Tuesday 20 February 2018

Phenomenon of 'silent' Fianna Fail voter may still upset the election odds

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Gerry Adams has just admitted defeat to Micheal Martin in the battle for the flame of Wolfe Tone, the soul of republicanism.

If the intention last week was to present the next government as a straightforward choice between Fine Gael/Labour and Fianna Fail/Sinn  Fein, then a Red C opinion poll for Paddy Power on Thursday blew apart what had always been far too simplistic a presentation anyway.

The pollsters asked a fascinating question, the result of which shows that the outcome of the election is still wide open.

From the answer, it can no longer be taken as read that Fine Gael will actually win the election, although that outcome is still more likely than not, let alone an overall majority, which is now most unlikely.

The question concerned was designed to test the strength of support for each party: the findings confirm my consistent view that the gap between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will be far narrower than the headline figures suggest, although Fine Gael may edge it. But it will be no landslide - far from it, indeed.

Furthermore, the findings also indicate that Labour will perform somewhat better than the headline figures to date have indicated, although the end result will still be a sobering moment for the party.

All of which opens up a large number of possible coalitions, alongside the presentation which has arisen out of the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams's comments last week, in which he appeared not to rule out Sinn Fein entering into a coalition with Fianna Fail.

In my view, the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, and party members themselves, who have the final say, would never countenance a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition.

In fact, other opinion polls have confirmed as much, not least a recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, which found that almost three times as many Fianna Fail voters would actually prefer coalition with Fine Gael (25pc), than with Sinn Fein (9pc).

Indeed, there is as much, if not more chance of a Fine Gael/Sinn Fein coalition, such have been the behind-the-scenes attempted contacts between those parties before, most notably after the 2007 election.

If anything, Mr Adams's comments last week, despite the commonly held view to the contrary, will only add to the appeal of Fianna Fail for the as yet undecided voters, which takes us back to that key question contained in the Red C poll for Paddy Power.

Gerry Adams was accurate about one thing last week when he said: "Let's let the people have their say first… the wonderful thing about the election is nobody really knows what's going to come out of it."

True, but from this latest poll we also know this: there is a large pool of former or potential Fianna Fail voters out there who may return to the party to which, in self-righteous mode, Gerry Adams has now given a clean bill of health.

This phenomenon is otherwise known as the 'silent' Fianna Fail voters, which - wait and see - everybody will be talking about when the votes are eventually counted.

Those polled were asked: "Now I would like you to tell me which of the following statements best describes how strongly you feel about voting for each of the following parties or groups in the next General Election?" The strength in support was measured under four headlines: loyal, probable, possible, rejecter.

Loyal is defined as "Will definitely give first preference to that party at next election. The result was: Fine Gael (13pc), Labour (5pc), Fianna Fail (10pc), Sinn Fein (11pc), and Independents (15pc).

Therefore, the gap between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is within the margin of error.

The results are more interesting under 'probable' and 'possible', in that they indicate there are significantly more potential votes to be retained/won by Fianna Fail than by Fine Gael during the election campaign itself; if anything, in fact, this poll shows the Fine Gael vote seems to be relatively soft compared to Fianna Fail.

Asked which party they "will probably" give their first preference to, but they may change their mind, those polled said: Fine Gael (26pc), Fianna Fail (18pc). That is, more than a quarter of those minded to vote Fine Gael may change their minds, but less than a fifth of those minded to vote Fianna Fail may change their minds. In other words, Fianna Fail's support is far more secured.

In relation to 'possible' support, asked who they probably will not give a first preference to, but might change their mind closer to the election, the poll finds: Fine Gael (21pc), Fianna Fail (26pc). In other words, Fianna Fail also has potential to win more votes during the campaign than does Fine Gael.

For the record, the headline figures in the Paddy Power were: Fine Gael (28pc), down three points in a month; Labour (9pc), up two; Fianna Fail (20pc), up one; Sinn Fein (18pc), unchanged; Independents (23pc), unchanged and Greens (2pc), unchanged.

The drop in Fine Gael support, and the rise for Labour, are attributed to voter fears of a Fine Gael overall majority. Regardless, the Coalition is still a long way short from a return to office.

The phenomenon of the silent Fianna Fail voter is said to have first been evident during the local elections in 2014, which saw Fianna Fail win 25.3pc of the vote, compared to 24pc for Fine Gael.

It is my view the phenomenon first became evident in the Presidential election in 2011; that is, within months of Fianna Fail having been unceremoniously dumped - and at a time when it was, shall we say, unloved by all, including Gerry Adams, who now seems so anxious to make Sinn Fein relevant on the back of Fianna Fail, the real politic of which is that, in the battle for the soul of repulicanism, the flame of Wolfe Tone, Gerry Adams has just admitted defeat to Micheal Martin.

In any event, in the Presidential election, the Independent candidate, Sean Gallagher, a former Fianna Fail national executive member, and of the Fianna Fail gene pool - he made repeated references to the "many decent people in Fianna Fail" - won 28.5pc of the vote and would have won that election but for his takedown in an RTE studio.

What the election showed, however, was that even in the teeth of an anti-Fianna Fail sentiment, the silent Fianna Fail voter was out there.

For what it's worth, Paddy Power tells me Fianna Fail/Labour/Social Democrats can be had at 40/1 and Fianna Fail/Labour/Social Democrats/Independents at 66/1.

And in an election, the result of which will be unknown for some time after the votes are counted, that is a good punt.

Sunday Independent

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