Poll sends warning strong campaign needed to stop slippage in Yes support


ANALYSIS: The drop in support for the Yes side is eerily reminiscent of what happened before the first referendum on Lisbon

THE LATEST Irish Times /TNS mrbi poll is a salutary warning for supporters of the Lisbon Treaty that while there is still a clear Yes, majority support is slipping and it will take a strong and coherent campaign to ensure the referendum is carried.

The drop of eight points since the last poll, before campaigning has begun in earnest, is eerily reminiscent of the trend before the loss of the first Lisbon referendum and the first referendum on the Nice Treaty, which was also lost.

If the trend away from the Yes side continues for the next four weeks, the outcome of the referendum will be very close and could quite easily turn into another No.

One consolation for the Yes campaign is that the lost support has drifted into the Don’t Know category rather than the No camp. That indicates that a strong campaign fuelled by hard work and conviction can carry the day for the Yes side, but it will take a supreme effort from all of those involved.

If the Don’t Knows are excluded, the Yes side has declined from 66 per cent to 61 per cent since May, with the No side up from 34 per cent to 39 per cent.

Over the past few days Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour have launched their campaigns for a Yes vote and the Green Party will launch its Yes campaign today. Of equal importance are the campaigns from the various civic society groups in favour of the treaty.

One positive feature of the poll from a Yes perspective is that the number of Don’t Knows is much lower with four weeks to go than it was at the same stage in the first Lisbon referendum.

At that stage, while the Yes side had a lead of two to one among committed voters, a massive 47 per cent were in the Don’t Know category. In the event there was a big drift from the Don’t Knows camp into the No camp in the last few weeks of the campaign and that decided the outcome.

This time around, while the Don’t Knows come to a significant 25 per cent, three-quarters of the electorate has come to a decision. If anything the Yes side is more committed with 91 per cent of them saying they are very likely to vote, while on the No side the figure is significantly lower at 70 per cent.

The task for the Yes campaign this time around is to stop any further serious drift away and that means dealing with all the issues raised by the No campaign to ensure voters are swayed by facts rather than misrepresentations as to what the treaty is about.

All of the pro-treaty political parties have to rise to the challenge of mobilising their supporters and spending significant funds on the campaign. There is a particular onus on Fine Gael and the Labour Party to get their supporters out given the low standing of Fianna Fáil at the moment.

Fine Gael has long prided itself on being the most pro-EU of all Irish parties. Given its newfound status as the biggest party in the country, the referendum will be a test of its commitment.

The Labour leadership has a particularly important task given the scepticism of a significant proportion of its supporters about the impact of the treaty on workers’ rights.

For the No campaign, the poll result will come as a boost as it indicates that the referendum proposal can still be defeated.

The strong No poster campaign has clearly had an impact and there is now an opportunity to build on that in the weeks ahead.

Sinn Féin is the only political party campaigning for a No vote and the poll shows that party supporters are strongly in tune with the leadership on the issue, in contrast to the Greens, many of whose supporters are out of tune with the party line.

The No side will miss the suave image Declan Ganley brought to the last campaign.

Coir, which is closely linked to Youth Defence, has clearly put a lot of money and effort into its No campaign, as its glossy literature testifies.

However, the belligerent tone of its campaign may not sway as many undecided voters as the Libertas campaign last time around. The clarification of the Lisbon Treaty to allow all countries retain an EU commissioner, along with the legal guarantees on specific Irish concerns such as neutrality, taxation and abortion, should be a help to the Yes side in countering some of the arguments put forward by their opponents.

As in previous polls middle-class voters are the most enthusiastic Yes supporters. There is overwhelming support for Lisbon among the better-off AB voters, with 68 per cent in favour and only 16 per cent against. At the other end of the social scale 35 per cent of the poorest DE category are against, with 32 per cent for the treaty.

In regional terms, the Yes lead is strongest in Dublin and the rest of Leinster where 49 per cent say they will vote Yes and 28 per cent No. In Connacht-Ulster, the Yes lead is 46 per cent to 32 per cent and Munster is the least enthusiastic region, with 43 per cent to 28 per cent.

In age terms, the over-65s are the most positive with 61 per cent in favour, while those in the 18-24 age group are the most negative and the only age group in which the No campaign is in the lead.