fallibilist

"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Polls show hung Dail on the cards

After last Sunday's statement by the Taoiseach on his finances and the leaders' debates midweek, a ray of light for Fianna Fail in the shape of two new opinion polls. Today's Millward Brown IMS/Sunday Independent and Red C/Sunday Business Post polls show Fianna Fail gaining slightly against the FG/Labour alliance. The Sunday Independent poll was conducted on Monday and Tuesday - after the statement and before the debates, while the Sunday Business Post took the nation's temperature on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The numbers are as follows. Sunday Independent: FF 37 (+2), FG 25 (-1), Labour 12 (-1), PD's 3 (no change), Greens 5 (no change), Sinn Fein 9 (-1), Independent/others 9 (-1). Sunday Business Post: FF 36 (+1), FG 27 (-2), Labour 11 (-1), Greens 8 (+2), SF 10 (+3), PD 2(-1) and Independent/others 6 (-2).

On these numbers, a hung Dail is a distinct possibility, with both alternatives coming up short of a majority. Fianna Fail will be happy the slide has ended, but a one-point gain in the only poll taken after the Bertie-Enda debate isn't much of a bounce. The Red C poll puts FG/Labour and the Greens on 46%, which (lest we forget) is more than the current Government managed in
2002. However, last time out both Fianna Fail and the PD's probably took more seats than expected on the number of first preferences they attracted. It seems to me that Fine Gael's target must be to reach or better its 1997 result of 27.9%. Working on the premise that the Millward Brown IMS underestimates Fine Gael support and the Red C poll is the more accurate, then FG is in the ballpark. The Red C poll also shows the Greens recovering well - they look a good bet for 8-9 seats. Therefore, FG/Labour's target is 74 or 75. Fine Gael needs to break the magic 50-seat barrier - a return to its 1997 level of 52 seats would do nicely. Enda Kenny would then get a majority.

But how likely is that? The first difficulty is that, like all general elections in Ireland, there is a degree to which Thursday will be 43 disconnected local battles. Many voters will look to whose is best for their area, rather for the nation. As Stephen Collins pointed out in yesterday's Irish Times, "as the strongest and most successful political organisation in the history of the State, [Fianna Fail] is better equipped than any other party to survive on an ebbing tide. There are a number of constituencies in which Fianna Fail could endure a significant vote loss but hold on to its seats." The second difficulty is that, whatever about how he came to own his house, Bertie Ahern remains the towering figure of modern Irish politics post-Lemass, both in terms of popularity and achievement. There will be people voting on Thursday (like Eoghan Harris, as he says in today's Sunday Independent), in order to get Bertie for a third term. Thursday night's debate reminded the voters that he remains a formidable operator. In comparison with Enda Kenny, he is the experienced choice for Taoiseach. The difficulty with that argument is that Fine Gael has only been in power for two of the last 20 years: There is hardly a non-FF politician in the land qualified for the job of Taoiseach, if one insists on significant recent ministerial experience.

Two final things of note. Firstly, Ivan Yates, former FG minister and now bookmaker, says the best odds currently favour the following outcome, as told to the Sunday Tribune: FF 64-66 or 66-69 (equal odds), FG 45-47, Labour 21-22, PD's 2, Sinn Fein, 9-10, Greens 9. The difference between those figures and a Rainbow majority is the difference between its projection for Fine Gael (45-47) and Fine Gael's target: 52.

Second, the front page of this morning's Sunday Tribune has the headline "Four days to go ... Fianna Fail's only option: Taoiseach Rabbitte or Taoiseach O'Caolain." The former has emphatically rejected Fianna Fail overtures, the latter's overtures have been emphatically rejected by Fianna Fail. The election could yet turn on a last-furlong shift on sentiment, as it did in 2002 due to Michael McDowell's capitalisation on the need to prevent one-party government. I wonder whether the spanner in the works this time might be public fear that a vote for Fianna Fail would be a vote for Sinn Fein in government. Personally I think that would be unfair on Bertie Ahern, who I believe is genuinely opposed to Sinn Fein participation in government. We'll see soon enough whether the FG/Labour alliance wants to make an issue of it. In an interview in today's Sunday Independent, Enda Kenny said: "Can you take the Taoiseach on his word on this matter? It's like this, power for Fianna Fail is the ultimate."

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