Politicians publicly dismiss polling but are in fact in thrall to it
Opinion: As for Groucho, principles can be changed if they don’t meet with approval
The key point, however, is that in the absence of an election polls provide the only measure (albeit qualified) of public sentiment and mood.
Unusually, Labour didn’t quibble (well not much anyway) with this week’s Irish Times poll and took the 6 per cent haymaker on the chin. Moreover, come the postmortem at its parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, there was little anger or recrimination besides a few muted references to the need for Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to relinquish the Foreign Affairs portfolio.
That move back to a domestic ministry he will need to do and probably much earlier than the scheduled reshuffle after next year’s local and European elections. On a wider level, the party’s fortunes will be pegged wholly on the economy and how it fares over the next two years.
In an interview with this newspaper in December, Gilmore predicted that 2014 would be the year that Ireland would finally emerge from recession. He also said that the rising tide would lift the Labour boat.
Certainly, a recovering economy will do Labour no harm. But if anybody within the parliamentary party harbours hopes of a miraculous recovery, they are sorely mistaken. Just as Labour has suffered disproportionately in the ratings, any surge in support for the Coalition parties on the back of an improving economy will be biased towards Fine Gael. The smaller Government party’s recovery will be partial at best – its overweening promises before the elections is a virus that just can’t be erased from the hard disk.
Does 6 per cent represent a true reflection of its standing? At this moment in time, probably yes among the adult population; although probably no among the adult population guaranteed to vote. There has been considerable attention focussed on Dublin where the party’s support has fallen from nearly 30 per cent to 9 per cent. However, perhaps more worrying is the remainder of Leinster where its support has fallen from 19.2 per cent in the general election to a measly 3 per cent.
There are no exceptions
The party has eight seats in commuting and rural Leinster constituencies. None would be retained, bar maybe Brendan Howlin’s seat in Wexford.
It is a concrete and immutable reality that the smaller party takes a bigger hit in the election. There are no exceptions. The Progressive Democrats seemingly bucked the trend in 2002 when its haul of seats increased from four to eight.
However its level of support actually declined from 5 per cent to 4 per cent. Its success was due to luck and to vote management.
Elsewhere, the story has veered between loss and devastation (the PDs and the Greens). For Labour the most realistic comparator may be 1997, when the Spring Tide ebbed from 33 seats to 17, or from 19.9 per cent to just over 10 per cent.