Meet the Voters: Campaign fails to prompt shift in allegiances

Analyst says election is continuing a trend which sees voters deciding very late

Some of the Meet the Voters participants, clockwise from top left: Kate Lawlor, Catherine O’Brien, Maedbh Donaldson, Jerry Kennelly and John O’Brien.

Some of the Meet the Voters participants, clockwise from top left: Kate Lawlor, Catherine O’Brien, Maedbh Donaldson, Jerry Kennelly and John O’Brien.


A project by The Irish Times to track the impact of the election campaign on the voting intentions of 10 voters has found all have retained their pre-election political preferences, and those undecided prior to the campaign remain so, less than 24 hours before polling.

The Meet the Voters series, which profiled people broadly representative of key voter segments - including someone who is unemployed, a small business owner, an entrepreneur, a fisherman, a pensioner and someone from the ‘squeezed middle’ - sought the participants’ views as the campaign progressed.

Despite not switching allegiances, half the participants felt the election campaign had been worthwhile and that it had helped them become better informed.

David Farrell, professor of politics at University College Dublin, said this election was continuing a trend where voters made up their minds very late.

“This election is showing, like over recent elections, that more and more people are leaving it very late to make up their minds. The evidence is that there is still a significant group of people who are undecided,” he said.

Asked if the lack of a clear front-runner in the opinion polls was contributing to the uncertainty, Mr Farrell said there was research that showed when one party is perceived to be performing well, this can be expressed in opinion polls, building support and momentum for that party.

In the absence of a front-runner in general election 2016, Mr Farrell said the decision-making basis for those who were still undecided was unclear.

“Thirty years ago I would have said it would be a voter’s historical allegiances. A Fianna Fáil voter would return to support that party. But now, the strength of attachment that people feel to parties is far lower. In fact, in different studies voter attachment in Ireland to a particular party would be seen as at the lower end of the scale compared to other countries.”

With just one day to go before the ballot boxes open, Meet the Voters participants explain how they plan to vote on Friday.

Catherine O’Brien (Pensioner), Cork North Central
I’m going to give my No 1 to Fine Gael. I will vote for Labour as well in combination with them - I didn’t think Joan was that great in the previous outings but she was a lot better in the final debate.

I’ve decided to vote Fine Gael because we need stability and if they carry on and hopefully establish their vision, it might be to our benefit. I am not that confident with Micheal Martin - he’s great for talking but behind it all, Fianna Fail had their chance and Fine Gael need to continue longer in government to establish their plans.

I just hope the government will give some ease this time around to people on pensions and low incomes, some bit of compensation. Barry Roche

Kevin Flaherty (Unemployed), Carlow-Kilkenny
Adrienne Wallace of People Before Profit will get my No 1. All the local candidates had a debate on KCLR radio the other night. I had been torn between her, Independent Keith Gilligan and Kathleen Funchion of Sinn Féin, but Adrienne came out top for me. It is also a bit of a tactical vote, as I think Kathleen will get across the line anyway on the first count. Adrienne has a genuine interest in the housing crisis here in Kilkenny. I was trying to make an appointment to see a housing officer this morning, and I was told since I’m only on the housing list since 2010, I can’t see one.

For me, housing is the big issue of this election. She is a very good speaker, and coupled with the likes of Richard Boyd Barrett, I think People Before Profit have a genuine grasp of what is going on and what needs to be done to change it. Ideally I would like to see Sinn Féin lead the next government with support from left smaller parties and independents. But I think it will be Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in coalition. Ciara Kenny

Kate Lawlor (Small Business Owner), Cork North-Central
The leaders have been so busy tearing strips off each other that there are few facts coming out, and I am finding it hard to decide who to vote No 1. I know who my No 2 is, and that’s Oliver Moran of the Green Party.

They are focusing on relevant issues to the restaurant industry, like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). They are the only ones mentioning climate change, which is also important. I am not giving them my number one because I don’t think they can fix the economy.

voter 1

Kevin Flaherty, Unemployed

Who am I voting for? Adrienne Wallace (People Before Profit)
Why?I like the PBP’s stance on the housing crisis
Did campaign make a difference?No. It only made me swap my first and second preference

voter 2

Kate Lawlor, Small business owner

Who am I voting for? Undecided
Why? I am still concerned about the economy
Did campaign make a difference? Yes. And I sought out policies of local Independents

voter 3

Enda Whelton

Who am I voting for? Undecided (Ind/Fianna Fail/Labour)
Why? If FF, then because of their childcare plan.
Did campaign make a difference? Yes. It clarified a lot of detail on policy

voter 4

Jerry Kennelly, Entrepreneur

Who am I voting for? Undecided but not Sinn Féin
Why? SF has a dangerously poor understanding of economics
Did campaign make a difference? No. But ‘whingers’ comment gave a sense of what Kenny thinks

voter 5

Ruth Cullen,  Single parent

Who am I voting for? Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats)
Why? Social Democrats promise of fairness
Did campaign make a difference? No. Campaign was boring and didn’t engage me.

voter 6

Carol Azams, First-time voter

Who am I voting for? Fine Gael
Why? Fine Gael’s stance on new Irish citizens
Did campaign make a difference? Yes. ‘Keep recovery going’ slogan resonated

voter 7

Vivian Rath,  Person living with disability

Who am I voting for? Undecided
Why? Disability has not been seen as a priority
Did campaign make a difference? Yes. We got to hear the parties’ detailed plans

voter 8

Maedbh Donaldson, Student

Who am I voting for? Fine Gael or Labour
Why? I am very interested in mental health
Did campaign make a difference? Yes. It got the parties’ policy messages out

voter 9

Catherine O'Brien, Pensioner

Who am I voting for? Fine Gael
Why? Because we need stability at this time
Did campaign make a difference? No. My preference was always Fine Gael
voter 10

John O’Brien, Fisherman

Who am I voting for? Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty
Why? Sinn Féin's position on Common Fisheries Policy
Did campaign make a difference? No. Marine resources did not feature in campaign

My heart says we need a change but my head says we need to keep on path to recovery. But I don’t want to vote for Dara Murphy of Fine Gael. That leaves with me with Kathleen Lynch, but it looks like Labour is going to have a stinker of an election. I have to look at who I believe will be sitting in government who will fight for my rights. That leaves me with Billy Kelleher, but I am not sure I’m ready to forgive Fianna Fáil yet. Ciara Kenny

Jerry Kennelly (Entrepreneur), Kerry
I haven’t yet decided who to vote for yet, but I could not consider giving my No 1 to Sinn Féin. None of the parties have covered themselves in glory, but Sinn Féin has showed a dangerously poor understanding of economics.

I also think it is about time the voters were told they had responsibilities as well as rights. Enda Kenny’s ‘whingers’ remark gave us all a sense of what he really thinks.

A lot more straight talking about the limitations of what any Government can do would have made a more honest campaign, and might have engaged the public a lot more. David Labanyi

Enda Whelton (Squeezed Middle), Clare
I decided there were a few things Labour would have to commit to for teachers to get my first preference vote, including parity of pay; end the idea of turning schools into individual businesses; revisiting the new Junior Cert; better financial resources for special needs students; reinstating the guidance counsellor allowance as a the best support for mental health in schools.

But Labour has yet to address these issues. My vote is dependent on that happening. Otherwise I will vote for an Independent candidate, or Fianna Fáil.

They have proposed a tax free allowance for childcare, which I think would go down very well with “squeezed middle” families. I see a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition. Ciara Kenny

Ruth Cullen (Single Parent), Kildare North
I will be voting for Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats) and Brendan Young (Independent) and I won’t be transferring.

I’ll be voting for them because they are fair, they have done a lot of work in this constituency, they do what they say they will.

Nothing over the course of the campaign has changed how I intend to vote. Tuesday night’s debate with the four leaders was dreadful. They were like four children throwing their toys out the pram. I actually got bored. Usually I’d be glued to the screen.

I think there will be lot of electoral shocks at the weekend. I just don’t think the Government gets how much people have suffered under them. We need change. I don’t think this election is going to bring that in one go, but I hope this election is the start of a real shock to the establishment. Kitty Holland

Carol Azams (First Time Voter), Dublin West
I will be giving Fine Gael my No 1. Leo Varadakar is my local representative in Blanchardstown but I haven’t made this decision based on one candidate, it’s a collective vote. Fine Gael has been in power, their work is in place and they’re settled. If someone new came in it would take them more time to stabilise and settle in.

As a migrant, the issue that has mattered most to me is immigration. I want to see a government that addresses the issues of racism, discrimination and family reunification.

Fine Gael has been targeting new Irish citizen voters as part of their campaign strategy and it is working.

They have made a lot of promises in the past that they haven’t kept but I do believe their slogan of ‘let’s keep the recovery going’.

The recession caused a lot of problems for my family and my friends. My business went down because of recession and my daughter had to move abroad for work. I want Fine Gael to come back, continue what they’re doing and get the country back to complete stability. Sorcha Pollak

Vivian Rath (Person Living with Disability) , Wexford
I am still undecided. Among the disabled community, there is a view disability is a political afterthought and not a priority.

Disability has been largely absent from the national debates and this is apparent from the commentary on social media.

I would like to see a stable government with firm commitments to improving the lives of people with disabilities. There are 600,000 people with disabilities in the country. The most important thing is to vote for candidates that prioritise disability because it is an issue that will affect all of us at some time in our lives.

I believe the campaign matters. It gives us an opportunity to hear the parties’ stances on certain issues. It also gives us an opportunity to discuss and think about the issues. Dan Griffin

Maedbh Donaldson (Student), Kildare North
I’m still kind of on the fence but I watched the last debate and it swayed me a little bit. I was edging towards Fine Gael but because Enda Kenny was not talking much during the debate it put me off.

Joan Burton was saying some interesting things about mental health. That’s an area that would really interest me and if some party is really enthusiastic about mental health services in Ireland it would sway me towards voting for them.

The debate was people just talking over each other and bickering. I really wasn’t interested in a lot of the stuff they were saying because they were just going at each other as opposed to discussing the bigger issue.

I do not think there was a lot that was aimed at students. Nothing grabbed our interest in this campaign But I still think the campaign matters. How else are parties going to get their messages out? Dan Griffin

John O’Brien (Fisherman), Donegal

John is an inshore fisherman and father of six from Inishbofin Island in the Donegal constituency, who formerly supported Fianna Fáil. Due to the good weather he was fishing crab north of Tory and Arranmore off the Co Donegal coast this week. He intends to be return to port to vote. On Wednesday, his wife, Mary spoke for him.)

John is veering towards Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, but will probably give Fianna Fáil’s Pat the Cope Gallagher a vote - possibly his No 2.

John’s key issues the future of fishing and natural resources, retention of schools and key services in rural areas and the right of island communities to survive.”

None of the parties has really addressed the issue of salmon fishing and the rights of coastal and island communities to an economic future, although Fianna Fáil did publish an islands policy. That’s been the big deciding factor all along for John. Lorna Siggins

The Irish Times Meet the Voters series profiled 10 sample voters in a bid to track the impact of the 2016 General Election campaign on their voting intentions. Follow them at

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