Friday 25 May 2018

FG's campaign centres on the 'persuadables'

Polling legend Stan Greenberg Photo: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
Polling legend Stan Greenberg Photo: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Fionnán Sheahan

The American consultants call them "the persuadables".

They're referring to anything up to 15pc of the electorate who are not locked down in their voting intentions in the general election and are there to be won over.

The cohort Fine Gael is honing in on is the traditional Fianna Fáil supporter who 'lent' them their vote in 2011, and 'soft' centre-ground Independent voters.

Anybody hard-left Independent is viewed as a lost cause and will either stay Independent or go to the left-leaning parties - they're not coming to Fine Gael.

Here's where Taoiseach Enda Kenny's party will be concentrating its efforts over the next six weeks.

The party is better resourced than any of its competitors, meaning it can buy the best advice.

Fine Gael's research, polling and focus groups are directed by Washington-based consultants Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Set up by veteran pollster Stan Greenberg, "the Yanks" have been working for the party for the past decade and have run campaigns for Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is among their recent successes. Then again, Labour's Ed Miliband was also a client.

On the ground, Amárach Research, a well-established market research company in Dublin, do focus groups and national polling. Local polls are conducted by the party itself, using an inhouse team. The findings are interpreted by "the Yanks", who advise on strategy to target specific voters.

Make no mistake about it: the research is dictating many of Fine Gael's actions. The middle-class voters' frustration at the lack of political reform has driven the Taoiseach's Damascene conversion to the election of the next Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil by secret ballot.

The upper middle-class voters' fear of Sinn Féin getting into power - coming out heavily in focus groups - is driving the references to stability and chaos. It's also providing a line of attack on Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael is actually wary of a resurgent Fianna Fáil. The party's own local polling shows Micheál Martin's party outperforming national polls. Fine Gael's research indicates Fianna Fáil will be above their current poll standing, performing far better outside of Dublin, albeit still struggling in the capital.

The economic recovery is, ironically, benefiting Fianna Fáil as voters swing back to supporting the mainstream parties.

Part of Fine Gael's campaigning will be continual reminders of the mess Fianna Fáil made of the country during the collapse, of which we are still feeling the after-effects.

Within that is the theme of questioning what's the alternative on offer, with Independent votes waning closer to polling.

The key message will be about the economy and what Michael Noonan calls the "three steps to heaven": continue to create jobs, make employment pay at all levels, and invest the proceeds in public services.

A simple message, repeated often enough, usually gets in the voter's head, whether it convinces them or not.

As for Labour, Fine Gael knows it needs both parties combined to be above 40pc to get back into power.

Although Kenny and his ministers mention the need to "keep the recovery going" at every opportunity, the precise structure of the campaign slogan is still up in the air. 'Let's keep the recovery going' is more of a collective action, while 'keep the recovery going' is a direction.

It's still a case of 'a lot done, more to do'.

Irish Independent

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