Drop in support for FF may not benefit FG

a
 

ANALYSIS:TODAY’S Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll reveals for the first time the standing of candidates in the 2009 European election contest. The poll was conducted amongst a representative sample of 500 voters in each of the four European constituencies. Voters were presented with the names and affiliations of each candidate and asked to indicate their preferences, writes DAMIAN LOSCHER

Fieldwork for today’s poll was conducted on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday immediately following the 11th May deadline for declarations, before campaigning proper had begun.

If a week is a long time in politics, three weeks is a lifetime in European elections and a lot can change between now and election day. Recall the last-minute dash of Dana Rosemary Scallon in 1999 or the late charge by Kathy Sinnott in 2004.

When interpreting its findings, consideration must also be given to the naturally occurring variation in the data due to the fact that questions are asked of a sample of voters in each of the four European constituencies. As a result, the candidate figures shown in our poll can vary by up to 4.5 percentage points in either direction.

Notwithstanding the caveats associated with early polling, a number of very interesting themes are emerging. It is clear that the Fianna Fáil vote will be down, although this may not result in lost seats, in much the same way that Fine Gael’s vote boost will not increase their seat tally. In fact, Fine Gael may lose a seat if John Paul Phelan does not fill the seat vacated by Avril Doyle. It is remarkable how similar our new crop of MEPs could be to the old.

The failure thus far of Libertas to turn support for a No vote to Lisbon into a Yes vote for their candidates is a stark finding from today’s poll. There appears to be little appetite amongst the electorate for change. Whether this is a sign of apathy or a ringing endorsement of our current representation in Europe could make for an interesting debate.

Dublin

Following the Constituency Commission’s recommendation that Dublin be reduced from a four to a three-seat European constituency, it was inevitable that at least one standing MEP would lose out in June. Gay Mitchell’s (FG) poll topping performance in 2004 looks likely to be repeated. With 26 per cent of the vote, he is riding the crest of a Fine Gael wave.

A European career which began for Proinsias De Rossa (Lab) in 1989 looks set to continue. He attracts 21 per cent of first-preference votes and outperforms all other candidates on second preferences, which combined should see De Rossa safely across the line.

The battle for the third Dublin seat is between the two other standing MEPs, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fáil’s Eoin Ryan. On first preferences, McDonald – on 14 per cent – has the edge, but transfers from Eibhlin Byrne (FF) will help Ryan – on 11 per cent – to close the gap.

Whereas Ryan was ahead of McDonald in the polls at this stage in the 2004 campaign, the noticeable decline in support for Fianna Fáil in Dublin seems to be holding Ryan back on this occasion.

North West

Despite the fact that the North West boasts the highest number of candidates, this constituency may offer the least drama. Just days after the close of nominations there are three clear front runners, all of whom have served as MEPs.

Sitting MEP Jim Higgins (FG), looks set to retain his seat. His 20 per cent of first preferences when combined with a healthy proportion of second preferences from Fine Gael’s other candidate in the North West, Joe O’Reilly (on 8 per cent), should see Higgins over the quota.

Despite a shaky start brought about by Seán O Neachtain’s withdrawal from the contest, the Fianna Fáil campaign has made ground following the late declaration of high-profile former MEP Pat “The Cope” Gallagher.

Earlier suggestions that the Fianna Fáil bid may be in jeopardy due to the absence of a candidate in the Galway region are challenged by today’s poll results, which show Gallagher with 19 per cent of the vote across the constituency as a whole and a very respectable 13 per cent in the Galway-Clare area.

Ironically, it may be transfers from Paschal Mooney (on 7 per cent), the Fianna Fáil torchbearer prior to Gallagher entering the race, that get Gallagher elected.

The North West’s other sitting MEP, Independent Marian Harkin, completes the triumvirate. Harkin, with 18 per cent of the vote, will be starting from a position of strength and should be carried along by transfers from other Independents and smaller party candidates.

Declan Ganley, Libertas’s highest profile candidate in this year’s European elections, registers 9 per cent of first-preference votes. But with just 3 per cent of second preferences and muted support outside Galway, he would need to broaden his appeal or struggle to win a seat.

South

Brian Crowley (FF) begins his European election race in pole position in the South constituency. Achieving 27 per cent of first-preference votes is an impressive performance, although not as striking as his opening poll performance in 2004 when he achieved 31 per cent, despite having Gerry Collins also running for Fianna Fáil in the South constituency. Brian Crowley should be home and dry in the South, barring an extraordinary turn of events.

Competition for the two remaining seats will be fierce.

Colm Burke occupies the seat won by Fine Gael in the last European election but it is Seán Kelly, former president of the GAA and first-time candidate, who offers the best hope for a Fine Gael seat in this election. With 17 per cent of the vote and sizeable transfers possible from Colm Burke, Kelly has every chance of making it into Europe.

Hot on the heels of Seán Kelly is a chasing pack of four – Labour’s Alan Kelly (on 13 per cent; current Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott (on 12 per cent); Sinn Féin’s Toireasa Ferris (on 12 per cent) and Fine Gael’s Colm Burke (on 10 per cent). Unless one of these candidates can open up a significant lead in the weeks ahead, the constituency will go down to the last count.

East

Mairéad McGuinness (FG) looks poised to record another strong European election performance in the East constituency. She begins her campaign with 33 per cent of the vote, which places her some considerable distance ahead of the pack. Her return to Brussels is all but guaranteed.

Liam Aylward (FF) on 19 per cent and Nessa Childers (Lab) on 17 per cent are the favourites to take the two remaining seats by virtue of the significant lead they enjoy over the rest of the field.

That said, John Paul Phelan (FG) will build on his 9 per cent with transfers from McGuinness and may yet secure a second seat for Fine Gael.

Tomás Sharkey (SF) will boost his 7 per cent courtesy of transfers from fellow Sinn Féin candidate Kathleen Funchion, but this is unlikely to be enough to mount a credible challenge.

Damian Loscher is managing director of TNS mrbi

a