Norris had to stand down, says public -- now Gaybo takes over as front-runner
MOST people believe that Senator David Norris made the correct decision when he ended his campaign for the presidency last Tuesday afternoon. The latest Sunday Independent/Quantum research poll, carried out on Friday evening, showed a massive 78 per cent of those polled backing his decision.
But a respectable 45 per cent said they would still have voted for him if he had chosen to stay in the race.
Even more respondents recognised that politics -- especially presidential politics -- is a dirty game. Asked if they believed that there had been a conspiracy to get rid of David Norris from the election, 54 per cent said yes.
There is clearly a feeling that the decision by the person or persons unknown responsible for seeing that the Senator's "mercy" letter to the courts of Israel on behalf of his former lover, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, became part of the election discourse, was made in an effort to damage Norris and destroy his campaign.
"Of course there was something going on. The holier-than-thou brigade, the same ones who would defend the Catholic Church and all they have done, could not stand the idea of him being President," said one man.
A woman respondent said: "I wish he hadn't (quit the campaign) but I can see why he had to. Those b******s wouldn't have left him alone. Having said that, I couldn't vote for him now. The office of President needs to be above any smear campaign."
Another said: "I believe it was prejudice, more than a conspiracy, that pushed Norris from the presidential race."
Irrespective of the origins of the controversy, once it happened, most people felt it was too damaging. A woman respondent said: "He had to go, he was becoming too controversial for the office."
But one man's reaction was typical of those who felt he should have stayed in the race.
He said: "Norris shouldn't have pulled out, the people wanted him."
The fact that 45 per cent of those polled said they would still have voted for the senator, indicated that many of those who felt his resignation was correct thought it had been forced on him.
As one woman said: "Despite his mistake, Norris would have still made an excellent President." Another said: "He was so unique, it would have made Ireland more progressive."
But the verdict of those who would not vote for him was harsh: One man said: "Having a gay man in the Aras would be totally inappropriate to the office. What kind of example would that set?"
With Norris out of the race, it is clear that there is a hunger for a candidate who is not any of those who have been serious contenders for a nomination up till now.
Gay Byrne is the new favourite, with 35 per cent of the vote when the 27 per cent of those in the "don't know" category are excluded.
The "don't knows" include those who say they would not vote for any of the potential candidates we cited, but do not cover people who say they will not vote in the election.
This is an extraordinary result and it means that somebody who has not yet even declared as a candidate has become as popular with the voters in just a few days as Norris managed in 15 months of intensive campaigning.
Byrne has, essentially, taken over the Norris vote. This has left little room for any of the existing candidates to improve much on previous polls. However, Labour's Michael D Higgins, who is now in second place, has shown good progress since we began polling on June 5, going from 12 to 24 per cent.
Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell will not get much joy out of the fact that he now stands at 15 per cent, having previously had 21 per cent of the vote (on July 22) and, before that, 11 and nine per cent.
Sean Gallagher and Mary Davis, the two independent candidates who have been wooing the country's county councils for months, stand at 10 and nine per cent respectively. But Gallagher has never broken the 10 per cent barrier in any of our previous polls and previous poll results have shown Davis at a consistent seven per cent, indicating that neither of these two has yet made the big breakthrough necessary for success.
Dana Rosemary Scallon, the former MEP and failed presidential candidate in a previous election, is currently in California on holidays, considering whether she will respond positively to what her brother said were entreaties from various section of the public to stand.
She may get some help from this poll in terms of making up her mind, having come in last of the six possible choices, with just eight per cent.
For Fianna Fail's new deputy leader, Eamon O Cuiv, and Brian Crowley MEP, both of whom aspire to the nomination of their own party, the results are also sobering.
Asked if Fianna Fail should put forward a candidate, there was a resounding 'No' from 64 per cent of those polled.
This may be welcome news for party leader Micheal Martin, who has been unenthusiastic about getting involved because of the present antipathy to the party and because he does not have the approximately €500,000 it would take to run a candidate.
In those circumstances, the emergence of Gay Byrne as the popular choice could well play into his hands.
Backing the former Late, Late Show host would leave him without the responsibility to finance someone who would still be an independent -- and after all that he might still be in a position to say he had backed a winner.