Poll shows Michael D can catch up on transfers
Gallagher leads in close race that may come down to 25,000 votes
Published 23/10/2011 | 07:08
IN a stunning reversal of fortune, businessman Sean Gallagher has established a significant lead over veteran Labour front runner Michael D Higgins, according to the latest opinion poll for the Sunday Independent.
But the dirtiest, most divisive, chaotic and scandal-driven election campaign in the history of the Presidency is heading for a photo finish between Mr Gallagher and Mr Higgins.
In spite of a dramatic swing which has seen Mr Gallagher's support rise from nine per cent to 41 per cent in a month, the final outcome is still not certain. The poll of 500 people was taken on Friday night. Today's Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll reveals, when ‘Don't knows' are included, Mr Gallagher with 37 per cent has an almost uncatchable lead of nine per cent over Mr Higgins who has the support of 28 per cent of the voters.
Though the exclusion of Don't Knows sees Mr Gallagher (41 per cent) stretch his lead to 10 per cent, the Labour camp will be heartened by the higher rate of transfers Mr Higgins receives from most other candidates.
The Sunday Independent poll reveals that Mr Higgins receives 35 per cent of David Norris's second preferences, 43 per cent of those of Gay Mitchell and, surprisingly, in the light of his criticisms of the IRA in last week’s issue of the Sunday Independent, 35 per cent from Martin McGuinness.
In contrast, Mr Gallagher secures 28 per cent of the second preferences of Mr Norris and Mr Mitchell and 19 per cent from Mr McGuinness. The one per cent secured by Dana means her transfers will be irrelevant, but the preferences of Mary Davis, despite the lowly two per cent she secures before Don't Knows are excluded, which favour Mr Gallagher by the stunning margin of 65 per cent to 14 per cent, could yet be critical.
These figures suggest that, should the race tighten further, the oddly contrasting figures of Gay Mitchell and Martin McGuinness could become presidential kingmakers.
But Mr Higgins will need to increase his vote. A separate analysis by Quantum reveals that Mr Higgins leads Mr Gallagher by 32 per cent to 20 per cent in transfers. The results when it comes to the rest of the candidates are uniformly disastrous. Gay Mitchell improves slightly to seven per cent (or eight per cent when don't knows are excluded) with Sinn Fein presidential candidate and former IRA army council member Mr McGuinness on nine per cent.
Both are in danger of not having a portion of their expenses paid. (Candidates who fail to get 12.5 per cent of the vote, including transfers, do not qualify for their full election expenses). The former front runner David Norris has experienced the starkest fall of all as only one in 20 (or six per cent if Don't Knows are excluded) of the electorate are planning to vote for him.
The changeable mood amongst the voters is epitomised by the swing from the previous week's poll where a six per cent lead for Mr Higgins over Mr Gallagher has been transformed into a nine per cent lead for Mr Gallagher before Don’t Knows are excluded.
The swing is even greater if Don't Knows are excluded. In those circumstances over 17 per cent of the electorate have changed their minds, resulting in a scenario where Mr Higgins’s previous 36 per cent to 29 per cent lead has been transformed into a 41 per cent to 31 per cent result in favour of Mr Gallagher.
This mood means all is not lost for Mr Higgins. However, the mood of the Gallagher camp will be heartened by the apparent indifference of the electorate to the perfect storm of allegations which he faced last week. Whilst a series of allegations involving secret fundraising events with Fianna Fail and Brian Cowen and controversies over breaches of company law and the non repayment of grants prompted the normally canny bookmakers firm Boylesports to pay out on a Michael D Higgins victory, they appear to have had scant impact on the electorate.
In a response that will provide some hope to FF that its toxicity is finally fading, today's poll reveals that a slight majority of 51 per cent of the electorate “think of Sean Gallagher as a Fianna Fail candidate''. One male respondent from the country said “it's written all over him''. But another said “if we elect him to the office it proves we have learnt nothing from the past''.
In yet another signal that the electorate are not in the mood for negative campaigning 61 per cent of the electorate were supportive of Mr Gallagher's earlier refusal to criticise the IRA past of Mr McGuinness because he did not like “condemning people and did not wish to “politicise grief ”. The 39 per cent who opposed Mr Gallagher were quite critical of the refusal with some noting that it was nothing more than an attempt to be all things to all men. But after his sharp criticism of Mr McGuinness, when Don't Knows are excluded, Michael D Higgins’s vote fell by five per cent last week.
This return of the Bertie Ahern phenomenon to Irish politics, where the more trouble the Taoiseach got into at the tribunal the more his support rose, means it is unlikely the Opposition will attempt to exploit the absence of clarity that surrounds some of Mr Gallagher's business dealings. Though 47 per cent of the electorate believe that “Sean Gallagher has not adequately dealt with questions raised about his business affairs'', the mood was summarised by one respondent who said: “He hasn’t explained his business dealings very well, but he still feels like a genuine candidate.''
The electorate were, however, in a far less charitable mood over the claim by Dana's husband that someone had tried to kill her. Over 94 per cent of voters expressed their disbelief as one female commented that “Dana's husband has been watching too much CSI”. Significantly, when it comes to the declining fortunes of Mary Davis and Martin McGuinness, the electorate were not inclined to believe the candidates’ responses to key issues. A stark 69 per cent of the electorate did not believe the claim by Ms Davis that media and business tycoon Denis O'Brien was not involved in her campaign.
They were even more dismissive of the denial by Mr McGuinness that he had ever met the killer of Garda Jerry McCabe when that person was on the run. Those who did not believe Mr McGuinness amounted to 74 per cent of those polled.