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Andrew Lynch: Don't bank on latest poll rise Brian, even a dead cat bounces

As they say on Wall Street, even a dead cat bounces when it hits the ground.

Fianna Fail have been in such a miserable state recently that even a tiny 2pc jump in the first opinion poll of 2010 will be eagerly seized on by their supporters as a sign that they're on their way back.

The bottom line, however, is that 22pc is still a disastrous position for what used to be seen as the natural party of government -- and barring a miraculous recovery between now and 2012, Brian Cowen will lead them to the worst election defeat in their 85-year history.

There's a useful rule of thumb when it comes to analysing opinion polls, which is to remember that every party is judged by a different standard.

Roughly put, FF need to be on around 40pc to be sure of getting into power, Fine Gael need 30pc and Labour need just 15pc.

By this yardstick Eamon Gilmore's party is doing spectacularly well on 24pc (down just one), Enda Kenny is sitting pretty on 32pc (up one) and Cowen is still plumbing the depths of unpopularity on 22pc (up two).

At the bottom end of the food chain, meanwhile, Sinn Fein (8pc, up one) and the Greens (3pc, down one) are going nowhere -- and as long as FG and Labour hold firm, it looks as if neither of the small parties will be required to make up the numbers next time.

In other words, the overall picture is much the same as it has been for the past 18 months.

The recession has completely changed the landscape of Irish politics, largely due to the fact that most people have decided that FF should take most of the blame for getting us into this mess.

Last year's local and European elections showed the electorate is prepared to express that anger at the ballot box, which is why so many of Cowen's backbenchers are living in mortal fear of joining the dole queue in the next couple of years.

This poll is particularly disappointing for FF (no matter how they try to spin it) because since the last survey in September, the Government has actually racked up a few solid achievements. The Lisbon treaty was passed, NAMA was guided through the Dail and the Budget billed as the harshest in history was greeted with resignation rather than outrage.

Cancer

In private FF was also hoping for a boost from the recent performance of Brian Lenihan, who everybody agrees has handled the news of his cancer diagnosis with outstanding courage and dignity.

Instead, all the evidence now suggests that this Government is doomed to defeat no matter what it says or does. In a strange way, this isn't such a bad position for them or us. It means that Cowen can take whatever harsh economic decisions are needed without worrying about their impact on his popularity, in the hope that history will eventually decide he wasn't such a disaster as everyone thought at the time.

Even so, a true politician never completely gives up hope.

The one card FF have up their sleeve is that an election isn't due for another two and a half years. They will spin things out as long as they can, praying that an international economic recovery will come to their rescue and exploiting the fact that many people still have serious doubts about Enda Kenny as a potential Taoiseach (on 31pc, his personal approval rating is still dreadful).

A proper FF comeback, however, still looks like the longest of long shots. At this stage in the last electoral cycle they were hovering in the low 30s, which at the time was seen as a pathetic performance by their standards.

Today they would sell their collective grannies for such a result, which suggests that damage limitation is the name of the game from here on in.

Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. FF have taken that step -- but the long and winding road back to full recovery looks as intimidating as ever.


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