’s polling well with young people. don’t know why, bet he’s using focus groups. some sentiment he’s expressing. not enough to familierise yourself with the pro’s and con’s of an argument anymore now have to be able to read the psychoanalysis tricks being used. a reck the head when you can’t spot them but you know there there. like listening to a conversation that goes over your head in your own language.

the main government candiate is on less than 10% though could be some fun had with that.

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9. Jim Monaghan - October 18, 2011

It just proves you can fool some people all or nearly all the time. He was a senior FFer. He worked for O’Hanlon who let the religious rders off the hook. He is the equivalent of the tea party. Funnily the focus on Mitchell as the bete noir has left him a clear run.As for enterprise. His enterprise is a faux one.

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fergal - October 18, 2011

Tend to agree with Blissett and Shea,.Gallagher does’t stand for anything,he is the consensus candidate par excellence.This state and its citizens crave consensus,”we’re all in it together” crap.This is Ireland 2011,smug,middle class and bleating to the world how tough its austerity programme is.

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10. Crocodile - October 18, 2011

As somebody becomes a possible winner, his/her support increases. That’s a common phenomenon. Davis, Dana, Norris and Mitchell are already goners. People will vote for Gallagher for the same reason 10-year-olds wear Man Utd shirts.

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Chet Carter - October 19, 2011

And remember the Left did not forward a credible candidate to challenge this cosy consensus. So it is inevitable that the campaign has focussed on personalities. No point moaning about the banality of this election if no alternative is being offered.

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rockroots - October 19, 2011

The Left wasn’t in a position to forward a credible candidate, with only a handful of Oireachtas members and no Councils. If – ‘if’ – a constitutional convention changes the rules for the next election (which could well be in another 14 years, exactly because of the “consensus” reasons Fergal mentions above), then that might change. But even 7 years is a long time to wait, and even at that, for each credible left candidate you’d probably get 2 more TV personalities or pop stars running. Sorry if I sound too cynical.

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LeftAtTheCross - October 19, 2011

“for each credible left candidate you’d probably get 2 more TV personalities or pop stars running.”

In 7 or 14 years time Bono might have hung up his rock star boots and be looking for a new gig. With all those international contacts and international fame could there possibly be a better candidate to represent Ireland on the world stage?

Remember, you heard it here first…

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11. Chet Carter - October 19, 2011

Being President of Ireland would not fulfill Bono’s ambitions. Head of the UN would be more his thing.

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12. FergusD - October 19, 2011

As teh President of the RoI is largely ceremonial and symbolic (although also technically a guardian of the constitution?) why choose a politician at all? I would prefer someone such as a leading writer,artust, scientist, human rights activist or something like that as a symbol. I suppose that may be naive, as politics would inevitably come into it, but as the President doesn’t have any role in the political direction of the country why not choose someone like that?

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13. JJ - October 22, 2011

I quote “gallagher promising things he can’t deliver and there’s nothing more fianna fail then that”
from
Steve White
This just repeating what he here’s on the media. Have your own opinion look at the info.
There are 3 real candidates in this election ths rest lack credibility and likeability.
1 McGuinness: Good speaker, motivated, inspiring but has too much negativity to be President
2. Higgins Experienced, but the questioned experienced in what? Confining to the norm, passive a perfect candidate for any government. For anyone that doesn’t understand this is not a good thing. Hes early 70s this is a 7 year term we need someone with energy, theres alot to be done
3.Sean Gallagher: Genuine, honest, coonnects with people, people can relate to him!! He says he will try to create employment free up trade attract companies. These are attainable and main thing here is the positive statement profected that Ireland is open for jobs open to talks willing to negotiate.
Gallagher number one

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sonofstan - October 22, 2011

I fucking despair.

He’s anything but ‘genuine’ and ‘honest’ – lied about his connections with FF, lied about his business and tax affairs, lied about his education. lied about the farm he supposedly bought when he was 21, lied about opening the fucking Wexford Opera Festival for Christs sake.
‘Ireland is open for jobs’ – what does that even mean? And how is the president supposed to create jobs? do you even know what the job entails?

The man’s a charlatan.

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CMK - October 22, 2011

“The man’s a charlatan.”

And it looks like he’s on his way to the Aras.

I, too, despair.

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sonofstan - October 22, 2011

Perceptive post on P.ie (i know – but stopped clocks and all that….) saying that the SG vote is born of nostalgia for the tiger era: large sections of the electorate don’t regret the excesses or stupidities of the boom, they just regret its end: and they’d like it back, please.

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14. irishelectionliterature - October 23, 2011

I think Gallaghers relative Youth is also a factor.
I don’t know if anyone watched the documentary on Mary McAleese last week … apropos of that, a number of people mentioned to me that they couldn’t imagine Michael D taking on such a workload.

The perception is that Michael D wants to change the Presidency to be more about the Arts, Culture etc …. which is all very well but voters actually want Mary McAleese mark 2 and Gallagher is seen to fit the bill best.

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