Independent candidates the antidote to the party machine?

Published by: Richard Colwell


The good times didn’t last very long for the government parties, with gains seen following the exit from the bailout mechanism short lived in the face of day to day politics. Instead, it appears vote intention is being heavily swayed by the “Shane Ross effect”, where Independent TDs (in particular characterised by Shane Ross and his extensive coverage in the media) standing up against perceived greed and cronyism seen in payments to charities board members and spend at government quangos such as Irish Water.


Evidence of this is seen in the poll with record levels of support for Independent candidates, while levels of undecided voters decline. A quarter of all likely voters (25%) now say they will vote for Independent candidates and non-mainstream parties. This is 3% higher than recorded in the last poll in December, and represents the highest level of support for this group ever seen. In fact support has risen for Independent candidates by 10% since the last general election.

Some have suggested that this rise in support for Independent candidates, coupled with a rise in undecided voters, clearly represents the desire among voters for a new party. At the same time when asked directly, it does appear that quite a large chunk of voters are open to a new party, which could be read as a green light for those contemplating setting one up.

But further evidence from this poll, suggests it is perhaps a bit more complicated than simply setting a new party up and waiting for the voters to flock to it. For a start, the levels of undecided voters has in fact declined in today’s poll, down to 16% from 19% in December last year. This suggests that voters like what they are seeing from Independent candidates, rather than they are simply supporting them as they don’t know which party to vote for.

At the same time the number of voters currently nominating any of the possible groups or new parties being discussed as potential new entrants to the Irish Political landscape is very low. In order to measure the impact of various groups that may or have formed new parties, we provided the option in today’s poll to record any support mentioned for Reform Alliance, Direct Democracy, United Left Alliance and the newly formed National Independent Party. However, none of these groups, or other parties such as the Socialist Party or Green Party receive any significant level of support at all in this poll.

Despite a significant level of coverage in the media, the Reform Alliance is not mentioned by a single voter in the survey as their first preference choice. To be fair they have made clear that as yet they are not a party, but rather a collection of like minded Independents, and as such possible support for the party may well be higher and hidden among support for Independent candidates. But at the same time the lack direct mentions for any of these groups, despite significant media coverage in the past month, is interesting in itself.

The issue for any new party, is that for a significant chunk of voters who currently support Independent candidates, the party system is seen to be part of the problem. They have changed who they have supported to bring about a change in government, but have been disillusioned to see basically the same politics being borne out. Being able to clearly separate any new parties image and persona, from the way that things have been done in other more established parties is crucial to its success, for those that see the party system as engendering cronyism.

The other problem is that those who support Independent candidates are not a homogenous group, but rather they have very different beliefs and views. It is relatively easy for people with different beliefs, to support an individual candidate to ensure they act as a guard against mainstream parties getting away with things. It is quite another step to change that to support a party, which comes with a clear set of aspirations and beliefs, that may well not match the voters.

To put it more simply, it appears that voters support individual Independent candidates, because they are seen to stand up for the individual against the machine. A party by its nature, is part of the machine.

Download the full report below:-
SBP Jan 2014 Poll Report