The Irish Times view on the presidential election: Higgins holds his solid lead

In focusing on trivia, the challengers waste time they could be spending making a positive case for themselves

With just over a week to go before voters go to the polls, then, it will take a massive swing to one of Higgins’s rivals, or complacency on a huge scale on the part of president’s supporters, to block his re-election. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

With just over a week to go before voters go to the polls, then, it will take a massive swing to one of Higgins’s rivals, or complacency on a huge scale on the part of president’s supporters, to block his re-election. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

It’s Michael D Higgins’s to lose. That’s the clear conclusion to be drawn from the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll on the presidential election. It puts the incumbent on a commanding 66 per cent – far ahead of his closest rival, Seán Gallagher, on 12 per cent.

In third place is Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada on 11 per cent, followed by Joan Freeman (5 per cent), Gavin Duffy (4 per cent) and Peter Casey (2 per cent). On those numbers, the five challengers would be lucky to recoup their deposits.

Higgins leads comfortably in all parts of the country, among all age groups and all social classes. Remarkably, he is even outperforming Ní Riada among her own party’s voters . With just over a week to go before voters go to the polls, then, it will take a massive swing to one of Higgins’s rivals, or complacency on a huge scale on the part of the President’s supporters, to block his re-election.

Almost entirely absent has been any convincing discussion of where Ireland finds itself

Taking on an incumbent, especially one as popular as Higgins, was always going to be a struggle. A sitting president clearly has an in-built advantage and Higgins has exploited that. Yet his campaign has been far from spectacular. He declined to take part in a televised debate on Monday, but instead of simply saying he wished to sit it out – as is his right – he produced an unconvincing claim that by skipping the encounter he was putting the presidency ahead of his candidacy, in line with the wishes of the Irish people (the official Áras an Uachtaráin diary was empty on Monday).

Higgins is the canniest political operator in the race. That can be seen by his refusal to release all details about the Áras’s expenditure during his term until the campaign is over. He appears to have calculated – rightly, the poll suggests – that the issue will cause him limited damage and that to feed the story with more information would be a bigger risk.

It has been a vacuous campaign. Almost entirely absent has been any convincing discussion of where Ireland finds itself and who best can embody the nation’s values for the next seven years. That suits the incumbent who has proven that he is capable of doing the job and has also done it well.

In focusing on trivia such as dog-grooming and the line-up in televised debates, the challengers not only sound unpresidential but waste time they could be spending making a positive case for themselves. The key to a good presidency is an intuitive grasp of the subtleties of the role, an ability to navigate grey constitutional zones safely, and the wherewithal to articulate ideas bigger than oneself. Instead, we have a campaign mired in clichés and platitudes.

Barring the unexpected or one of his challengers offering something radically different that would create a real contest, Michael D Higgins is on course for a second term.

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