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A poll, a new poll, an interesting new poll… December 19, 2011

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

And so we are treated to a poll, a Sunday Times poll no less, and fascinating reading it makes. According to RTÉ:

Fine Gael support is down seven points since the last Sunday Times poll eight weeks ago, to 30%, while Labour loses four points to 11%.
Fianna Fáil support is up five to 20%, although the party is still behind Sinn Féin, up two points to 21%; independents and others are the other big winners, up four points, to 18%.

A few obvious thoughts. Is the palpable failure of ‘austerity’ feeding into these figures? Probably not given that the most recent reports of economic slowdown arrived in a cluster at the end of the week, but troubling for the Government, and indeed the champions of the orthodoxy when they do begin to impact.

Why are the Green Party, a party without national representation still recorded separately in the opinion poll? One wonders what the results would be if it were ULA, or Socialist Party, or People Before Profit, all of which have members actually in the Dáil, and significantly greater local represenation than the Green Party. Indeed the skewing effects of asking about the GP are potentially so great – after all 3 per cent is margin of error that it’s hard not to see this as profoundly negative.

Thirdly, Fianna Fáil sits a bare 2.5 points above its General Election tally of 17.4 per cent. Some might see that as a remarkable recovery but I’d think Martin et al might be wondering where their vote has gone.

Because look at the real winners here, a Sinn Féin which currently has 21 per cent. That’s a doubling and slightly more of their election vote, and we’re still less than a year out from that election. It’s dangerous to extrapolate too much from a single poll, and my own feeling is that SF is probably in the mid to late teens rather than up in the 20s, but clearly the Presidential Election bid and the accompanying flak from various quarters in the media have been less harmful than some might have expected to them.

There’s another point. SF is articulating a clear left of centre message and it’s notable how their TDs were willing to sign up to the no payment of charges campaign. It’s polling data like this that – with a bit of luck – should keep SF positioned – indeed pushed – on the left of centre because there’s clearly room in that territory for them to grow their vote, something that may be a new development in Irish politics (one could ask is this the softish leftish vote that FF held for so long unti its ability to maintain a cross class coalition deserted it in the last few years?). Certainly looking at the figures and the rapid decline in the LP vote there’s space on the left and further left. That said it’s intriguing to try to work out where the FG vote has gone. Part perhaps back to the GP? Part to the Independents? Part to FF. And cumulatively one finds that adds up to 8 or so per cent.

Again, this underlines the volatility in the electorate, with significant percentages still shifting around in search of a home, but… that home appears to be one which is positioned in no small part on the left of centre/centre left, at least to judge from where that vote has gone previously.

Which brings us to Labour. Dear oh dear. They’re having a bad economic war, a bad time in government and… well – so much for a honeymoon period following the Presidential election. Look, consider how Brendan Howlin went out the week before last to give the bad news on cuts whereas the next day Michael Noonan was able to present his ‘no new taxes’ – sort of – face. The tactical lunacy of this is bad enough, but the actuality of what it represents is something else again. I know that there’s a mood abroad in the LP that they’re holding the tide on the most rapacious right wing instincts of FG, but the problem is that when one is implementing global cuts in public expenditure that’s a thin defense to hide behind. The GP tried, on a lower level, something similar in relation to cuts in the equality area and look what good that did them.

More over there’s a cynicism there [and depressing it is to see the faux-FF lines trotted out in the Dáil and Seanad by those who one would have hoped would have eschewed them]. I remember having lunch with a very pleasant LP person, who might count I guess as an apparatchik, some years back and being stunned to hear them argue quite openly that were they in government they’d do much as FF was doing at that time in terms of cuts etc. it wasn’t just that this seemed to be antithetical to social democratic politics as I understand it. The further problem I had was that to then argue publicly in the Dáil and elsewhere that what FF was doing was intrinsically wrong while being ready to do much the same was at its kindest contradictory. And it didn’t give me confidence for the future.

And now I think that the LP and FG are both paying for playing fast and loose with the electorate. Or rather come any electoral contest they will pay, for this remains just a poll. Indeed I tend to think that the complaints, or is it whinging, from LP members about the apostasy of Patrick Nulty draws most of its vehemence from the fact that Nulty shows up most pointedly the dislocation between rhetoric and actions, and in their cases inactions. They can complain about his actions but at least he stood with his record and his beliefs [and there’s interesting rumours about that some who might not have entirely dissimilar beliefs were surprised and put out that he jumped before them. Them’s the breaks of politics].

There’s more though, the trope that a grateful electorate will ‘reward’ political parties for making ‘tough’ decisions is beloved on the Stephen Collins of the world. But on the ground where people have to get by on diminishing incomes or social welfare the reality is quite quite different. There those tough decisions, as with the lack of increased income taxes, look – as they are – like weighing on those who have less and allowing those with more off the hook. The sheer unfairness of the new charges, about as regressive as it is possible to make any tax, merely points this up.

So where next? No doubt FF will gain a little more in the future. No doubt SF will stabilise. Those Independent figures are fascinating because if they remain at those levels then we seem set to continue a period of historically high numbers of Independents and smaller parties returned to the Dáil. And why not? When the larger parties, other than SF – though they’re far from beyond reasonable critique, continue to present Janus like faces to the electorate the sheer sincerity of the voices from those smaller formations has a power all its own. What it does do is suggest, again with the caveat that this would have to be sustained well into the future, that government formation may be remarkably difficult in the future.

And where’s the optimism for the future? Not surprisingly there’s none at all.

The poll found that financial issues remain the biggest issue for voters. Sixty per cent of respondents said they were worried about not being able to pay household bills, with 43 per cent expressing fears over their mortgage payments.

Meanwhile almost four in ten people said they were worried about losing their jobs, and more than half – 55 per cent – said they feared somebody else in their household would be made redundant.

Think about it. The largest single employer in the state, the state itself, is under considerable media pressure to relook at the Croke Park Agreement. The impacts of that if wages are cut further or jobs are cut more on consumer spending would be quite something to see, and what’s struck me in the last week is how weak consumer spending is, particularly given that this is the run up to Christmas. I’m a talkative person and make it my business to ask how others businesses are going. Sure, it’s entirely subjective, but let’s just say that a week of using taxis, being in various shops and so on suggests that the situation on the ground is as grim as the consumer data suggests.

But in a context where the concept that “austerity will lead to growth” is the orthodoxy when every economic indicator – as well as previous economic history – suggests otherwise the coverage for those propounding this line is getting very thin on the ground. Problem is that all of us continue to live within this experiment and will until the bitter end or someone somewhere [and reading between the lines the IMF has been making interesting noises about this] shouts stop. But given how embedded the orthodoxy is in our own commentariat don’t expect much change from within this polity.

By the way, illness prevented me, if I recall correctly, from dealing with the last SBP poll where the figures though somewhat adrift from this poll suggest not entirely dissimilar dynamics… as Adrian Kavanagh noted on the always interesting Politicalreform.ie they were as follows:

Fine Gael 32%, Labour 15%, Fianna Fail 18%, Sinn Fein 15%, Independents and Others (including Green Party) 20%. Based on assigning seats on the basis of constituency support estimates (simply using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats), while also taking account of the factors of vote transfers and vote splitting/management (based on vote transfer/management patterns oberved in the February 2011 election), party seat levels would be estimated as follows: Fine Gael 67, Labour 28, Fianna Fail 25, Sinn Fein 22, Others 24.

Interesting to see the number crunching after this one.


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2. irishelectionliterature - December 19, 2011

In Kavanaghs entry for this poll
He reckons it equates to Fine Gael 61, Labour 13, Fianna Fail 36, Sinn Fein 33, Green Party 2, Others 21.

Which would be some turnaround for Labour and Fine Gael with Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein and others all picking up seats at their expense.

When you also add in TDs age profile for many of the ‘safe’ Labour seats, you could actually be looking at worse than 11. There are at least 9 Labour TDs that will be in their late sixties or early Seventies by the time the next election is due. Joe Costello, Emmet Stagg, Jack Wall, Sean Kenny, Michael Connaghan, Eric Byrne ,Ruairi Quinn ,Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte are names that spring to mind.


WorldbyStorm - December 19, 2011

Hadn’t thought of that, though a bit of adept footwork and some of those might save themselves by going Independent 😉


Tomboktu - December 19, 2011

Hadn’t thought of Joan Burton going independent. (That is what you meant, isn’t it?)


irishelectionliterature - December 19, 2011

I meant retiring. Whilst they won’t get the same level of abuse and hatred FF and the Greens got they won’t exactly be greeted joyfully when they go around canvassing.

Can you imagine Joan Burton trying to canvass in the Blanchardstown Centre after all the welfare cuts? She’d be savaged. That said I saw Conor Lenihan canvassing in The Square before the last election and he was just being ignored.

Most Labour or Fine Gael TDs have never made a ‘tough’ political decision in their lives, especially one that would enrage voters. They won’t know what to be saying when confronted by voters. It will no longer be ‘we won’t do this or that’ it will be ‘we did this and that’.
With handy enough pensions they might be tempted to avoid the fray like many senior FF figures did the last time.


3. shea - December 19, 2011

apart from the ula being lumped into the independent section the independent vote is misleading in that its not spread. e.g i like ming but i can’t vote for him. how do you factor that into a national poll


WorldbyStorm - December 19, 2011

There’s something in what you say. But isn’t the same true of SF? After all they have strong areas and weak areas. And perhaps now the same is also true of both the LP and FF. That said Kavanagh and others do seem to be able to point to some accuracy in their seat projections based on all this so perhaps it’s a case that in the general a, for example, 15% national spread of Independents will lead to 18 seats or somesuch though it can’t entirely accurately predict the final situation on the ground. Take Wicklow where Donnelly came in 200 ahead of the SF candidate. Just 200 votes and there’d have been one less Indo in the Dáil. So as you say there’s an element of not so much chance but variation in this.


Jack Jameson - December 20, 2011

Are the polling companies thick?

PBP and the SP are not Independents and should be categorised in polls individually (we can add them up ourselves if the ULA holds together).

Those TDs not identified with any party and truly Independent (Maureen, Ming, Mick, Ross, etc) should be listed under Independent.

It’s not that hard, is it?

BTW: Surely the WP has almost as much right as the Green Party to have its own category?


Jack Jameson - December 20, 2011



4. shea - December 19, 2011

don’t think its the same as SF;s problem. think it depends on if someone is anti the political parties on offer in praticular and votes independent in there area or if some one likes ming. there two different brands getting lumped in together. just because i like ming doesn’t mean i like Donnelly i may be living in donnelly’s area or i may not and in voting terms its irrelivent. for SF i may not overly like the local candidate but i might like the national brand or visa versa, or i might be supportive but they might not be standing in my area, the latter the problem might be similar but not over all not the same .


5. EamonnCork - December 20, 2011

Think FF will be disappointed not to be improving by more given the government’s performance. Future looks very bright for SF as they’ll be the only large party not associated with austerity. And after the McGuinness presidential election campaign I don’t think the gunman jibes will have the same power from now on. I just question whether they have the right structure nationally to capitalise on electoral good will. The lumping together of independents is daft, it implies a common viewpoint between someone who votes for Clare Daly and someone who votes for Shane Ross.


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