Coalition parties facing stiff election challenges in May

Opinion: Inside Politics

 Sinn Féin spokesman on social protection, Aengus O’ Snodaigh TD at Leinster House

Sinn Féin spokesman on social protection, Aengus O’ Snodaigh TD at Leinster House

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 01:08

If they didn’t know it already the challenge facing the Coalition parties in next month’s European and local elections is illustrated in the latest Ipsos, MRBI Irish Times p oll.

Any complacency in Fine Gael that it could rely on its new-found status as the biggest party in the country to automatically deliver a satisfactory result has been shattered by the poll which shows Fianna Fáil drawing level with its old rival.

It was always going to be a difficult contest for Labour and the poll confirms that the party will struggle to hold even one of the three Euro seats it won in 2009. It will also lose council seats; the only question being how many.

In some ways mid-term European and local elections are a more difficult challenge for government parties than a general election. Choosing a government focuses the minds of voters because they know that the decisions they make will have a direct impact on their lives in terms of tax and State services. By contrast, European elections appear to be a consequences-free vote and allow the electorate the luxury of its whims. That is why smaller parties and Independents have proportionately done far better in European elections than in general elections.

The Greens were able to win two seats out of 12 in Europe in 1999 at a time when they had just two out of 166 in the Dáil. In the last European elections in 2009 the Socialist Party won a seat in Europe when it had one in the Dáil. Independents have also fared well in European elections down the years, although Marian Harkin is one of the few who has managed to get elected more than once.

If the poll results are replicated on May 23rd, Sinn Féin, Independents and smaller parties have a good chance of winning six out of the 11 European seats.

Same trend
The same trend is happening in other European countries, with Ukip poised to do very well in Britain, the National Front in France, far-left Syriza in Greece, and a range of other far-right and left wing parties in other countries from the Netherlands to Finland.

That said, there is nothing inevitable about the outcome in Ireland. While Sinn Féin, smaller parties like the Socialists and Independents are in with a great chance of winning seats in all three constituencies, a lot will depend on the nature of the campaign and the turnout.

For instance, if Sinn Féin achieves the 21 per cent level of support indicated in the poll it will certainly win a seat in each of the three constituencies. However, the party does have a problem in translating poll support into votes. That was illustrated in the presidential election of 2011 when Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness got 18 per cent in the first Irish Times poll of the campaign a month before the vote but ended up with 13.5 per cent.

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