Rush to the Centre, Squeezes Smaller Parties
As consumers become more confident that the country is going in the right direction, there is evidence from today’s poll, that we seeing voters move away from a possible “protest vote” behaviour seen in Irish politics since the 2011 election, and instead a return to a two-party dominated state? Certainly, the current polling suggests that voters have somewhat left behind their anger with the establishment, and as the economy and direction of the country is seen to improve so are the fortunes of the old established centre ground parties.
Today’s poll sees a combined vote share for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of 61%, meaning 3 in 5 voters are now suggesting were an election to be held tomorrow, that they would vote for one of the two main centre parties. That is quite an astonishing regain of ground for the established parties, when at one stage back in 2014 they could only muster 40% of the electorate to say they would vote for them in opinion polls. Also, at the last election they secured just 49% of the first preference vote, so increasing total share between the two parties share by 12% in just 2 years.
It certainly appears that this behaviour of moving back towards the known centre groups, is somewhat a reflection of voter satisfaction in their own wellbeing. Consumer confidence in Ireland, as seen in the most recent ESRI index, is at a record high level. Satisfaction with the leaders of the main parties is also at an all time high. However, over and above this the data suggests that there may be other factors at play, that are helping to drive support for both the main centre parties.
Certainly, the gains for Fianna Fail seen in the poll today, with the party securing its highest share of the first preference vote at 29% since March 2016 in the RED C series of polls, suggest that while voters are generally happy, they are not prepared to see Fine Gael run away with support. Perhaps this was reaction to Fianna Fail taking the government to task on providing more support for rural Ireland in the 2040 plan, or in trying to protect mortgage holder sold by Permanent TSB to vulture funds. But maybe some of this move is a reaction by those who were supporting smaller parties to ensure that Fine Gael don’t get too far ahead. Those voters that were tagging their colours to smaller parties do certainly appear to have to some extent fallen in behind Fianna Fail, as a check to Fine Gael progress.
The double impact of both a satisfied consumer and those concerned that Fine Gael might get it all their own way, leaves the smaller parties severely squeezed. Solidarity – PBP secures just 1% of the first preference vote in today’s poll, having at one stage pushed support up to around 6% at the height of the water charge protests, and more recently had been securing 4% of the vote. The Social Democrats now see support stand at 2%, when they had regularly seen support at 3-4% of the electorate in previous months. Likewise, the Green party also sees a decline in support in this poll to just 2%, having regularly achieved 4% support.
This move to the centre parties by voters also doesn’t do Sinn Fein any favours. The party would surely have hoped for a bounce in support following the coronation of Mary Lou McDonald as leader, and her subsequent media coverage including an appearance on the Late Late show. Instead support for Sinn Fein has dropped back by 1%, to leave current voter support at 14%, which is the same level the achieved at the last General Election.
It is of course the case that historically smaller parties tend to see some small gains in support during an election campaign, as outside of these people to some extent forget them as an option. Having said that RED C are very careful to remind voters of all the options available to them, so even this shouldn’t depress support by that much. It is clear therefore, that as voters are happier at the direction the country is taking, it will become a real challenge for the smaller parties to remain relevant and have a place in voter’s choice set. The pressure is on for them to significantly disrupt the news cycle to gain any traction.
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