Friday 28 October 2016

Paul Moran: Electorate loyal to FG - but feels unloved by Kenny

Paul Moran

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

Fine Gael's Michael Ring. Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael's Michael Ring. Photo: Tom Burke
Mayo first preference poll

This Irish Independent/Millward Brown constituency poll focuses on the sprawling constituency of Mayo, which is notable for several reasons.

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Aside from it being the home patch of Enda Kenny, it is a Fine Gael stronghold, returning a hugely impressive four out of five seats in 2011 - an unprecedented result. However, with boundary changes, Mayo has become a four-seater, with John O'Mahony being dispatched by Fine Gael to contest Galway West.

On the face of it, the electorate of Mayo seems more surefooted than most in terms of how it will vote. Just 8pc are undecided at this stage of the campaign. Among those who have made their decision, they tend to be pretty certain about the party or candidate that they have chosen to vote for.

On the basis of these results, less than two weeks out from the election, it seems that Fine Gael is in with a strong chance of returning its remaining incumbents in Mayo.

It is a statistical dead heat between Enda Kenny and Michael Ring to top the poll, with Kenny just shading it (24pc first preferences vs 23pc for Ring). The bragging rights may remain in Castlebar, but it will be close.

Coming in third position is the last of the 'banker' seats in this constituency - Dara Calleary of Fianna Fáil. In this poll, he garners 19pc of the vote and is in touching distance of the quota. In 2011, Calleary gained less than 12pc (albeit in a five-seater), suggesting that while Fianna Fáil is by no means riding on the crest of a wave, the tide seems to have turned.

The question of late is whether Michelle Mulherin can hang on long enough to snatch the fourth seat. She is considered vulnerable from a couple of flanks - Rose Conway-Walsh (SF) on one side and the outside chance of a second FF seat on the other. Mulherin's first-preference vote, when those undecideds are excluded, is 9pc. On these results, she is being outpolled by Conway-Walsh (11pc) and is just marginally ahead of FF's Lisa Chambers (8pc).

However, this is Mayo. The combined strength of Fine Gael is still huge. Between its three candidates, it musters nearly three quotas (56pc of the declared vote).

This may well be the saving grace for Mulherin. Transfer patterns, if efficiently managed, should get her over the line.

Looking at second-preference votes, Fine Gael could tighten up its vote management. Michael Ring and Enda Kenny, both of whom will be home and hosed early in the count, attract 42pc of the second-preference votes, compared to (a not insignificant) 17pc of second preferences being directed to Mulherin. A slightly more strategic approach could ensure a more balanced distribution.

Taking a step back from party support, this poll throws up some intriguing paradoxes. As we have seen, the electorate of Mayo remains steadfastly committed to Fine Gael.

Yet when one scratches below the surface, there is a disconnect between how people will vote and how they feel they have been treated.

Just 37pc feel that Kenny has looked after the interests of Mayo. Even among FG supporters, positive sentiment is lukewarm at best (54pc believing this to be so).

There is also a sense that the Government has been less than kind to the West. While 56pc of committed voters state they will vote Fine Gael, overall, less than one in three agree that the Government has focused on securing an economic recovery for the region.

Of course, these contradictions are not unique to Mayo. However, when one considers that economic considerations are the most important issue for 29pc of Mayo voters (second only to health), it seems that Fine Gael has the advantage of a uniquely loyal following.

The alternative school of thought is that for Mayo people it is better the devil you know; a message the Government has been so keen to get across.

Paul Moran is an Associate Director with Millward Brown

Irish Independent

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