One-third of the electorate are floating voters, survey shows
A MUCH greater proportion of the Irish electorate is made up of floating voters than previously believed, according to a new study.
A five-year study of the same voters from 2002 to 2007, beginning with one-hour interviews with 2,663 people in their homes, shows that at least a third of the electorate is up for grabs, rather than tied to traditional party affiliation.
Only 67pc of the same sample voted the same way in the general elections of 2002 and 2007, the Trinity College study found -- but the volatility was masked by the fact that people "gravitated around the same major poles", said lead researcher Michael Marsh.
In other words, a Fianna Fail voter who defected to Fine Gael was often cancelled out by a voter moving the opposite way, but neither of these floating voters would have been picked up in ordinary election data.
Mr Marsh suggested that possibly half the electorate could thus be termed floating voters.
Yet a major finding of the Irish National Election Study (INES) was that past voting behaviour mattered much more than stated voting intention between elections, suggesting many people "came home" when the ballot was in their hand.
But this result may be distorted by the fact that only two general elections were looked at, in which FF was returned to power. A much longer study would be needed to offset the effect of a short burst of prosperity, or what might appear to be a temporary feel-good factor.
Mr Marsh said it was "astounding" how many people couldn't remember how they had voted in the last election, which amounted to around two-thirds, as the study could immediately identify from its prior data.
This suggested that voting for most people was nowhere near as important an exercise as pollsters and parties thought, "or that people don't like to remember voting for the loser", Mr Marsh said.
Most voters didn't cast many preferences, and their attitudes on the issues were quite stable.
There was a noticeable drop in the honesty rating for Bertie Ahern between 2002 and 2007, however, with the l0pc drop in the latter year no doubt related to revelations at the Mahon Tribunal.
Mr Marsh also pointed out that approval ratings for party leaders were based on whether they were perceived to be doing a good job for their party, which was not the same as popularity.
Gerry Adams was widely perceived as doing a good job as leader of Sinn Fein, but when voters were given "thermometer questions" as to what they thought of his attractiveness to them, he was "far and away the least popular" party leader.
The full study is found on the TCD website (www.tcd.ie/ines).