Whenever a politician appears on television, banging a table and declaring, “The people will decide!” it is a clear indication s/he has no idea how a vote will go, but wants to make it seem as if s/he will be on the winning side.
The results of the new Galway Advertiser/Red C poll on the voting intentions of people across Galway city and county show a total of 46 per cent of respondents do not yet know/have yet to make up their minds, on how they intend to vote in advance of the next General Election.
Expect to hear plenty of politicians thundering “The people will decide!” between now and the polling days of 2014 and 2016.
Known knowns, known unknowns
The 46 per cent ‘don’t know’ rate may be the result of the fact that the next General Election is not until 2016 at the latest. As such ‘floating voters’ are holding fire until nearer the time, preferring to see how politics and the economy develop.
However, such a figure is fascinating given we are currently in the grip of a devastated economy, high unemployment, low consumer confidence, signs of growth slow to barely existent, and the imposition of punishing taxes with more to come.
This is a cocktail which normally destroys a Government’s popularity, stokes public anger, and makes people take a side, yet Galway voters remain unsure. This figure is revealing of perhaps a lack of confidence in politics overall. The Fine Gael-Labour Government is poor but the alternatives - Fianna Fáil (the party that destroyed the State and led us into this economic mess ) and Sinn Féin (untried and still not yet fully trusted ) - are not enthusing voters.
Such a verdict makes choices more difficult because they are less appealing and voters feel they may produce an outcome little different from what currently exists. This is an indictment of our political class and reflects that the State is enduring a weak generation of politicians.
Although ‘floating voters’ are often castigated for not sticking with a political party, this charge reveals more about the accuser than the accused. The floating voter has been a reality in politics for many elections and is something of a break from the predictability of the State’s ‘two and a half party system’.
‘Floating voters’ are less motivated by non-positive attributes of party tribalism, Civil War fault lines, and unquestioning adherence to a party’s policies. Instead their choices are more complex - they can be more critical of Government (for sound, well thought out reasons, or for fickle ones ), can vote for the good of the State or be purely local in their concerns, or can vote to send out a message to the establishment.
These reasons make them a powerful, but unpredictable bloc and the party which catches their mood will be the victor. Another finding from this Galway Advertiser/Red C poll then is that Galway politicians have a large number of voters to convince given that close to half the electorate has not seen enough to swing them one way or another.
Despite the high number of ‘don’t knows’ much can be drawn from this poll and its findings are very revealing about the intentions of committed voters and core party voters and is broadly in line with other polls conducted across the State.
The end of Labour?
The Galway Advertiser/Red C poll will make frightening reading for Labour. Given the party’s success at Galway City Council level over the past decade; making the breakthrough in the county in 2011 with Tuam’s Colm Keaveney becoming TD and Lorraine Higgins taking a Seanad seat; and Dep Derek Nolan holding the Galway West seat vacated by the now Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins; the party must have seen County Galway as an emerging stronghold.
However, our poll shows the party at a dismal six per cent (after ‘don’t knows’ have been distributed ) and with a core vote of three per cent (excluding ‘don’t knows’ ).
If an election were held tomorrow Labour would lose its two seats in the county, failing to reach anywhere near a quota - Galway West is 16.67 per cent, Galway East is 25 per cent. This is a halving of the party’s vote from the 2011 election when it scored 13 per cent in Galway East and 12 per cent in Galway West.
The slump in support represents voter frustration with the party. It was elected on a wave of goodwill to bring a socially conscious element to the Government and soften the harder edges of the more uncomfortable taxes FG would have to introduce. Instead voters feel Labour has done nothing to halt the squeezing of middle and lower income earning families.
The fact that Dep Nolan’s ardent support of Government policies and Dep Keaveney’s stance against them has cut little ice with voters is telling.
There is comfort for Labour in that a chunk of the 46 per cent ‘don’t knows’ is there to be won back. Labour knows much of its Galway vote has tended to come from floating voters but retaining its two seats will be an uphill struggle with the political and economic mood not set to improve over the next 18 months/two years.
The new left? Sinn Féin and Independents
There is a further threat to Labour’s survival in the form of Sinn Féin and Independents. Left voters seeking candidates taking a tougher line against Government policies are likely to gravitate towards SF’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh or Independent Catherine Connolly - both Galway West.
The SF vote, according to our poll is 15 per cent (with the allocation of the ‘don’t knows’ ) putting the party within touching distance of a seat. To take one though it will be heavily reliant on transfers, something SF often struggles to get. The fact Cllr Connolly will also be fighting for a share of the same vote will hamper SF’s chances.
The findings for the Independent vote is 22 per cent (with the allocation of the ‘don’t knows’ ) and a 12 per cent core vote. Either is a healthy finding, but it will be split between the leftist Cllr Connolly, the centre right Dep Noel Grealish, and a smattering of potential fringe candidates.
In the 2011 election Cllr Connolly came within a whisker of a seat while Dep Gealish finally got over the line, albeit without reaching the quota. Given the above figures, both may face another ‘down to the wire’ scenario at the next election count.
If the findings are bad for Labour, FG will breath a sigh of relief with our poll showing it on a very solid 33 per cent (with the allocation of ‘don’t knows’ ) and an 18 per cent core vote.
Currently the party has two TDs in Galway West - Brian Walsh and Seán Kyne - and two in Galway East - Paul Connaughton and Ciaran Cannon. Privately FG sources have admitted to the Galway Advertiser that it will struggle to retain two in either constituency.
Yet this poll shows the FG core vote will hold one seat in each, while its overall vote puts the party within touching distance of two quotas, thereby retaining its four seats across the county.
Despite the unpopularity of the current Government, FG voters tend to be steadfast and loyal in the face of difficult or unpopular decision. Galway FG voters appear to confirm this.
From the most reviled political party in the State in 2010/2011 to a party slowly but surely clawing back ground, FF’s ‘comeback’ has been one of the most fascinating political stories of recent times.
Our poll shows the party on 24 per cent (with the allocation of the ‘don’t knows’ ) and a 13 per cent core vote. In Galway East the party should be able to retain its seat, although a major cause for concern will be that much of sitting Dep Michael Kitt’s heartland has now been moved into the new Roscommon-Galway constituency. Will Dep Kitt move there and a new candidate take over in the now three seat GE?
For Galway West the core vote is below the quota but it is impossible to see Éamon Ó Cuív not being returned. The overall vote of 24 per cent puts him well beyond the quota; his popularity in Connemara extends across party loyalties, and the addition of a chunk of South Mayo to Galway West will only boost his tally.
Even on the 24 per cent reading the party is still 10 per cent short of two quotas in both constituencies and looks set to remain a one seat party across Galway.
This itself shows Fianna Fáil has recovered to a stable level of support, but one that is composed of core voters and those who have always been sympathetic to the party. The rest of the Galway electorate still does not trust the party after the misrule and dysfunction which characterised its 1997 to 2011 period in office.
This is further underlined by the fact the Government, despite its unpopularity, still reaches a respectable combined vote of 39 per cent. An alternative coalition of FF and Sinn Féin can only reach the same figure - not an endorsement given the political and economic situation which would have been expected to position FF and SF ahead. Also worth noting is that any FF/SF coalition is still a long way off.