Michael D Higgins set to be returned to Áras at a canter

The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll analysis

Presidential candidates approval on October 17th 2018
 

Unless Michael D Higgins commits the most spectacular act of political hari-kari in modern times, he will be re-elected to the presidency at a canter next week.

It is not impossible for Higgins to lose the election; politics is often a game of late twists. But such is the magnitude of his lead, and the lack of penetration by any of his rivals, that only Higgins could beat himself now. And while that may be possible, it is extremely unlikely, to put it mildly.

Whatever its other merits, Higgins’s strategy of campaigning on his own terms has so far a canny political judgment. He has shipped criticism from many political commentators, desperate for a competition, and has been accused of treating his opponents, and the process, with contempt.

Spending questions

They are understandable charges, and Higgins’s answer – that he is unselfishly protecting the office of the presidency to his own cost as a candidate – takes some neck. He has brushed aside questions about spending in the Áras, promising more information once the election is over. He has glided through respectful interrogations ever watchful for lese-majeste.

There’s no sign that the public cares one whit. Who knows: they may be grateful to Higgins for the lack of fuss.

They are certainly unenthused, to put it mildly, by Higgins’s slate of challengers. Higgins dominates not only because he is so popular, but because the non-Higgins vote is dispersed between five candidates – none of whom have managed to get a head of steam.

Seán Gallagher at 12 per cent and Liadh Ní Riada at 11 per cent are the only ones who have registered with the public at all. Gallagher’s campaign is a pale shadow of his 2011 performance which had him on course to take the presidency until his spectacular flameout in the final days. Why is this? Likely because Gallagher’s pitch hasn’t changed, and the country has.

PUMPKIN PATCH POLITICS: President Michael D. Higgins and the other presidential contenders carved into Halloween pumpkins at Fallon & Byrne's Exchequer Street Store, Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
President Michael D. Higgins and the other presidential contenders carved into Halloween pumpkins at Fallon & Byrne's Exchequer Street Store, Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Optimism

In 2011, in the depth of the bailout and squeezed by austerity, the country was crying out for optimism, for hope that things could get better. Gallagher’s folksy, upbeat, can-do mentality struck a chord with people – and, as the campaign progressed, many Fianna Fáil voters recognised him as one of their own. Neither has happened this time. Perhaps the last time was as much by accident as design.

Ní Riada’s anaemic numbers might give her party pause for thought. Yesterday’s poll showed that the Sinn Féin brand has never been stronger. But Ní Riada’s United Ireland message has flopped. That must be unsettling for Sinn Féin.

The remaining candidates – Gavin Duffy, Peter Casey and Joan Freeman – seem set for little return for a lot of money and effort. Duffy’s campaign especially has mystified observers who have watched and heard a reputed communications expert make such a mess of his communications.

Presidential campaigns have tended to get sharper and dirtier as polling day approaches. Perhaps his opponents will throw everything they have at Michael D; perhaps they will decide turning negative isn’t worth it at this stage. It’s hard to see how any of them could believe they still have a chance.

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