Referendum campaigns dividing along class lines
INSIDE POLITICS:Middle-class voters and farmers are supporting the fiscal pact, while working-class Ireland is increasingly hostile to it
WHATEVER THE outcome of the referendum next Thursday, the campaign has exposed a big class divide in Ireland on the issue of Europe. Reports coming back from party canvassers confirm opinion poll evidence showing middle-class and working-class voters taking widely divergent views on the fiscal treaty.
It is strange that a country that defied the European norm in which class was the major influence on party politics over the past century should find itself so divided along class lines when it comes to the European Union.
This is not a new phenomenon but it appears to be getting more pronounced as time goes on, with increasing alienation about the European project among working-class voters, particularly those who are open to worries about sovereignty or swayed by nationalistic rhetoric.
One of the ironies of the situation is that people dependent on welfare probably stand to lose most if there is a rejection of the fiscal treaty and the country is plunged into a funding crisis, yet voters in that category provide the bedrock of the No support.
The other side of the coin from working- class alienation is the continuing loyalty of the Irish middle class and the farming community to the EU, despite the erosion of sovereignty involved in the EU-IMF-ECB bailout.
The strength of the Yes support among middle-class voters and farmers can be attributed in some part to enlightened self-interest but it goes deeper than that. For decades now, Eurobarometer polls have shown the Irish to be among the most enthusiastic supporters of European integration. The association of the EU with prosperity and progress has ensured that middle Ireland has remained loyal even in the current trying circumstances.
In fact, some of the assumptions on which both sides have based their campaigns appear to have underestimated the level of support among the electorate for the concept of EU solidarity in the face of the financial and economic crisis.
For instance, a Eurobarometer poll, conducted in March before the campaign got into its stride, found considerable support in Ireland for the principles underpinning the fiscal treaty. Asked if they believed help for member states in financial or economic difficulties should be conditional on following common rules, 61 per cent of Irish voters were in favour; just 13 per cent were against and 26 per cent didn’t know.
Support for escalating financial penalties for states who failed to comply with rules on debt was not quite as strong, but 50 per cent of Irish voters were in favour, 24 per cent against and 26 per cent didn’t know.
Irish voters were a little less committed than the European average in their support for fiscal discipline but, given that the country is in the throes of the bailout programme and that bank debt is a continuing source of controversy, the level of support was remarkably high.
The same class division that has featured in the referendum polls can be extrapolated from the Eurobarometer poll with middle- class Ireland solidly in favour of fiscal disciplines and working-class Ireland against.