Tuesday 17 October 2017

Yes side has finishing line in sight despite Kenny's refusal to debate

Satisfaction with the Government remains low, with Labour, in particular, dangerously far behind, writes

NECK AND NECK: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin are tied on 27 per cent as the most popular party leaders.
NECK AND NECK: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin are tied on 27 per cent as the most popular party leaders.

Paul Moran

THE results of our latest Millard Brown opinion poll, conducted in the second half of this month, will be greeted with relief by Government parties and others supporting the abolition of the Seanad. With the referendum taking place on Friday, there is clear blue water between pro-abolitionists and their opponents. However, this is one campaign that the administration, and Fine Gael in particular, will be glad to see the back of.

From the outset, the campaign has stuttered along. When the referendum was called, the Yes side was stung by the sure-footed arguments of the No campaign.

In retrospect, the Government's (especially Fine Gael's) strategy of focusing on the cost-saving argument was both short-sighted and distracting. Indeed, in light of the Referendum Commission's disclosure about the veracity of potential cost savings last week, it has transpired to be highly embarrassing.

Nevertheless, with nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of committed voters supporting the referendum, the Yes side has the finishing line in sight.

It would seem that the storm has been weathered and that abolition will be passed. One suspects that if this plebiscite had taken place earlier in the lifetime of this Government, this campaign would have been much more straightforward for it.

That honeymoon period is certainly over. Accusations of a cynical power grab, which have been readily bandied about, may not have gained as much traction in the past.

Fine Gael's management of political and communication optics has taken a nosedive over the past 12 months, following in the tailspin of Labour. The consistent refusal of Mr Kenny to debate the issue doesn't help the cause.

Ironically in the broader scheme of things, such a debate would add precious little to the argument at hand. Would it add any more value to the outcome or be just a piece of choreographed political theatre? Probably the latter, but this refusal doesn't resonate with an electorate that wants leaders to be seen to leading. Optics again.

There are, however, still some reasons for disquiet. Just over half (57 per cent) have made up their mind. One in three are still undecided. There are two schools of thought about those in doubt, particularly in terms of referenda. Arguably this group has the potential to upset the apple cart, but more often than not, many of the undecided simply will not vote.

The counter-argument to this is that if they do vote, they are more likely to opt for the status quo – in this case, voting against the proposal. With that in mind, the turnout for Friday's vote will be crucial. We saw just last year in the Children's Referendum, where the result was apparently a shoe-in, that the final outcome was relatively close as a consequence of low turnout.

Taking a step back, the levels of undecideds is also a commentary on the lack of engagement many of us have with a very fundamental issue – what form of parliamentary system do we want?

That is worrying.

So who is in favour of abolition? Those further away from the eastern seaboard are most likely to want the Upper House put to the sword. Nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) of those living in Munster and 73 per cent of those in Connaught/Ulster are saying enough is enough.

In terms of political support, the three main parties in favour of such a move will be pleased to see that their supporters are generally toeing the party line. Among those decided, supporters of both Government parties and Sinn Fein are remarkably similar in support, all registering endorsements in the low seventies range.

Those more likely to vote against the proposal are older (44 per cent of those aged 65+ will do so), Dublin-based (42 per cent) or from the more affluent social grades (nearly half, or 47 per cent of ABs who have made up their minds, are opposed).

Over the year, we have tracked what the public ideally would like to see happen to the Seanad. In this final poll, there has been a noticeable shift in opinions on our hypothetical question. For the first time, we have seen a significant decrease in support for reform of the Upper House (down four points to 29 per cent).

It is interesting to note that this was at the expense of those who do not know what should be done with the Seanad. It would seem that this branch of the Oireachtas is either unknown, unloved or simply misunderstood.

Moving away from the referendum, the Government's satisfaction rating remains stubbornly low at 20 per cent. Whilst there is a growing consensus that that most elusive of flora, the green shoots, may finally be budding, the public's patience is out of sync with economic data. At this stage, we are just weary.

Both parties in the administration are, of course, playing the long-term game. In the short term, the electorate is punch-drunk from a constant sense of trepidation that envelopes us (regardless of the economic indicators).

Next month's Budget doesn't help matters. Notwithstanding that curiously Irish political event of annual kite-flying, there is still a genuine fear of what the next tranche of austerity will entail.

Arguments about whether the next deficit reduction should be €3.1bn, €2.5bn or some other figure are all very rational at a macro level. It will still be another wave of pain, no matter how it is dressed up.

For Labour, which has gained some ground in this latest poll (up two to 10 per cent), this Budget will be the defining moment in the life cycle of this administration.

It has fallen dangerously behind from the herd. Regardless of all the caveats that have been offered since, October 15 has the potential for it to either stand or fall, based on what it promised to the electorate in 2011.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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