Is growth of independents and new parties sustainable at the general election?

Published by: Richard Colwell


Just over a week after the announcement of a new left wing political party in Ireland, the Social Democrats, and the impact on first preference support is already evident. Independent/other parties as an entire group have made further gains on last month, after falling back to a low of 22% in May and now stand at total share of 31%. This is the highest level recorded in RED C’s polling history, and further solidifies their position as the largest grouping of voters in the Irish population.


There is a valid argument of how much this “group” can be lumped together, given such different views and beliefs being held across the independent candidates and smaller parties. However, what is clear is that almost 1 in 3 voters are rejecting the established and traditional parties both in Government and opposition.

While the introduction of the Social Democrats has boosted the overall support level, it is also a gain for the Independent candidates that have seen growth (+ 2% from the last poll in June). Much of the growth behind this group is an increase from those aged 55+ and females which may be driven by the fact that the Social Democrat make-up is two thirds female. What’s also interesting is that as a group, they manage to maintain a high proportion of loyal voters, with two thirds of those who voted for this group in the 2011 general election claiming they would do so again if the general election was tomorrow – this level of loyal supporter is second only to Sinn Féin who have maintained a loyal base of 74%. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael both hold on to 60% of previous voters, while Labour appears to have made the greatest losses, maintaining only 38% of past voters.

The make-up of Independents/Other parties support is therefore broken down as follows, Independent candidates (25%), Green (2%), Social Democrats (2%), Renua (1%) and People Before Profit (1%).

It is somewhat impressive that a party only one-week young, the Social Democrats, has already gained equal support of an already established party, the Greens. However, we do need to bear in mind the lack of much significant political news coverage for other parties in the summer, and also be cognisant that Renua achieved the same level of first preference support just weeks after launch.

The message for Social Democrats must be that there is clearly desire for the party and its ideas, but that it needs to act fast to build on this and so ensure that some momentum can be gained before the upcoming election.

But what should we make of the fact that so many voters appear to be willing to support the Independent candidates, even when they start to form new parties?

It is clear that a large section of voters are looking for something new. Recent banking enquiry coverage, with Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen taking the stand, has also maybe reminded people of the politics they were not happy with in the past, and certainly has done Fianna Fail no favours with the party dropping 2% support.

But neither has it helped Fine Gael’s position, as despite much leakage around the likely personal benefits due to people in the upcoming budget, they too have seen support slump by 3% in the face of the rise of Independents.

It is clear then that many voters are looking for a credible alternative to the current major parties. The real question is how long can this support be retained by Independent and smaller parties with so many disparate groupings and new parties?

While 2% support for the Social Democrats is admirable, it doesn’t mean anything if it is spread across the country as a whole, and isn’t easily translated into votes for candidates on the ground. The same could be said for Renua on 1% or several of the other smaller parties. While people may be very keen to vote for Lucinda Creighton or Roisin Shorthall, how likely will they be to vote for someone they have never heard of under these parties’ banners in their constituency.

The clear strength in support for another option away from the established parties, does potentially make it quite frustrating for many voters that those Independent candidates couldn’t agree to compromise a little bit more in order to establish a party that had real scale from the start, rather than breaking into three or four disparate groups.

The new Independent based parties are a bit like waiting for a bus, for a long time none come along, and then when all people want is one serious contender, three different parties and groupings have been formed in a short space of time, all with a limited ability to provide a real alternative nationwide.
In order to have a real impact, beyond simply taking 2-3 seats and being potential power brokers for one of the mainstream parties, one of these parties or groupings are going to have to scale their operations very quickly and recruit real local candidates that people have heard of when they go to the polling booth. Only then can they achieve the widespread support they are looking for.

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July 2015 Poll Report