If the first opinion poll of the general election had a question mark or two about its methodologies, the results of polling by Ipsos MRBI are generally regarded with a little bit more favour. Which makes today’s publication of a report showing a significant drop in support for Fine Gael and a surprise leap in the numbers supporting Sinn Féin all the more interesting. The full results of the voter survey carried out for the Irish Times makes for some intriguing extrapolations in terms of the configuration of the next Dáil, even with a margin-of-error of 2.8%.
Fianna Fáil 25% (NC)
Fine Gael 23% (-6%)
Sinn Féin 21% (+7%)
Green Party 8% (NC)
Labour Party 5% (-1%)
Solidarity-People Before Profit 2% (+1%)
Independents4Change 1% (-1%)
Independent Alliance 1% (NC)
Independents & Others 13% (+1%)
The country went into the election campaign expecting FG and FF to scrap it out for the leadership of a minority government propped up by some mix of the Green Party, Labour Party and various “gene pool” independents, with the loser of that contest joining a much diminished SF on the Opposition benches.
However if this polling trend keeps up, and admittedly that is a big “if” given the likely influence of the recent “Black and Tans” controversy on voter intentions, Mary Lou McDonald’s party would not just retain its seats but add some too. However, and as most observers know, Sinn Féin tends to do better in the opinion polls than at the real polls and has often been crippled by its lack of transfers. Maybe this time around things will be different as we move further away from the era of conflict in the Six Counties and an older generation of well-known republican activists retire from the limelight? And if that comes to pass how will a strong Sinn Féin showing effect the very public refusals of Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin to consider any type of reciprocal deal with SF in the Oireachtas?
Personally I think it would be better for Sinn Féin to have the numbers to form a coalition partnership with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, however junior a partner, but to have that turned down flat by the larger parties so that it can blame the establishment duopoly for disenfranchising its voters and “not listening to the will of the people”, and all that blarney. But we shall see. My money is still on FG or FF taking office in a deal with the Green Party and others, bolstering their supposed environmental credentials. And god knows the Greens are making little effort to hide their desperation to get back into power after a decade in the political – and financial – wilderness.
But what of those forthcoming television debates, with both RTÉ and Virgin Media refusing to allow a three-way head-to-head between Varadkar, Martin and McDonald? How can that be credible given the last two polls, where just 4% in support separates the political parties in first and third places?