Beware the polls between elections

Many political commentators, broadcasters and journalists are getting carried away with the publication of a number of recent opinion polls, which show an increase in support for Sinn Fein.

Insider has been around long enough to know that, while giving some idea of trends in the way people are thinking politically, opinion polls conducted this far out from an election are pretty meaningless.

Some of Sinn Fein’s more excitable party members, and cheerleaders in the media, are continuously 'on message' that there is an inevitability about Sinn Fein forming part of the next government.

Insider would advise them to calm down and remind them that the next general election is likely to be more than three years away. The opinion poll as only a ‘snapshot’ in time is very true, and the circumstances in which the next general election will be fought are almost certain to be very different from the conditions prevailing today.

Labour the largest party

For example, The Irish Times opinion poll carried out in June 2010 showed Labour as the largest party in the country. By coincidence, the party registered 32% support in that poll, the same figure as Sinn Fein achieved in the most recent Irish Times poll.

In the general election of 2011, which was only eight months later, Labour achieved just over 19% support. A week is indeed a long time in politics, eight months is even longer, and three years is an eternity. If polls can be so unreliable, where do we look for more evidence based information to assess the current political standing of parties? Well, we did have an actual election in July of this year, the Dublin Bay South by-election.

By-elections are also not a very good indicator of what may happen in future general elections, but, at least, they involve real people voting on actual ballot papers. There were some very clear messages for the political parties in the outcome of this election.

For Fianna Fail it was a disaster, with their vote decreasing from 13.8% in the 2020 general election to 4.6% in the by-election. If this performance was repeated in the next general election, it would signal a meltdown for the party, and plunge them into territory from which they may never recover.

The dismal Fianna Fail performance took the spotlight away from an almost equally dismal Sinn Fein performance. In an election in which total support for the three government parties dropped by a massive 25%, the Sinn Fein vote actually decreased, compared to the 2020 general election.

This was the untold story of the by-election, but, like a lot of stories that reflect badly on Sinn Fein, it did not achieve the column inches it deserved. Labour had an outstanding election, growing their vote from under 8% in the previous year’s general election to over 30% in the by-election.

Ivana Bacik TD was the ideal candidate for Labour in this constituency, and the lesson for the party is to identify as many suitable candidates as possible for the next general election. Though their poll figures remain stubbornly low, Insider sees some upside for Labour in the coming years.

The Fine Gael vote dropped slightly from their performance in the 2020 general election, and they will return at least one TD to the next Dail from this Dublin constituency. Though clearly too early to call, at this stage neither Minister Eamon Ryan nor Jim O’Callaghan TD could be confident of returning to the next Dail. At least one of them will be in real danger of losing out.

Back to Basics

If both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael continue to perform in the coming years in a similar way to how they have performed in their first fifteen months in office together, Insider predicts a trend will emerge where public support will move away from Fine Gael and towards Fianna Fail.

At the moment, Fine Gael support appears to be holding up much better than Fianna Fail support, with all polls showing the party well ahead of their performance in the general election of 2020, and the opposite is the case for Fianna Fail. Insider expects this situation to reverse in the coming months, if Fine Gael continue on their populist trajectory.

The party leadership seem to have moved away from much of what is expected of them by their supporters. They expect substance, not spin, and they expect leadership, not showmanship. It is not too late to turn things around.

If an election were held this month, Insider would expect Fine Gael to retain their two seats in Mayo, and Fianna Fail to return one deputy. The reverse may apply in the not too distant future.


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