‘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
How have the centrists vote tended to vote? On the whole they used to vote Fianna Fáil. By recall, 40 per cent of them claim to have voted for Fianna Fáil in 2007 and 21 per cent for Fine Gael. But in 2011 the percentages were reversed: 38 per cent said they voted Fine Gael, 12 per cent Fianna Fáil, 16 per cent Labour and 15 per cent independent.
In 2011 centre-right voters dissatisfied with Fianna Fáil could find a perfectly acceptable substitute in Fine Gael. Except that it is not clear just how much of a substitute Fine Gael is. In policy terms, centrist voters, the ones who seemed to abandon Fianna Fáil in large numbers, have quite radical ideas on social issues, including staunch opposition to immigration.
There is also a strong current of support for political reform and a dislike of existing politicians that suggests that some future Irish political class could emulate their American cousins and run for parliament by running against it.
Overall, however, there does not seem to be much space for a new reshaping of the Irish party system. Independents do not form a coherent force (current spats inside the technical group show this in spadefuls), the right wing (where there might be space for a new party to squeeze Fine Gael as the PDs did of old) is relatively happy with the current political arrangements. The group that is unhappy comprises those voters in the middle who, nevertheless, on a range of policy issues lean rightwards.
The political centre of gravity in Ireland is centre-right, as is the political centre of disgruntlement and dissatisfaction. The centre abandoned Fianna Fáil in 2011, but the difficulty remains that centre voters need to find a place to go. Fine Gael – and some Independents – may have offered a temporary home in 2011, but it is not clear that Fine Gael will be a congenial option over the long run. Which means that the place where there is scope for a new party, or a newly launched party, with an emphasis on probity and competence, could well be a rejuvenated Fianna Fáil.
Back to the future?
David Farrell is a professor of politics at University College Dublin. Shaun Bowler is a professor of politics at the University of California, Riverside. The 2011 INES (directed by Michael Marsh) was a post-election study of 1,853 respondents. Households were selected using a random route method drawn from all 43 constituencies. Interviewees were chosen within households to fit demographic quotas.