Paul Moran: Some subtle shifts in opinion but not a lot has changed
The political landscape has not been this fractured for generations, writes Paul Moran
Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30
This final Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll before the General Election, was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week. Therefore it measured the pulse of the nation exactly two weeks into what has been, quite frankly, a rather dull campaign.
Fieldwork commenced after the second televised leaders' debate on Monday, where all seven leaders had the opportunity to advance their causes. On the face of it, not a lot has changed since our last national poll at the beginning of the month. But scratch beneath the surface, and there are some subtle shifts in opinion.
Opinions are becoming more focused - just 13pc at this stage claim to be undecided. However, this poll sought only the views of those both registered to vote, and intending to do so with some degree of certainly. Therefore, while results with previous tracking polls are not directly comparable, we can still use them as a relative benchmark.
First off, the overall party support. Fine Gael remains top of the pecking order at 27pc. Fianna Fail trails by four points at 23pc, and Labour remains in the doldrums at 6pc. Sinn Fein now attracts 19pc of the vote, with Independents/other parties continuing to excel - they are the second largest grouping at 25pc.
From a statistical point of view, there is no real change of note. So is the electorate becalmed? Not really.
Some in Fine Gael might rue not going to the country in the autumn. However, by doing so would not have guaranteed any further success. The issue for Fine Gael is that their campaign has stuttered from the outset. The widely held view was that this was Fine Gael's election to lose. The assumed narrative of the campaign was that it would be a straightforward slugfest on the economy.
But opposition parties have sidestepped this frontal assault, and turned defence into attack in terms of focusing on society. The public have warmed to this message (health and homelessness have been to the fore as opposed to the economy).
There are two reasons why this has been made easier for the opposition - many do not see the benefits of the recovery, while for others, the role that Government claims to have played in it has been exaggerated. It will be interesting to see if the threatened economic "fear offensive" will gain traction - the impact of that message has been lukewarm so far.
There are indicators in this poll that the public may not find such a single-minded strategy compelling - just one in three (34pc) agrees a change in government would put our economic stability at risk - and it is only FG supporters who have any conviction on this (66pc of them agree, compared to 39pc of Labour supporters). Some 57pc believe a change of government could actually lead to a fairer society. How the parties channel this message will be critical.
Labour has always been on the back foot, and on the basis of these results, will have anuncomfortable day at the count centres on Saturday. From a long way out, there has been a sense that relying on things to change dramatically during the course of a campaign was optimistic at best. It would seem that the party's message is going unheeded.
In addition, Labour has been caught between a rock and a hard place; losing support to the far left, but finding itself having to align with the centre right (FG) for self-preservation purposes. In essence, the Labour brand has been diluted. A big worry for Labour is that its traditional stronghold of Dublin is faring no better (7pc support). This election may well be a case of damage limitation at best. It also seems some senior figures have gone to ground. Joan Burton seems to be ploughing a lonely furrow.
Fianna Fail has been, to a certain extent, the surprise package so far in this campaign. Micheal Martin has performed competently over the past couple of weeks, as have his senior team. So far at least, they have been comfortable in counteracting accusations laid against them. This is reflected in the public's appraisal of his role as party leader - satisfaction with his performance is at 40pc.
Sinn Fein has slipped off the pace slightly. The party began this campaign brightly (exposing the anomaly of the Government's fiscal space). There is a sense, however, that Gerry Adams's grasp of the minutiae of detail is brittle at best. In addition, there is also a question mark over the party's ability to get its voters out on the day. If this Achilles' Heel can be rectified, it could be a very good day for Sinn Fein next Saturday. Either way, it is certain that SF will significantly increase its representation in the 32nd Dail.
Independents/other parties continue to perform strongly. In particular, there have been notable gains for AAA/PbP (5pc), and the Social Democrats (4pc). Renua and the Greens register 2pc each. But we need to treat these figures for smaller parties with caution - for some parties, there may be a desire to vote for them, but no candidates will be available within that voter's particular constituency. For others, a nationwide poll may not reflect fully their strength within specific areas, and thus the seats they may gain.
Taking a step back, it is clear that with government parties at a combined support level of just 33pc, the next five days will be critical. The political landscape has not been this fractured in generations. While forecasting the rank order of how parties will perform is straightforward, how this will translate into forming a government is anybody's guess.
Paul Moran is an Associate Director at Millward Brown