There is a lot of unwarranted scepticism about the effectiveness of electoral polling at the moment. Observers point to supposedly “unexpected” results from recent elections in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the UK referendum on continued membership of the European Union, and proclaim that voter surveys are dead and buried. In fact, in all three cases most reputable polling was not that far off the mark in the weeks leading up to the actual vote, the surveys providing snap-shots of the public mood and the direction of intent. Approached in the right way most good quality polls provide a fair reflection of people’s political or socio-economic concerns. This is especially on big ticket items, such as plebiscites or general elections where viewpoints are usually fixed early on in a campaign and stay, more or less, the same.
A raft of recent polling shows some interesting movement in support for the main political parties in Ireland. Taken in isolation it does not mean that much, but over a period of time the surveys may represent a foreshadowing of the results we might expect in the next general election. Using the regular Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll, one of the better ones, we get the following three month trend:
Margin of error 3.3%, excluding undecideds and adjusted:
Party = January, February, March 2017
Fianna Fáil = 29%, 32%, 28%
Fine Gael = 23%, 21%, 22%
Sinn Féin = 17%, 19%, 23%
Labour Party = 5%, 6%, 6%,
Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit = 5%, 3%, 2%
Independent Alliance = 3%, 5%, 6%
Green Party = 3%, 2%, 2%
Social Democrats = 1%, 2%, 1%
Workers Party = <1%, 1%, 1%
Renua Ireland = 0%, 0%, 0%
Other Independent = 15%, 8%, 8%
A lot of these party figures are in clear bands of support, with tops and bottoms to them, though interestingly Sinn Féin seems to be pushing the envelope on its layer. A temporary blip reflecting the party’s good outing in the northern assembly election and its higher profile during several recent establishment-related scandals, or something more fundamental? Certainly the outlines of a future coalition government seems clearer if this trend continues, presuming Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael find themselves unable to formally sit in government together. Talking of polls, there is a good – and rather encouraging – analysis of the Stormont election by psephologist Faha over on We In Coming Days that is well worth a read.