Candidate success? It's all down to simple geography
With less than a week to go before polling day, there are some interesting shifts in our most recent Millward Brown opinion poll. Conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, as the campaign moved up through the gears, it offers solace for some and consternation for others.
Compared with our previous poll – conducted at the very outset of the election – we have seen momentum building behind some big-name candidates, while others are still struggling to gain traction.
Looking first at Midlands North West. There are areas of Donegal further east than areas of Kildare. So does this make this sprawling constituency in any way homogeneous? Anything but. The equivalent of adopting a colonial plumb-line approach to dividing Ireland's constituencies (outside the capital) has created serious headaches for European candidates, especially for those competing in Midlands North West. However, there are still some constants.
Matt Carthy (SF) continues to poll very strongly and looks odds-on to collect Sinn Fein's first Euro seat outside of Dublin. Behind Carty there is a cluster of five candidates vying for the final three seats. Ming Flanagan (Ind) has edged further ahead of Mairead McGuinness (FG), with Marian Harkin (Ind), Pat the Cope and Thomas Byrne (both FF) all within touching distance of each other. On the face of it, it seems that there is at least one Independent seat, one FF and one FG.
When we look at party support by first preference, SF (one candidate), FG and FF (both with two candidates) all have a 19pc share of the first preference vote (the quota is 20pc). Independents, however, have nearly a quota and a half (34pc).
As always, transfers will be critical. Looking at second preferences, Marion Harkin is hoovering up 15pc of them, followed closely by Ming and Pat the Cope (both 13pc) and Mairead McGuinness (12pc). The latter, however, has slipped back in terms of gaining second preferences since our last poll, which will be a worry. Independents are by far the most transfer-friendly – 40pc of all second preferences go to them.
On the basis of these results, Ming is certainly in with a fighting chance of going to Europe. A lot will depend on the choreography of eliminations. Looking at intra-party transfers, Pat the Cope and McGuinness will pick up roughly half of their running mates' transfers (Jim Higgins and Thomas Byrne).
Will it be enough? There is a strong case to make that Harkin could drift towards the top of the pecking order. In this scenario, there is the potential for a battle royale for the last seat between the two old-guard parties.
Turning to the South, Brian Crowley is, in essence, home and hosed. However, the inability of Fianna Fail to organise any semblance of vote management continues to raise eyebrows. Kieran Hartley remains stubbornly on 2pc.
Contrast this with Fine Gael. With three candidates in the race, its vote management is much more assured. Both FF and FG muster 34pc of first preferences. However, FG's share is more evenly spread between Sean Kelly, Deirdre Clune and Simon Harris.
Kelly, in particular, will be pleased to see a rise in his support. At this stage it would seem he is most likely to pick up the 'banker' FG seat, thus returning him to Europe. He also performs most strongly in terms of picking up second preference votes. Even within the FG stable, he is more transfer-friendly, attracting more transfers from Clune and Harris than they give to each other; interestingly, supporters of Kelly are less likely to transfer back to Clune or Harris.
Laidh Ni Riada, at 16pc, maintains a strong first preference vote. The key for her will be to ensure as strong a first-preference tally as possible. While Sinn Fein is not as transfer-toxic as previously, she can take nothing for granted. Ni Riada doesn't do as well on transfers. That said, on these results she looks like she may have done enough.
Phil Prendergast, similar to her party's fortunes, remains in the doldrums. Her recent questioning of Eamon Gilmore's leadership has had little effect.
Based on these results, the most likely outcome will be a definite seat each for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, a probable seat for Sinn Fein along with a second seat for Fine Gael – to whom, though, is too close to call.
The localised nature of most candidates in these huge constituencies means that turnout in their respective areas will be key. The power of the personality will be somewhat diluted, given the broad amount of ground they have to cover.
There remains the potential for big-ticket candidates to falter next Friday – arguably victims of simple geography.
Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown