Difficult for parties and leaders to meet great expectations at the polls
Opinion: Turnout may be a critical factor in the result
‘The question is whether the voters will factor the national interest into their decision on polling day or simply take out their frustration at the ensuing hardship on Fine Gael and Labour. ’ Above, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.Photograph: Alan Betson
Next Friday’s local and European elections are potentially dangerous for all of the political parties and their leaders. For some the failure to meet high expectations could begin to undermine confidence, while for others a truly bad result could have devastating consequences.
Midterm elections are always difficult for government parties but the past three years of spending cuts and tax increases have presented the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition with a huge challenge. Both Government parties can argue with justice that the measures they took were necessary to save the country from economic ruin. The question is whether the voters will factor the national interest into their decision on polling day or simply take out their frustration at the ensuing hardship on Fine Gael and Labour.
In the run-up to the election the consensus among political observers was that the Fine Gael vote would hold up reasonably well but Labour was in for a pounding.
The theory, supported by opinion poll evidence, was that most Fine Gael voters understood the need for the economic discipline of the past few years but that Labour voters were deeply disillusioned, particularly in the light of the promises made during the last election campaign.
That has created different expectations for the performance of the two Government parties and those expectations could have unexpected consequences. If Fine Gael fails to live up to expectations, and particularly if it drops below 25 per cent, Enda Kenny could be put into a seriously uncomfortable position for the first time since he became Taoiseach and the party’s confidence could be badly dented.
For Eamon Gilmore the expectations are already so low that one of his Euro candidates, Phil Prendergast, called on him to step down as leader in the course of the campaign. If Labour manages to confound the prophets of doom by retaining more than 100 county council seats and holding on to one in the European Parliament the Tánaiste’s position would be secured. The party could even start to feel some hope that the next general election might not be the disaster so many have been predicting for so long.
On the Opposition side expectations could also prove dangerous. It is widely expected that Sinn Féin will sweep all before it on Friday with the best result in the party’s history. Many commentators have been forecasting three European seats and well over a 100 council seats.
On the basis of opinion poll results showing the party at about 20 per cent over the past two years, Sinn Féin should meet those objectives and easily pass out the Labour Party in terms of votes and council seats. In the past Sinn Féin has not translated its best poll results into votes and one of the fascinating aspects of Friday’s result will be whether that pattern repeats itself.