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.

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