Changing political landscape?2014.06.23
Late last month, as count centres across Ireland sprung to life, it quickly became apparent that we were witnessing an important moment in Irish politics. By the end of that weekend, headlines across the country were dominated by the success of Sinn Fein and Independents/others and the collapse in support for the Government parties. As the final results were announced Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties which have electorally dominated Irish politics since the foundation of the State, would emerge with a combined first preference vote of less than 50%. Much analysis has been written since that day, as people of differing political views and none attempt to make sense of what happened.
One of the main questions that has been asked since Election Day, is whether this shift in political fortunes was anything more than the normal mid-term backlash which Irish Governments have come to expect at Local and European Election time or is it a sign of things to come on General Election Day 2016? If a week is a long time in Politics, then two years is an eternity, making this an extremely difficult question to answer. As pollsters however, our job is to attempt to do just that.
The latest RED C poll, conducted for Paddy Power and published last week, gave us an initial glimpse into this new political Landscape. With Sinn Fein at 22% (up 4 points since our last poll for the Sunday Business Post in May), Independents at 32% (Up 9); Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour all down, it appears that the political shift witnessed just under a month ago may indeed have been a bit more than a once off anti Government backlash. Indeed, if these poll numbers were to be reflected on Election Day 2016, no Government could be formed without the support of at least two of the top three parties (Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fáil) backed up further by Independents and smaller parties.
So the question for pollsters and politicians alike, is what is the root cause of this shift? A year ago, you could be forgiven for seeing the declining fortunes of the coalition parties and Fianna Fáil as being directly and linearly correlated to the declining economy. Indeed it would be fair to say that attempting to correlate political fortunes to a single specific issue is a national pastime here in Ireland. However as Market Researchers, we know that a golden rule of our trade is to recognise that correlation and causation can be two very different things. While economics has no doubt played an important role in this shifting political landscape, the reality of politics is that it is far more nuanced than to be attributed to a single causal factor.
At its’ most simple level, Marketing is about the conversation between you with your Consumers. Politics is the same. Successful Marketing is about shaping the conversation and the political success of Sinn Fein and Independents/others should be viewed in that context. The prominence these groups enjoyed in the headlines and the political conversation after the election was in fact a continuation of the prominence they had achieved in the political conversation before it. Their electoral success has only further strengthened this top of mind position with the electorate and coupled with the uncertainty over the Labour leadership and the impending Government reshuffle, is it really that surprising to see the political fortunes of these groups improving further in our latest poll?
No one can say with absolute certainty what will happen in two years’ time. But the one thing we can say for certain is that the political conversation in Ireland has profoundly changed. Sinn Fein and Independents/others are now a real part of that conversation.