Jim Carroll

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Going up and down the polls

So what have we learned from the latest batch of opinion polls? It depends, of course, on which set of statistics you put your faith in and you will, of course, put your faith in the ones which show you …

Tue, Sep 28, 2010, 09:56


So what have we learned from the latest batch of opinion polls? It depends, of course, on which set of statistics you put your faith in and you will, of course, put your faith in the ones which show you and your party in the best possible light. For example, if you’re a Labour Party hack, you’ll have been getting onto Louis Copeland about a fitting for a new suit after the Millward Brown Lansdowne poll for TV3 had your party at a massive 35 per cent, way ahead of everyone else. If you’re a Green Party fan (and there are still a few of them out there), you were clapping your hands and going “yipee” at the Red C poll in the Sunday Business Post at the weekend which gave your party three per cent support, a rise of one percentage point on the previous poll.

There really was something for everyone this time around in those polls. Sinn Fein got a rise – that Red C poll had them at 10 per cent, an increase which prompted political blogger Suzie Byrne to remark “are they polling in Cavan, Dublin South Central and Louth?” That same poll also showed Fianna Fail holding steady and Fine Gael still in pole position. And yes, there will also be an Irish Times’ poll along really soon to add to the mix.

Even though those polls are based on the views and opinions of those members of the general public which the pollsters managed to get to answer their questions, they’re merely gravy until the real polling begins sometime in the next 15 months. It will be a different matter when the hounds are unleashed and TDs and would-be TDs are knocking your door looking for support. Questions will be asked and answered in a much different way then.

It’s then that we’ll see if Fianna Fail and the Green Party are really going to be punished for their mismanagement of the econony since 2007. Of course, they may well be punished before then, if the markets have their way. There will be no chances to “buy” the general election as was the case in 2002 and 2007 because the kitty may well be under the management of the IMF by then. We’ll also only know then if people are prepared to vote for Continuity FF and Real FF candidates like Mattie McGrath, John McGuinness and assorted pinstriped pals who are doing their best to speak out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to their links with the FF mothership or if the public will kick them out of office, along with those who’ve remained faithful party beasts all along.

We’ll also see then if voters are prepared to go with the local independents whose price for any incoming Taoiseach will be to keep the local hospital open, a factor which none of the opinion polls have really able to address. Such single-issue candidates have been a feature of Irish elections for many years and it’s hard to see why the next election will be any different in that regard. Punters can see what has worked in other towns and counties and simply replicate the hospital candidate template for their own ends.

But poll after poll does point to one significant change and that’s the Labour bounce. Could we be looking at an election where the population choses to cast a significant vote of no confidence in the current regime by changing horses completely? There has been a hell of a lot of chatter about a 50 seat bounty for the party based on those poll findings which, regardless of which paper they’re in, show Labour constantly trading places with Fianna Fail in second place or, as the TV3 poll had it, leading the race. However, the notion of a Labour TD in every constituency seems a mite fanciful especially as Labour are probably still ramping up in some constituencies.

Again and again, opponents complain that Labour are avoiding the hard questions and don’t have any workable policy alternatives. Willie O’Dea may have sourly noted on The Marian Finucane Show on Saturday morning that Labour are a “policy free zone”, yet that’s not having an iota of impact on their popularity in the polls. I’ve no doubt that Labour can point to a raft of policy documents in a cupboard in HQ to dispute the contentions of the moustached musketeer and everyone else, but it may be that the Irish electorate are not unduly fussed about policy documents right now. Policy documents alone won’t get us out of the current mess. They’ve had to endure 13 years of Fianna Fail in power with various mudguards – remember that, when it comes to policy successes, the Greens will be able to trumpet several which had nothing to do with the real economy (though we’re still waiting for those thousands of jobs from the “green economy” to materialise) – and they’ve had enough. It’s time to break out the C word.

Labour, though, won’t be the only ones harrumphing about change next time out. You’ll get it from Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, you’ll get it from Sinn Fein and the Greens, you’ll probably even get Fianna Fail in on the act too (they can change, you know, as we saw from their Inchydoney love-in in 2004, though no-one, not even the embedded pol corrs, surely buys that sort of nonsense any more). But it’s up to the Irish electorate to define and carry out that change. Expect that great old political saw to be muttered on the day after the election: “the people have spoken; now, we have to work out what they have said”.