Majority of MEPs likely to retain seats
A lack of issues in the campaign and name recognition clearly favour incumbent MEPs
TODAY’S IRISH Times/TNS mrbi poll suggests the majority of MEPs will comfortably retain their seats. There appears to be no appetite for change amongst the electorate, driven it seems by a lack of interest in the election as evidenced by a high level of “do not know” responses to the core voting question – up to 19 per cent compared with 14 per cent in 2004.
A lack of issues in the campaign and a lack of differentiation between the candidates has clearly favoured the incumbents who enjoy the benefit of name recognition and track record. And not surprisingly, the two candidates most likely to be elected to Europe for the first time – Seán Kelly and Nessa Childers – have or are names already familiar to voters.
Performance at party level can only be explained by political arithmetic. Despite a collapse in their ratings nationally, Fianna Fáil may hold all four of their European seats because they have managed in each constituency to not drop below the quota (25 per cent), with the exception of Dublin where Fianna Fáil is struggling and Eoin Ryan’s seat is extremely vulnerable.
Ironically, Fine Gael may lose a seat. Even with transfers from Mairéad McGuinness, it is unlikely that Senator John Paul Phelan will be able to win a second seat for Fine Gael in East, as Avril Doyle did in 2004.
Fine Gael’s improved ratings in national polls have given the party a boost, but not enough of one to deliver that elusive extra quota in any of the constituencies.
Labour looks poised to increase their seat tally to two, based on Nessa Childers’ strong showing in East.
For Mairéad McGuinness (FG), Brian Crowley (FF) and Gay Mitchell (FG) the findings will put a pep in their step while canvassing this bank holiday weekend. They can all reasonably expect to reach the quota on first preferences alone. It is interesting to note that these three candidates all enjoy especially strong support from female voters and from the middle-classes, emphasising the importance of these voter groups to achieving success in European elections. All are also sitting MEPs.
Other sitting or former MEPs such as Proinsias De Rossa (Lab), Liam Aylward (FF), Pat “The Cope” Gallagher (FF), Jim Higgins (FG) and Marian Harkin (Ind) can be confident, although not completely assured, of winning a seat. Not every race will be won in a canter.
The final seat in Dublin will be an intriguing battle between Mary Lou McDonald (SF) and Eoin Ryan (FF), with Joe Higgins (Socialist Party) also in contention. Kathy Sinnott (Ind) is also in a fight to keep her seat in the South constituency.
Today’s poll was conducted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week amongst a representative sample of 500 eligible voters in each constituency. Constituency poll results based on a sample of 500 are accurate to within 4.5 percentage points, as compared to the +/- 3.0 point variance usually associated with national polls of 1,000 interviews. For this reason, additional caution should be exercised when interpreting constituency poll data.
Since our last poll, Gay Mitchell (FG) and Proinsias De Rossa (Lab) have put further distance between themselves and the rest of the field. With 28 per cent and 25 per cent of the vote respectively, both are certain to retain their seats.
In the race for the third seat are sitting MEPs Mary Lou McDonald (SF) on 11 per cent and Eoin Ryan (FF) trailing marginally with 9 per cent support. Eoin Ryan will close the gap by virtue of transfers from fellow Fianna Fáil candidate Eibhlin Byrne. In the end, transfers from the Green Party candidate Deirdre De Burca may make all the difference and the Green’s policy not to ask party supporters to transfer in a particular direction.
Also in the frame for the third seat is Joe Higgins (Socialist Party) who has moved up two points to 9 per cent support. As sometimes happens, a war of attrition between two candidates – in this case McDonald and Ryan – can alienate voters who then look for a compromise candidate.
If Higgins maintains this momentum he could jump into third position and into Europe. If he is eliminated, his transfers will probably benefit McDonald more than Ryan.
The battle for seats in the North West is proving to be considerably less dramatic than in 2004 when no fewer than five candidates attracted similar levels of the first-preference vote, with a sixth candidate not too far behind.
This time, the leading group comprises only three candidates – Pat “The Cope” Gallagher (FF), Marian Harkin (Ind) and Jim Higgins (FG).
Gallagher tops the poll with 20 per cent of the vote, up one point. Transfers from Paschal Mooney (7 per cent), Fianna Fáil’s second candidate in the constituency, should be enough to return the former MEP to Europe.
Independent Marian Harkin is next in line with 19 per cent of the first-preference votes. As an independent, Harkin should have no difficulty getting the transfers she will need to retain her seat.
In spite of dropping three points in our latest poll, Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins on 17 per cent is almost certain to retain his seat. Transfers from party colleague Joe O’Reilly, on 10 per cent, will push Higgins over the line.
Declan Ganley, on 9 per cent, attracts more votes than any other Libertas candidate, but it will not be enough to win a seat for Libertas.
With a massive 30 per cent of the vote, Brian Crowley (FF) is home and dry, helped in no small part by the women of the South constituency amongst whom he enjoys a staggering 37 per cent support. The other Fianna Fáil candidate in South, Ned O’Keeffe, attracts just 4 per cent support, making it nigh on impossible for Fianna Fáil to secure another seat.
Seán Kelly (FG), on 16 per cent, is one point lower in today’s poll. If he can avoid slipping further, transfers from Colm Burke (FG), combined with his popular appeal amongst the GAA community, should be enough to send Seán Kelly to Brussels.
In the chase for the third and final seat, Kathy Sinnott (Ind), on 14 per cent, is currently out in front. Hot on her heels are Alan Kelly (Lab) on 12 per cent, followed by Toireasa Ferris (SF) and Colm Burke (FG), each with 10 per cent support.
Burke will struggle to take the seat as Seán Kelly will not have a surplus to transfer to Burke and there is no evidence in today’s poll to indicate Burke is building momentum.
Ferris is also unlikely to take the seat. She has dropped two points to 10 per cent and is likely to underperform other candidates on transfers.
The battle is likely to be between Sinnott and Alan Kelly. Sinnott is two points ahead and appears to be gaining in popularity, but two points is not a significant lead and election day was more than a week away when interviewing was conducted.
The third seat in the South constituency is much too close to call.
Barring an upset, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour will each take a seat in the East constituency.
Despite support for Mairéad McGuinness (FG) falling four points to 29 per cent, she is still positioned to retain her seat in Europe. The drop of four points is probably more concerning for Fine Gael as it closes the door on a second Fine Gael seat in East: transfers from McGuinness will not deliver the injection of votes Senator John Paul Phelan (on 7 per cent) needs to be a realistic contender for the third seat.
Nessa Childers (Lab) has moved up to 21 per cent (a gain of four points) and into second place. Liam Aylward (FF) has also added to his support, recording a marginal gain of one point to bring him to 20 per cent and into third position. East is looking very much like a three-horse race.