Stability for now, as Election Looms

Published by: Richard Colwell


The escalation in the war of words between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in recent days, points to a possible election in the near future. Once the 8th Amendment referendum has been run, it seems likely that the gloves will really come off between the two centre parties, who are currently supporting each other in a supply and confidence arrangement.  The current state of the parties is quite stable, so what does it tell us about the political landscape within which any election will be run?

The first thing to note is that the gap between the two largest parties, while good, is perhaps not as great as Fine Gael might hope for come an election.  Fine Gael secure 32% of the first preference vote in today’s poll, and they have been in low 30s territory for a few months now.  This is of course a significant improvement on the vote share they secured at the last election, up 6% since 2016 – with much of these gains appearing to come as a result of the Varadkar effect. It means there is now a decent gap between them and their main competition Fianna Fail.  However, it should be borne in mind, that the party was seeing poll ratings close to 30% in months before the last general election, and voters remain relatively fluid.

Fianna Fail secure 25% support in this poll, and have also been polling in and around the mid 20’s for a number of months now.  While this is pretty much the same level they achieved at the last election, don’t forget they were polling below this prior to that election. There is no question that in recent elections the party tends to perform better in elections, than the mid-term polls would suggest. There is also evidence that they have the opportunity to make gains.  Even a couple of months ago, after landing some good political hits on their opponents, the party support did rise back up to 29%.  We also know from polling post the last election, before Varadkar become leader of Fine Gael, that at least 30% of the electorate were willing to support the party.

This means that any election on the horizon will be very hard fought between the two parties. Gains for one party, will certainly damage the other, as they are both essentially fishing in the same pool of the electorate.  The gap between them is certainly not so great that a win is foregone conclusion, meaning one of the likely outcomes could still be a return to some kind of deal between the two in order for government to be formed.

Having said that you would certainly prefer to be the horse leading the race right now, and a 7% lead puts Fine Gael in a more comfortable position.  The question will be whether come an election they can push on to secure enough seats to do a deal with a smaller party and avoid another confidence and supply arrangement.

For Sinn Fein there are mixed messages coming from the polls.  Our results suggest that they are only securing the same share of the vote as they did at the last election with 14% of the first preference vote.  While some of the other polls published recently have suggested gains for the party.  Polls are conducted differently, so its hard to pinpoint exactly why this difference exists.

The RED C analysis weights vote intention quite heavily by likelihood to vote, in order to take account of actual turnout at any election.  This does tend to depress the Sinn Fein vote, as their voters tend to be younger and less likely to vote. We also prompt for all the smaller parties in detail when asking about vote intention, and you can see from our results that we tend to get a higher share for smaller parties as a result which are perhaps forgotten in polls that don’t explicitly prompt for these parties.  The effect of this is also to depress the Sinn Fein vote somewhat.  We did see the party make some gains last month, but certainly not to the levels seen elsewhere, and the longer term trends still suggest the party is struggling to cut through to supporters above its core support.

What we have seen in recent months is trend back to Independent candidates, that suggest their demise may have been heralded too soon.  Some of these gains have been at the expense of the Independent Alliance, but between the two parties support now stands at 15%, which isn’t far behind that secured at the last election.

For other smaller parties the news is not that good.  Labour is stagnant at 6%, and has been for close to a year now. Most of the other parties are down on what they secured ta the last election, with only Renua making some gains in recent months, perhaps due to links with Pro-Life and the Referendum?  Of course, these smaller parties do tend to perform slightly better during a campaign, as they get a little more coverage, but many parties such as the Green Party and Social Democrats have had quite heavy coverage around the Abortion Referendum without any gains in the polls.

The current landscape then looks like a return to the two big centre parties slugging it out for the opportunity to lead the next government.

Abortion Referendum Will be Tight

Our latest poll on the 8th Amendment Referendum again sees a small decline for the Yes camp in the topline figures, with a corresponding increase among those undecided.  This leaves the Yes camp securing 53% of the vote, No stands at 26%, and the Undecided/Refused at 21%.

On the face of it these are good poll results for Yes, with a 68% to 32% vote when undecided are removed. But as I have said before, and will reiterate again, this makes the mistake of assuming that undecided voters will vote the same way as those that know how they will vote.

In fact, when we analysis those that are undecided on their attitudes to abortion in different circumstances, they are far more likely to be No voters.  In fact, almost 80% of the undecided voters would be classified as Definite or Possible No voters, and certainly they don’t support abortion on demand.  On that basis you could argue that the No vote is perhaps closer to around 45% of the vote share, with four weeks left till the election.

Now add in turnout and the Yes camp could have a problem.  Younger voters on the whole are far less likely to vote, yet they are also far more likely to support a change to the constitution on the 8Th Amendment.  Our analysis of likely voters for the referendum gives some solace to the Yes camp, as currently it suggests that Younger voters are far more likely to vote in this referendum than they would at a general election.  But it is vital for the Yes camp, that they make sure the importance of going to vote message is maintained.  If voters read the topline polling figures, they well believe this referendum if a foregone conclusion and not bother voting.  There is some evidence to suggest this behaviour had an impact on what happened in the Brexit vote in the UK.

This referendum is still there to won and is certainly not a forgone conclusion.  The No camp are quite likely to do better than the topline vote suggests, and for the Yes camp ensuring their younger voters do actually turnout is vital.

Download Full Report Below:

April 2018 Report