Undecided come off the fence

Sat, May 26, 2012, 01:00

WHEN VOTERS were surveyed on the fiscal treaty five weeks ago the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found an uncanny resemblance in the figures to our poll at the outset of the first Lisbon Treaty campaign. That wrongly suggested a looming Yes victory, but manifested deep voter unease with a 40 per cent Don’t Know showing. Was Lisbon I then going to be repeated in the voting on the fiscal treaty? Crucially, how would the 39 per cent of Don’t Knows in April divide this time when they joined either camp?

Today’s poll, less than a week before Thursday’s vote, suggests that perhaps such fears of a repeat voter U-turn may have been exaggerated. The Yes vote has consolidated from 30 to 39 per cent, while the Don’t Knows have roughly halved from 39 to 22 per cent. The No vote is up seven percentage points to 30 per cent. The uncommitted have split nine to seven in favour of the Yes camp as they joined the committed, with the result that there is now a comfortable 57-43 majority for the Yes side when Don’t Knows are excluded. But there are still five days to go.

The poll finds No majorities only among 25-34 year-olds, singles (probably a strong overlap), and among semi- and unskilled manual workers and those dependent on welfare (by 36 to 31 per cent). The deep and worrying class divide on the issue is reflected in a 57 to 14 Yes majority among voters in the AB social category, professionals, administrators and managers at higher and intermediate level.

Reassuringly the level of Don’t Knows has now returned to a level similar to that manifest throughout most of the polling on the Lisbon II referendum, evidence that campaigning and media exposure to the issues are proving effective. Whether in generating knowledge or fear is another matter?

There is no doubt, however, that the campaign and the fiscal crisis has cast the EU, and particularly its democratic credentials, in a poor light among voters, with 77 per cent saying they believe the EU is dominated by one or two states. That strength of feeling, most worryingly, is reflected right across the board among Yes and No camps, with even AB voters, overwhelmingly supporters of the treaty, most convinced that power is not distributed equally (91 to 4 per cent). There is near unanimity about which countries are dominant – Germany and France, hardly surprising – with over 90 per cent of all categories of voters who agree the EU is dominated by two countries naming them.

Whether the EU is actually run by the French and Germans – arguably, for example, the UK’s negative blocking may be just as decisive as either of them – the perception of marginalisation of small states is critically important to the ongoing legitimacy of the union and a major challenge to its leaders. Solo runs by the Germans and French, and Lisbon’s reinforcing of the power of the European Council and of member states against the commission and parliament, are mirrored in the fiscal debate’s substantial democratic deficit. The rebalancing of that anti-democratic shift must become a key priority in the year ahead.