Independents set to emerge from local elections as largest bloc

Friday’s election will crystallise slide in support for the Government parties

Combined support for Independents and smaller parties is at 28 per cent in today’s poll. Photograph: David Sleator.

Combined support for Independents and smaller parties is at 28 per cent in today’s poll. Photograph: David Sleator.

Tue, May 20, 2014, 01:00

The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll puts an approximate value on the price in council seats that Fine Gael and Labour will pay for being in Government. Despite the overall increase in council seats to 949 this time around, Fine Gael and Labour will emerge from this week’s elections with fewer local representatives.

Polled on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week, local election support was measured for Fine Gael at 23 per cent, compared to the 35 per cent achieved five years ago. Labour, on 7 per cent, are significantly behind the 14 per cent registered in 2009.

Sinn Féin are on course to more than double their representation, coming in at 19 per cent in this week’s poll. In the last local elections, the party achieved just 8 per cent of the popular vote.

At 23 per cent, Fianna Fáil’s vote is broadly in line with its 2009 performance.

Friday’s elections will likely see Independents/Others, with combined support of 28 per cent, emerge as the largest political block based on these latest poll findings.

These elections will crystallise the slide in support for the Government parties that the polls have been tracking since the general election in 2011.

While voters may be more considered or philosophical in their voting intentions at the next general election, the local elections are an opportunity to send a message to Government that the well has run dry.

While the macro trend has been away from Fine Gael and Labour and towards Sinn Féin and Independents, recent events could easily have upset this trend at a time when it really mattered. Instead, this new political construct has proven extremely robust.

With Sinn Féin on 19 per cent, today’s poll suggests the alleged association of Gerry Adams with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville has not had any significant impact on party support.

The Gerry Adams arrest did impact opinion of Sinn Féin. Some voters have been further alienated, as evidenced by the 22 per cent that claim to be less likely to vote Sinn Féin as a consequence. However, the arrest also appears to have stiffened the resolve of Sinn Féin voters, with 22 per cent more likely to support the party versus 6 per cent less likely.

The poll also asked voters whether they believed Gerry Adams was a member of the IRA. The majority (68 per cent) believe he was a member. A majority of Sinn Féin voters (59 per cent) also reckon their party leader was a member of the IRA.

For the majority of Sinn Féin voters, the past is the past. It certainly does not appear to be the political banana skin it could have been. No doubt the resilience of the party’s anti-austerity positioning is acting as a buffer against any negative publicity.

Fine Gael look set to lose seats. The slide in support for the party since the 2011 general election is clearly a function, in part at least, of the programme of austerity they inherited and have since implemented while in Government.

Today’s poll shows the public feels the Fine Gael leadership were not decisive enough in how they responded to allegations of Garda wrongdoing. For example, 61 per cent believed Alan Shatter should have resigned as minister for justice sooner, compared to 19 per cent who felt the timing was right: just 8 per cent thought he should not have resigned at all.

Shatter effect
When asked whether Alan Shatter’s resignation would impact their likelihood to vote Fine Gael, 21 per cent agreed they were less likely and 5 per cent indicated they were more likely to vote Fine Gael.

For Labour, a sizeable loss of seats can be expected. Support for the party is now consistently in single digits. While Labour tried to salvage something from the introduction of water meters by calling for the elimination of a standing charge, the timing of the debate on how much to charge for water could not have been worse.

Fianna Fáil is aiming to match its 2009 performance when it registered 25 per cent of the popular vote. On 23 per cent with just one week to go, the party is only two points away from what might be considered a recovery milestone. Fianna Fáil probably did not take full advantage of the opportunity the Shatter and Adams distractions presented.

The bumbling of Mary Hanafin’s nomination prevented Fianna Fáil from putting points on the board while their rivals were in the sin bin.

Local elections have tended to favour independent candidates, a pattern that will be repeated on Friday. Combined support for Independents and smaller parties is at 28 per cent in today’s poll.

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 promised a change in the shape and size of local government. Today’s poll points to a change also in its composition. The rise of Sinn Féin and Independents since 2011 is poised, for the first time, to translate into actual seats and real influence. Which begs the question, will the composition of the next government change as radically?

Damian Loscher is managing director of Ipsos MRBI

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