Fine Gael still down in polls on 2011 but don't rule out a last-minute surge
Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30
Many people see general elections in much the same way as they do Christmas shopping.
Something they read about in a newspaper, or was mentioned on radio or television, is recalled as they sally forth to the crowded shops. Then they come home with a selection of what came their way, tailored to budget, taste, and perceived needs.
And that's it until the next time. In summary, very many people get enough of shopping and politics handily enough, and while they will usually vote, their candidate choice is based on personal circumstances and limited research.
For all that, most people want their vote to help choose a government for the next period of years.
They hope the "next crowd" don't inflict harm upon them; and may also punish the "last crowd" for any number of things that happened in the previous five years.
So, how do you apply that simple formula to the emerging and confusing line-up of potential party alliances?
Let's strip out the noise and swiftly review things.
Fianna Fáil has ruled out the prospect of coalition with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin.
The party may well have a good election and almost double its current 21 TDs. But without the other two "biggies", it's very hard to see it pulling together the 79-plus deputies needed to forge a coalition.
Sinn Féin eschews the prospect of coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Both of them say the feeling is mutual and that Sinn Féin is, in fact, "toxic".
Fine Gael likes to say "vote Fianna Fáil - get Sinn Féin" which undoubtedly explains Fianna Fáil's recently unveiled stance.
Meanwhile, Labour is staring into the abyss, contemplating more than two-third losses from its historic high of 37 TDs last time out in February 2011.
Labour may not have enough TDs to be relevant to pulling together a coalition; or the party may decide any hopes of future rebuilding and existence centre on moving left into opposition.
So, who could gain here? Well, up to now, "Independent" seemed to be the best brand option.
But let's not forget Fine Gael in all of this.
Fine Gael remains down in the opinion polls from the 36pc it got in 2011 - but it's still set to be the biggest Dáil party.
That gives FG an edge in what will be a game of "79-plus TDs" next spring.
This simple reality - and the ongoing economic pick-up - may tilt the balance Fine Gael's way.
For now, it's early days and things are complicated by a strange mood among voters.
But don't rule out a pro-Fine Gael surge as voters' minds shift towards what kind of government they want between now and 2021.