Sunday 11 December 2016

The FF Taliban are not only back, they have reinforcements

It is no wonder the coalition parties are looking rattled, because a Fianna Fail resurgence is taking shape, writes Jody Corcoran

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

'In the final week of the 2011 election, 'Big Phil' made an intervention to ask
'In the final week of the 2011 election, 'Big Phil' made an intervention to ask "the decent people of Fianna Fail" to lend their vote to Fine Gael'. Photo: Frank McGrath

In Fianna Fail, they refer to them as the "Taliban", the precisely 17.45pc of the electorate who stuck with the party in the last election, despite them being, as Phil Hogan said, "appalled by the state of our country".

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If some of the opinion polls in this election are to be believed, Fianna Fail has made absolutely no headway since then; that is, the party is stuck somewhere between 17pc and 18pc of the total vote.

In my view, that is nonsense. As a starting point then, what some polls are telling us is wrong. The question is, to what extent.

In the final week of the 2011 election, Big Phil made an intervention to ask "the decent people of Fianna Fail" to lend their vote to Fine Gael.

Other than the "Taliban" or diehard voter, many of the 'Celtic Tiger' generation who voted Fianna Fail in 2011 were always going to abandon the party in the last election. That abandonment turned into a landslide.

The issue which will decide the outcome of this election - and I believe it is still very much in play - is to what extent those voters will return to Fianna Fail.

In my view, at least 5pc already have and that could rise to 8pc or even higher on a really good day.

As it turned out, Fianna Fail's share of the vote fell in 2011 by a massive 24.11pc, which translated into a phenomenal 58-seat loss.

That is a far greater number of seats lost than such a loss of vote share would merit, because Fianna Fail did not get a vote transfer at all.

The outcome of this election will be decided on what that almost 25pc of Fianna Fail lost voters in 2011 decide to do on Friday week, right down - indeed particularly - to where their votes will transfer. In fact, that is the only relevant issue: where will those 'borrowed' Fianna Fail voters go this time?

From opinion poll analysis, and more importantly from word on the ground among all parties, I expect - as I have expected for some time - that a large proportion, if not quite a majority, will return to Fianna Fail, and as a result that party is poised to do far better in this election than all opinion polls and predictions indicate to date.

Following Big Phil's intervention, the belief arose that Fine Gael had benefited most from those 'borrowed' Fianna Fail votes in 2011; but in fact, it was the Labour Party which reaped a greater harvest.

Between them, Fine Gael (8.72pc), Labour (9.32pc) and Independents/others (5.45pc) shared almost all of the 'borrowed' votes; that is, an additional combined windfall of 23.55pc of the vote.

At this point, I should say the Sinn Fein vote now is more difficult to assess. In 2007, Sinn Fein won 6.94pc of the vote, rising incrementally to 9.94pc in 2011.

There is little doubt that Sinn Fein also 'borrowed' some Fianna Fail votes, but it seems more likely that Sinn Fein has been and is busily cultivating its own vote base in areas which have eaten into the Fianna Fail vote to a lesser extent than did the other main parties and Independents/others in 2011.

So let us turn our attention to Fine Gael and Labour, in particular, and how, as I have said before, those parties, coming into this election, have lost virtually all of that 'borrowed' Fianna Fail support and, in the case of Labour, more besides.

We can use the 2007 election as a barometer. In that election, Fianna Fail won 41.45pc of the total vote, the good old days to which it will not return in this election, if ever again.

More interestingly, Fine Gael won 27.32pc of the vote in 2007, a position to which the party has now returned, notwithstanding its attempt to breach the 30pc mark.

Labour won 10.13pc nine years ago, a vote share it will struggle and fail to win this time.

What currently exists, therefore, is what most of the polls tell us to varying degrees; that is, that the lost Fianna Fail vote is, by and large, minded to vote either Independent/other this time, or still remains undecided, with some, inevitably, also minded to vote Sinn Fein, but with Sinn Fein also eating into the Labour core vote.

The outcome for Fianna Fail will depend, in the first instance, on the extent to which the party can further reclaim its lost vote and, in my view, it has reclaimed a minimum 5pc to date in what has been a good election campaign so far, further boosted by the TV3 debate performance by Micheal Martin.

For Fianna Fail, this week will be the crucial phase of the campaign and the party will, or should be, preparing itself for a sustained onslaught from Fine Gael and Labour, in particular, because those government parties and others already know on the ground what has not yet fed through in opinion polls, that Fianna Fail is doing far better in this election than almost all had expected, including many within the party itself.

The comeback is mostly rural-based, or rather outside Dublin, although as we also saw last week in an Irish Independent/Millward Brown poll, the party is faring better in Dublin than widely anticipated, with its candidate Jack Chambers on 17pc and the Independent-Fianna Fail candidate David McGuinness on 9pc.

There is an expectation in Fianna Fail that it could win five seats in Dublin in the election or seven on a really good day.

To achieve such a result, in Dublin and nationally, Fianna Fail will need to take votes primarily from Independent/other, and in this regard its prospects are reasonable. As our poll showed last week, the Independents/others vote is far less 'locked in' than is Fianna Fail's. In fact, almost a quarter (24pc) of Independent/other supporters may not vote that way at all.

Even if Independent/other voters stick, the prospect of Fianna Fail securing their transfers is better than all the other main parties. Our poll showed the party is positioned to win transfers from three-quarters of all voters, which is a far cry from 2011, when Fianna Fail lost a disproportionate number of seats even according to its diminished vote share.

This analysis is heavy on statistics, but there is also another dynamic at play to which few refer - the extent to which Fianna Fail remains contained in the national DNA.

The common view is not at all, or to no great extent. But to quote the former Labour minister, Barry Desmond is another, not unrelated context: "Dem dat know don't need to ask and them dat don't know don't need to know."

Sunday Independent

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