Jody Corcoran: ‘Martin parts the Red C, now can he lead FF to the promised land?’


Jody Corcoran: ‘Martin parts the Red C, now can he lead FF to the promised land?’

Political Notebook

Micheal Martin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Micheal Martin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

There seems to be some confusion after the publication of two opinion polls last weekend which found widely different results as to the public’s attitude in advance of the local and European elections.

There should be no confusion. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are running neck and neck. If anything, Fianna Fail has moved ahead, or is about to, and may be heading for a comfortable victory in these elections.

Last March, I said Fine Gael was one step short of a political crisis but that it did not realise it yet. After these elections, the realisation should begin to dawn, and when it does, get ready for a period of serious instability.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

window.gigyaIntegration = window.gigyaIntegration || {};
gigyaIntegration.command = gigyaIntegration.command || ;
gigyaIntegration.command.push(function() {
onLogin: function(e) {
$(‘#datawall-sign-in’).click(function(e) {
signupSource: ‘opinion’
$(‘#datawall-sign-up’).click(function(e) {
signupSource: ‘opinion’

In one opinion poll last weekend, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were shown to be neck and neck, with Fianna Fail one point ahead; but in another, taken by telephone polling firm Red C, Fine Gael was shown to be 10 points ahead.

For some time, I have had a difficulty with Red C opinion polls, going back to the last general election. Red C is a respected company. The problem may be more to do with telephone polling as a method in general.

Polling firms will, of course, continue to defend their methodology, and I am not immediately familiar with the ‘ins and outs’ of Red C’s methods. So, I will broaden the point.

It has become evident over the years that it is taking longer to take telephone polls. Where once a telephone polling company took opinion over two or three days, now it is taking around two weeks, or at least twice as long as before.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. Indeed, many of the opinion polls published by media in Ireland, including face-to-face polls, are taken over such a period, in most cases as part of what are called omni-polls. In other words, the polling firm takes opinion on behalf of other clients – a telecoms company, supermarket, insurance firm or whatever – and uses the opportunity to take a political poll as well. As a result, it can take up to 30 minutes per person polled.

During the US mid-term elections, the New York Times conducted a live tracker poll. It took several thousand of calls to get a few hundred interviews.

The point is, people do not necessarily want to have their telephone ear burned for half an hour, asked everything about their shopping habits to insurance arrangements, before finally the pollsters get to the political questions.

People are busy and can resent such an intrusion into their lives via their telephones. I suspect that younger people may be more comfortable with such intrusion, which has the potential to skew findings. I also suspect that the general profile of a person who is willing to participate in a lengthy telephone poll is different from those who refuse, but who may be more happy to engage face-to-face in their own home.

It follows that when telephone polls come to be professionally adjusted by polling firms, it can all turn into, well, a bit of a mush – but that is just a suspicion. As I said, telephone polling firms will defend their methods.

However, let us look at the recent track record of Red C at election time: on February 21, 2016, five days before the last general election, Red C had FG on 30pc of the vote and FF on 18pc; and just three days before voting day, Red C had FG (30pc) and FF (20pc). The actual election result was FG 25.42pc and FF 24.35pc. So, even allowing for a really late swing, that is some variance.

Now, it may turn out that I am completely wrong and Fine Gael will romp to a 10-point share-of-the-vote victory in the local and European elections, as Red C is currently indicating. Should that happen, I will be the first to acknowledge my error and reverse this analysis. But when you add opinion poll findings, particularly face-to-face polls, to various on-the-ground soundings which journalists should also take, then right now it is adding up to a Fianna Fail victory over Fine Gael in the elections next month.

And this is what I am hearing on the ground: there is a lot of dissatisfaction with Fine Gael. The issue of competence is emerging, or incompetence. There is much concern about the National Children’s Hospital cost overrun, which goes to the heart of Fine Gael’s image as prudent managers of the economy.

The Government’s failure to get to grips with the broad spectrum of the housing crisis is also evident. The urban-rural divide issue is significant. And, interestingly, there is considerable engagement on climate change. On local matters, anti-social behaviour is really big, as are crime levels in general.

All of this makes life difficult for Fine Gael at the doorsteps. Add to that a general level of weariness with the party, now eight years in government, and, well, it is pointing towards a bad day out for Leo Varadkar’s party next month.

Also, last week, a senior Fianna Fail politician, whose constituency straddles the urban and rural, told me that people who had not voted for his party in 10 years were now telling him: “Shur, we were always Fianna Fail.” That is interesting, but the outcome remains to be seen.

It is too early in this campaign to interpret doorstep reaction as predictive. Another point: local issues and candidates are as important as national sentiment, particularly in local elections.

By the way, the two main parties have struggled to find candidates in the local elections, and in some areas, may not have enough in the field. Further to all this, the public does not seem to have fully tuned into these elections just yet.

So, all of those caveats, and others noted, I still believe Fianna Fail is heading for a strong victory. For example, I would not be surprised if the party won four seats in Europe, two in the South constituency.

What will all of this mean at general election time? My Fine Gael sources are already, and rightly, pointing out that next month’s elections are what is known as second-order elections, in that they are viewed as less important by voters, parties and the media than an election to determine the Government.

Second-order elections present certain characteristics: turnout is usually lower, people are more prone to vote for protest parties, or parties on the periphery of the political system, rather than the usual mainstream parties they would vote for in a national election. As a result, second-order elections are often used by voters to punish or reward the governing parties.

That said, try telling Eamon Gilmore, the former Labour leader, that second-order elections are less important. He was removed as leader after the last such elections here.

That will hardly happen to Leo this time. But should Fine Gael fare relatively poorly, as I anticipate, then serious questions will start to be asked, particularly as to the Government’s shortcomings in the areas of health and housing, and indeed, climate change.

What will Varadkar do? He has already left it too late to call a general election. He would have romped home a year ago. So expect the mother of all ‘giveaway’ budgets in October instead. In itself, that will present a problem for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin. Should Fianna Fail perform well next month, he will be under enormous pressure to pull the plug on this Government. Add to this, Brexit renewed at October’s end. Martin’s inclination will be bide his time and let the tide run out further on Varadkar. But that’s a dangerous game, too.

If this Government is really so unpopular, then the longer it is allowed to continue, the more Fianna Fail will ship the blame too.

So, there is no guarantee yet that Micheal Martin will ultimately lead Fianna Fail to the promised land of government, but like Moses, he has parted the Red Sea.

Sunday Independent