Monday 24 October 2016

Jody Corcoran: The General Election has just become Fianna Fail's to win

Since the campaign began, Micheal Martin has had a surge in popularity as voters consider the next Taoiseach, writes Jody Corcoran

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

BOOST: FF leader Micheal Martin’s popularity has risen in latest poll. Photo: Arthur Carron

Two weeks ago, when we published the first opinion poll of this election by Millward Brown, I concluded that the election was still Fine Gael's to lose, but could become Fianna Fail's to win. This weekend it has become Fianna Fail's to win.

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In December 2014, on the basis of another poll, I predicted, when it was neither fashionable nor profitable, that by default Micheal Martin could become the next Taoiseach - and went so far as to lay a €50 bet with Paddy Power that he would.

Whatever about being fashionable among the chattering classes, this weekend it seems that bet may yet turn out to be profitable and that Brother Kevin of the Capuchin Day Centre will benefit.

The key to our latest poll is not contained in the headline figures, significant and all as they are, but in the satisfaction ratings of the party leaders. Remember, voters are turning their minds to electing a Taoiseach.

Since the last poll a fortnight ago, the dissatisfaction rating of Enda Kenny has increased by 6pc and that of Joan Burton by 7pc - telling in itself - but the revelation, after two television debates and his criss-cross of the country in the style of a real election campaign, is the soaring satisfaction rating of Micheal Martin.

With a week to go before the country decides who it would like to be Taoiseach, Martin's satisfaction rating (40pc) is up 13 points, to a level he has not had in his time as leader of Fianna Fail: furthermore, 39pc of Fine Gael voters are satisfied with his leadership, as are 40pc of Labour voters. The fact is, this weekend Micheal Martin is a relative borderline political phenomenon.

Now let us return to the headline figures, before I get into the other aspects of this poll which tell us that Fianna Fail is, relatively speaking, on the verge of completing a remarkable political comeback and the reasons why.

According to this poll, the next Government could be formed by Fianna Fail (23pc), Sinn Fein (19pc) and the Social Democrats (4pc), with the support of a few Independent candidates, but I believe Martin would resign as leader of Fianna Fail before he would lead his party into government with Sinn Fein.

The alternative, as presented, Fine Gael (27pc) and Labour (6pc) is dead in the water; as is a combination of those parties and Independent candidates, and whatever other array of parties, to make up the numbers. Dissatisfaction with this Government (66pc) has risen by four points since the election began.

The government-in-waiting is Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, but here is the question which will now be asked of Enda Kenny: is he prepared to enter government with Fianna Fail with Fine Gael as the minority party? After months, indeed years of vice-versa assumptions, that is the prospect staring him in the face this weekend. For what it's worth, I believe Kenny would also resign before he would do so.

Now I would like to return to the reason why I believe this election has become Fianna Fail's to win. As this poll shows, the satisfaction rating of Micheal Martin tells us the momentum is with Fianna Fail. But here is why I believe the party could actually win the election…

As I said two weeks ago, and have done repeatedly before, our polls also ask voters which party they will definitely not vote for. This question is designed to assess where vote transfers will go. It is known as the "toxic" question. This poll is different, however, because it is a poll of registered voters only and also - and only - of voters who will "definitely" or "probably" vote. The pollsters were told to 'close and re-recruit' in all other circumstances.

The "toxic" question finds that 50pc of voters will not vote for Sinn Fein, up 13pc since the less specific poll two weeks ago, and that 35pc will not vote for Fine Gael and Labour - in other words, Fine Gael is as toxic as Labour.

But the "toxic" figure drops significantly to 27pc in the case of Fianna Fail, which tells us that Fianna Fail can be expected to pick up transfers all over the place, either before, during or after an array of Independents transfer to each other or not.

But here is the thing: how certain are intended Independent voters in their convictions? Not very, it seems, or at least significantly less certain than every other voting bloc, other than Labour, whose supporters seem to be having an existential crisis.

Before I get to that, here is what others seem to have forgotten, or did not realise. In the past, when voters wanted to punish Fianna Fail they usually voted for Labour, hence the odd Labour surge, such as the Spring Tide or Gilmore Gale or whatever.

In the last election, they really wanted to punish Fianna Fail so they also voted in large numbers for Fine Gael, something they had not contemplated before - the infamous "borrowed" vote to which I referred last week which has now fully left both Fine Gael and Labour and returned in part to Fianna Fail or mostly migrated to Independents.

The fact is, these "borrowed" Fianna Fail voters were never going to vote for Fine Gael in significant numbers in this election, irrespective of the "recovery", which is, in fact, the long and the short of the story of this election - and if you don't believe me, ask Big Phil. The only question that remains is the extent to which they will return to Fianna Fail or stick with Independents/others.

This poll finds that 24pc of Labour's remaining voters have "some reservations" or are "not at all certain" about voting for that party this time - but more interestingly, that 20pc of Independent voters feel the same about their intentions. The lion's share of those voters is former Fianna Fail.

In other words, before the week is out, a further proportion of Labour voters, and of Independent voters, "borrowed" from Fianna Fail, may still return or will, it is fair to assume, transfer in reasonable numbers to the party to possibly make Micheal Martin the next Taoiseach.

Whether that happens or not, there is no doubt that the Fianna Fail leader is poised to have a stunning election result. Now the question is - how did that happen? In the history of general elections, the campaign run by Fine Gael has, so far, been the worst run by any political party I can recall. The arrogance has been astonishing, even for Fine Gael; the lazy assumptions - the detachment from what are the realities of life for the vast majority of people is quite extraordinary. Enda Kenny has been so badly mishandled by his handlers; it is astonishing to witness, and to consider that these handlers, are supposed to be the best political brains in the business.

Micheal Martin, on the other hand, is rising to the new heights of his possibilities. In Fianna Fail, they are not entirely certain how that happened either, but it has to do with the man himself. Both personally and professionally, Martin has been through the dark space of alteration that has left its mark. I met him in the company of some of his frontbench a few months ago - last summer - and he stood out with an almost child-like quality of rebirth. This is what he told Barry Egan last week: "Experience makes you calmer."

Fine Gael will next week throw the kitchen sink at Fianna Fail. The pundits will tell you that the final election debate will be crucial, and, of course, it will be. The drama must continue. But when the lights go down and the cameras start to roll, I can guarantee you Micheal Martin will be the calmest man in the room. But will it be enough to complete the most remarkable political comeback in recent political history?

Sunday Independent

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