Campaigners who convince undecided voters will win referendum


ANALYSIS:Both sides will focus on women voters, many of whom have yet to take a view on the treaty, writes STEPHEN COLLINS, Political Editor

THE STRIKING feature of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll is that, with just six weeks to go, almost half of the electorate has not made up its mind how it will vote on the European stability treaty.

It means that the outcome of the referendum will be decided by the quality and commitment of the rival campaigns over the next six weeks. Both campaigns can take comfort from elements of the poll, but the overriding message is that the battle is there to be won or lost.

One of the real surprises in the poll is that the number of undecided voters has almost doubled since the Irish Times poll last October, when EU leaders had still not agreed the details of the stability treaty.

Since then the text of the treaty has been agreed, and serious debate on its merits has ensued. The outcome is that the Yes vote has increased marginally – but half of the No vote has shifted into the Undecided category.

Whether that progression will continue, with Undecided voters moving over to the Yes side, or whether they will shift back into the No camp, the next six weeks will tell.

The Yes side can take some comfort from the fact that among committed voters it has a solid lead among middle-class voters and farmers.

Among AB voters, the highest income bracket, 45 per cent are in favour of the treaty and just 14 per cent are against, with 38 per cent undecided. There is an almost identical result among farmers, with 45 per cent in favour, 8 per cent against and 40 per cent undecided.

There is also a marked difference between men and women, which favours the Yes side. Some 35 per cent of men are in favour, with 27 per cent against and 30 per cent undecided.

Among women, just 25 per cent are in favour, 19 per cent against and 47 per cent undecided.

The Yes side clearly has a major job on its hands to inform women of the content of the treaty and why they should vote in favour.

Women have taken a consistently cooler attitude to the European Union than men in Irish Times polls over the past decade, and one of the big challenges faced by the Government is to persuade a significant number of them to support the treaty.

When undecided voters and those who won’t vote are excluded, the Yes side is ahead by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.

However, the outcome hinges on the attitude of the currently undecided voters.

Unsurprisingly, Fine Gael voters are the strongest backers of the treaty, with 54 per cent in favour, 9 per cent against and 34 per cent undecided.

Among Labour voters, the most striking thing is that 46 per cent remain undecided. Some 33 per cent are in favour and 17 per cent are against.

Fianna Fáil voters are more strongly in favour than Labour, with 41 per cent saying they will vote Yes, 20 per cent No and 36 per cent undecided.

Again, it is no surprise that Sinn Féin supporters are most committed to voting against the treaty, with 48 per cent intending to vote No and just 12 per cent Yes, although 33 per cent are still undecided.

Supporters of Independents and smaller parties are also against the treaty, with a large proportion undecided, while Green Party voters are in favour by a margin of two to one.

In regional terms, the fact the two sides are neck and neck in Dublin will be a boost to the No campaign. In other regions there is a wider margin in favour of Yes, but undecided voters are the biggest category in every region except Munster.

The campaigns waged by both sides – and the ability of the political parties to deliver their supporters on polling day –will be crucial to the outcome. It will take a huge commitment by the Coalition parties to get their voters out to support the treaty, and the same will apply to Sinn Féin on the No side.

The strongest opposition to the treaty is among the DE social category in which Sinn Féin consistently scores best.

In this group, 31 per cent say they will vote No and 15 per cent Yes, while 41 per cent are undecided and 13 per cent say they will not vote.

If the No side is to defeat the treaty it will have to ensure a big turnout among DE voters, who traditionally do not vote in as large numbers as people from better-off backgrounds. The strength of the Sinn Féin campaign and that of the smaller left-wing parties and Independents will be crucial in getting a big turnout.

Another finding of the poll which could have a decisive impact on the final outcome is the attitude of the electorate to the prospect of a second EU-IMF bailout.

When asked whether they believed Ireland would need a second bailout when the current aid package came to an end in 2014, 58 per cent said Yes, 24 per cent said No and 18 per cent had no opinion.

The Government has expressed the strong view that a rejection of the treaty will make it more difficult to access bailout funds in the future and will certainly damage the chances of Ireland returning to the financial markets.

To date, this message does not appear to have been absorbed by a large segment of the electorate, going by the poll findings, and it is something that the Yes side will need to explain clearly between now and polling day.

The Yes side also needs to capitalise on the continuing support for Ireland’s involvement in the EU, with 66 per cent of voters saying it is better to be part of the EU and just 22 per cent saying it is not.

On the other hand, the continuing dissatisfaction with the way European leaders are running the EU should come as a help to the No campaign.

This survey was conducted exclusively on behalf of The Irish Times by Ipsos MRBI, among a national quota sample of 1,000 representative of the circa 3.4 million adults aged 18 upwards, covering 100 sampling points throughout all constituencies in the Republic of Ireland.

Personal in-home interviewing took place on April 16th and 17th and the accuracy level is estimated to be approximately plus or minus 3%.

In all respects, the survey was conducted within the guidelines laid down by The Marketing Society of Ireland, and by ESOMAR.

Extracts from the report may be quoted or published on condition that due acknowledgement is given to:

The Irish Times and Ipsos MRBI.

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