Brian Walsh, Eamon O Cúiv, Noel Grealish, Derek Nolan, Fidelma Healy-Eames and Catherine Connolly; these are the six candidates from whom the five successful T.D.'s for Galway West are expected to emerge, according to the Galway Advertiser poll published in today's paper.
The Galway Advertiser carried out this poll of the Galway West constituency at the end of last week. The poll was conducted using a sample ballot paper at 41 locations throughout the constituency, where 410 people were sampled.
The results of the poll carry the warnings one associates with polling in advance of an election, particularly with regard to the fact that voting patterns may change in the last ten days of the campaign, the margin of error inherent in any poll and also that the poll itself may influence the way certain people vote. Support is often perceived to rally round the anticipated winners in the last few days of a campaign, or alternatively people may vote tactically in favour of a candidate they feel needs a late surge. There is no doubt that the most accurate way to poll in a constituency such as this is using a sample ballot paper at selected locations throughout the constituency, giving an accurate cross-section of the local electorate as a whole.
The Galway Advertiser pollsters have visited locations from the centre of the constituency to each of the extremities, and the newspaper is confident this poll is an accurate reflection of the voters' intentions. Polling has been conducted in a scientific manner, and the population has been closely reflected in the cross-section polled.
The headline results indicate general agreement with what national polls have been saying and, at this stage, there is a clear divide between the top six candidates and the remainder.
Fianna Fail are on a total vote of 19 per cent, a dramatic fall-off from the 37 per cent secured at the last election. A little over half this vote goes to Minister Eamon O Cúiv , and he looks set to be re-elected, though with a significantly reduced vote compared to his 2007 poll-topping performance. Indeed Minister O Cúiv is only in fifth place on the first count, and it is a very solid transfer from Deputy Frank Fahey that finally elects him on the penultimate count. This will come as a surprise to many local voters, as Minister O Cúiv is seen as a heavyweight politician who many still view as a potential poll-topper. This view would have been reinforced by an opinion poll in a Sunday newspaper last week, which showed him on 16 per cent of the vote. Our poll shows a vote of two thirds of that amount, and is more in keeping with the national polls for Fianna Fail.
On these figures, there is little prospect of a second seat for Fianna Fail. Deputy Fahey has suffered the slings and arrows of political life in the past, and it would be a minor miracle were his position to improve to the extent that he would be a contender in this election. The tide is out for Fianna Fail, and it is almost impossible for an individual politician to buck the trend in the dire circumstances in which the party finds itself. His vote has halved since 2007, and unless he can leapfrog Minister O' Cuiv, the position seems impossible. On these figures, leapfrogging the Minister also seems highly unlikely.
Cllr Michael Crowe will also be disappointed to poll just under three per cent, less than one third of his 2007 vote. Timing in politics is very important, and the days of Fianna Fail fighting for a third seat in Galway West seem a distant memory. This is a defining election for Fianna Fail, and how it emerges from this election will have a bearing on its medium term future. As a relatively young man, Cllr Crowe may be back as part of a renewed Fianna Fail, but the experience of election 2011 will leave its mark on him and many of his colleagues nationally.
Attempting to predict elections after the next one is a futile exercise; who would have guessed the differences between 2007 and 2011, in the space of one Dail No one knows the circumstances in which future elections will be fought, and it would be foolish to write off Fianna Fail due to election 2011.
According to this poll, the Fine Gael vote has increased from 20 per cent in 2007 to 30 per cent in 2011. The party looks set to elect two first time TDs, and to become the largest party in Galway West. Cllr Brian Walsh has put in a barnstorming performance, and looks set to top the poll and be the first TD elected. While very welcome news for Cllr Walsh, it is also the type of news that hopeful TDs are very wary of. How real are these results? How accurate are the samples? Could he really be a poll-topper? These are the questions which will occupy his mind when he studies the results. Taking the caveats referred to above into account, Cllr Walsh can rest assured that he is in pole position in this election. It appears that a large section of the support of Padraig McCormack has transferred to Cllr Walsh. His vote is a strong Fine Gael vote, with a detailed analysis showing well over 70 per cent transferring to his party colleagues. Building on his image as a young businessman who can represent the people of Galway West, and having put in the hard hours on Galway City Council, his greatest political reward yet seems to be close at hand. No scope for complacency, as I'm sure he'll remind his team of canvassers, he should use the feel of success apparent in this poll to drive on in the final week of the campaign to ensure he becomes a member of the 31st Dail.
For Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, membership of the 31st Dail also seems to be within touching distance. She has fought the last two campaigns, and increased her vote each time. Her seven per cent vote from 2007 has now increased to over 11 per cent, placing her a clear second in the Fine Gael pecking order, and seeming set for election. Again, she will want to avoid complacency, and should be able to use this poll result to motivate her team in the final week of the campaign. The odds are very much in her favour, barring any calamities in the final week of the campaign for Fine Gael. On 30 per cent, the party should comfortably secure two seats. The split between their two leading candidates suggests that, at last for Fine Gael, the two seats are now a probability.
Cllr Hildegarde Naughton will be disappointed to secure just three per cent of the vote, but as a relative newcomer running with two strong candidates, she should not be too disheartened. The Fine Gael vote in the city, to a very large extent, has rowed in behind Cllr Walsh, and Cllr Naughton will have to build on the experience of Election 2011.
Cllr Sean Kyne will be bitterly disappointed to come in at under two per cent of the vote, a decrease on his 2007 performance. The disappointment will be accentuated by his remarkable showing in a poll in a Sunday newspaper last week, which put him at 15 per cent of the vote. Cllr Kyne will be hoping that the Sunday Independent poll, and not the Advertiser one, will be reflected in the results next week.
According to the Galway Advertiser poll, Cllr Derek Nolan, on 12 per cent of the vote, will hold the Labour party seat. The poll shows him approximately 1,800 votes ahead of Cllr Catherine Connolly on the first count, and she makes up a little ground on him during the count. Michael D Higgins secured 11 per cent of the vote in 2007, and holding the seat will be the priority for the party. It is somewhat disappointing that the vote has only increased by one per cent, when the party in national polls is showing an average support level of 20 per cent, double the 2007 figure. There can certainly be no complacency in the remaining days of the campaign, and Labour will need to ensure that the vote is maximised by a full turnout of party support.
Cllr Connolly finishes in sixth place in the poll, but is the only candidate, outside of the top five, with a realistic chance of winning a seat. Her 8.5 per cent of first preferences is a significant improvement on the 3.6 per cent she secured in 2007. She will need to make up considerable ground in the last week of the campaign, but will be a contender if she can get a real momentum going.
Deputy Noel Grealish gets the third seat in the poll, but finishes very close to both Cllr Nolan and Senator Healy-Eames. They are all very close on the final count, and it is impossible to predict in what order they would be elected. Deputy Grealish's vote is up slightly on his 2007 figure, but it looks like another long count day ahead. Again, there can be no let up in his campaign, as the margins are so tight.
The Sinn Fein vote has increased from 2.9 per cent to 5.6 per cent, but they are still quite a way off competing for a seat at the business end. The reverse has happened the Green vote, decreasing from 5.5 per cent to just over three per cent.
None of the other candidates is expected to challenge for a seat.
Overall in this poll, there is not a sizeable gap between the candidate who finishes in third place and the candidate who finishes in sixth place. It is six for five seats, with Cllr Walsh and Minister O Cúiv expected to fill the first two places.
It is then too close to call the order in which Deputy Grealish, Cllr Nolan and Senator Healy-Eames will cross the finishing line.
Just below them, and within striking distance, is Cllr Connolly.
Another factor is that voters filling out sample ballot papers often do not vote down the line to the same extent they would when they are actually voting. It means later counts may be unreliable, and the actual transfer patterns could differ from those indicated.
One of these four looks set to be disappointed, and at this stage, I would be very reluctant to say exactly which of them.