Election 2016: Six takeaways from the exit poll

Irish politics has waded into quicksand and Fine Gael coronation has become Coronation Street

1. Irish politics has waded into quicksand

By any yardstick, these figures are jaw-dropping. Fine Gael in its own narrative has performed a Lazarus-like miracle on the Irish economy, yet the crowd are still supporting Barabbas otherwise known as Fianna Fáil.

The exit poll was conducted among 5,000 voters, drawn from every region, age and social group.

An inconclusive outcome does not even begin to describe what we are left with. The two biggest parties, for the first time, have failed to muster 50 per cent of popular support. And there is only a gap of 3.3 per cent among them.

Smaller parties and others now corner 28 per cent of support. That support is higher in the cities, especially Dublin. Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP)and (surprisingly) the Greens look like they may make gains in the capital

The other two larger parties, Sinn Féin at 14.9 per cent and Labour at 7.8 per cent, can salvage something from this. But both will be very disappointed.

Mathematically, coalitions and governments can be formed. But in realpolitik, they will be incredibly mess and not consequence free.

2. Plot twist turns Fine Gael coronation into Coronation Street

They have been the big winners for five years and may end up being the big losers after a terrible three weeks of a campaign.

This indicates a terrible election for Fine Gael if these figures are borne out tomorrow. The party got 36.7 per cent in 2011 and has seen a fall of 10 per cent in support.

Fine Gael had everything going for it. The economy was growing at a rapid pace. Unemployment had fallen. Jobs were being created. The troika had been banished etc, etc etc.

So where did it all go wrong. The party got backfired on its figures, by Sinn Féin of all parties. Its opponents were successful in parlaying a message that its USC measures was a return to the bad old days of auction politics. Enda Kenny was less than convincing on the hustings and made a few unfortunate gaffes.

Where does this leave the party. As the biggest it will still be in a position to form a government. But there will now be question marks about Enda Kenny’s leadership. When it came to the difficult second album, he has fallen short. Could the party be put into a position where a new leader is elected within months? Can it truly lead a government? A grand coalition? A minority government supported by a very strong Fianna Fáil would be inherently unstable in my view, especially if the opposition became impossibly strident.

What should have been a coronation has turned into Coronation Street – grim plot twists galore.

3. Just when we thought it was safe to go into he water...

Fianna Fáil has obviously thrown off the sackcloth and ashes and is back wearing the flash pinstripes and the mohair suits. It was notable during the campaign the party was not willing to apologise any more for past omissions and was intent on fighting its election in the here and now. Micheál Martin has his faults as a leader but he was hard to best in debates or in the campaign.

Early in the campaign, the party was able to portray Fine Gael as a party of the wealthy. Whatever the truth of that, it gives it momentum that it retained throughout. You must remember that there are still many people in Irish society who are culturally Fianna Fáil. There is evidence that many of those who transferred to Fine Gael in 2011 came back. The party has done okay in Dublin at 14.6 per cent. It will win a few seats but not too many. Expect it to win two seats in a surprising number of rural constituencies, where it now rivals Fine Gael as the biggest party.

Micheáll Martin for revolving taoiseach anybody?

4. Labour Pains

Labour has finished 7.8 per cent, which is halfway between the disaster of 6 per cent that earlier polls had predicted and the safe harbour of 10 per cent. How well will it do on this figures? So, so. It does not have the same national profile as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so it should retain seats where there are big personalities. It has 9.4 per cent in Dublin which gives it more than a marginal chance of retaining some key seats.

Still, it is not going to be great for the party. It salvaged 12 seats from lower support levels in 1987 but it was a different country then and politics was not as fragmented. Could it creep into double figures? It is certain it will hoover up a lot of Fine Gael transfers but only if the Labour candidate is the only government candidate still left in the field, thus maximising the transfer from Fine Gael.

There is also evidence that it has gouged some support away from Fine Gael in the final days of the campaign but not enough to keep the party’s government hopes solvent.

5. Out of the jaws of victory, a scoreless draw...

No matter how you look at it, Sinn Féin will gain. Its problem is that the party always shoots up in opinion polls but the closer it comes to elections, that support begins to winnow. Long gone are the heady days of 25 per cent in opinion polls and being the big swatter in Dublin. Still, at 15 per cent, it will make considerable gains and perhaps will hit the mid 20s.

But could it have made greater strides? Certainly, Gerry Adams’s series of poor interviews coming into the final week must have had some impact, especially with voters who were wavering towards the party.

He will lead the party into the next Dáil. But will he lead them out? He has been leader for three decades and the case for a fresh face now seems stronger than ever. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil arrive at some governing deal, a party led by a new dynamic leader might finally live up to its billing (it will also be in a better position to firmly decommission its past and put its beyond use.)

6. And other new forces arrive...

Almost one in three voters now say they no longer support the traditional parties (and we include Sinn Féin in the traditional category). Most of them (16 per cent) will vote independent but the smaller parties all look like they will make some inroads. The AAA-PBP has 3.6 nationally but almost 8 per cent support in Dublin. That will make it a live contender for seats in working-class constituencies.

Likewise the Greens will take solace form its national showing of 3.5 per cent. If that is its support levels, it will be more than anyone predicted. It is at 5 per cent in Dublin. That means it is much higher in the more affluent south Dublin constituencies. The party could end up with a handful of seats.

Renua is at 2.3 per cent and the Social Democrats are are 2.8 per cent. Nationally, that does not mean too much but both show higher support levels in Dublin.

True Independents are at 16 per cent, which will translate into at least 30 seats. As in 2011, expect a few unfamiliar faces to emerge.

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