‘Centrist’ voters who deserted Fianna Fáil have still not settled on a new home
Opinion: If there is room for a new party it is likely to be on the right of the spectrum
Inheritors? Could voters who deserted Fianna Fáil in 2011 return to it at the next election? Photograph: Cyril Byrne
With speculation (at least in some media organisations) going into overdrive on the questions of whether, when and how a new political party might emerge, it is instructive to examine the position of Irish voters on this question.
A good place to look perhaps is the last election, when the conditions for the emergence of a new party could scarcely have been better. The 2011 Irish National Election Study (INES) probed a representative sample of voters for their views on politics, political and economic reform and the state of the parties.
There is no doubt that voters were extremely dissatisfied with the existing parties at that time: large swathes of them deserted Fianna Fáil, while Independent candidates fared better than at any time since the early 1950s. This seemed the perfect seedbed for a new political party to form.
The consistent view is that if a new party is to emerge it is most likely to come from the right of the political spectrum, and for good reason.
As the 2011 INES shows (consistently with earlier surveys), Irish voters locate themselves on average on the right of the left-right spectrum.
In the light of the economic meltdown and the sense of political crisis that characterised the 2011 election, if there had been scope for a new party to emerge then we should expect to find right-of-centre voters having little confidence in politicians and their honesty and capability. The same would apply when it comes to attitudes towards institutions, especially the Dáil and the established political parties. The rationale here is that a weakening of confidence in existing parties and institutions will be a precursor for realignment, and we should be especially on the lookout for evidence of this among right-of-centre voters.
However, what the INES data reveal on the contrary is that voters on the right of the left/right spectrum have greater confidence in and higher levels of regard for Ireland’s political institutions and its political leaders than do others and they are less likely to support political reform. In fact, the voters who seem most dissatisfied with their institutions and the political establishment and most supportive of reform are the ones who place themselves in the centre in Irish party politics.
The patterns are pretty consistent: it is voters in the centre rather than those on the right who tend to see politicians as less competent, honest and more out of touch than others; the centrist voters are the ones who are especially interested in reform of the system.
If it is the case that it is the centre voters who are disaffected and primed to jump, then which way would they be likely to jump: to support left parties or to support parties further to the right?
On the whole, when it comes to specific policy issues, centrist voters are closer to right-wing voters than left ones and on some issues, such as immigration, they can seem even more right-wing. In short, Irish “centrists” are consistently closer to right-wing views than those of left-wingers on a range of different issues.