Saturday, April 28, 2007


Well how can you begin to describe yesterday's opinion poll? A surprise? Nah, too weak. A turn-up for the books? Not strong enough. A fierce upset? Getting a bit warmer now. The biggest conversion since a fellow changed his name on the road to Damascas? Getting very close.

Ok, let's go for broke. The political equivalent of the shock goal that Seamus Darby scored in 1982 to stun Kerry and deprive them of the five-in-a-row.

Now you have it. Spot on. Totally apt. This is real championship fare. And no matter how one side is cruising, there's always a Seamus Darby moment lurking out there.

The TNS mrbi opinion poll carried out for the Irish Times certainly upset any complacency of thought process that may have set in among the commentariat over the past while.

A smug certainty that has pertained since last autumn in fact. Like everything political that has happened in Ireland over the past decades, this particular narrative begins and ends with the anorak.

That's when BertieGate erupted, whenwe experienced what seemed like an extraordinary phenomenon. We heard tallish stories about debts of honour and various Paddy Reillys and toddles over to Manchester where unremembered men (The Forgotten Soldiers of Destiny) did an impromptu whip-around for Bertie Ahern. All that was missing was the line about the dog eating my homework. And just when we thought the anorak had seen one rainshower too many, Fianna Fail rebounded wit venom.

The Fianna Fail recovery in the polls was perplexing then and is still perplexing now. Senior FF figures put it down to Bertie being able in his TV interview to reach beyond the cynical punditocracy to the more forgiving citizen in the streets. Or that the episode forced people to think, really seriously think, for the first time about who they wanted in government, and who they didn't want in Government.

And so, the thinking went, the people - when confronted with that stark choice - plumped for him rather than Enda or Pat.

It sounds plausible, credible even. It's poppycock though. The problem with it is this: If people were prepared to forgive him then, why are they not prepared to forgive him now, especially since he has steered clear of controversy or fresh allegations since.

My own opinion is that FF had already risen before the great unpleasantness last autumn - polls in the Examiner and the Irish Daily Mail showed FF at 39% and 40% in mid September last year. Our one was dismissed as a rogue poll by Pat Rabbitte - but was it?

And that's the only way you can describe this turnaround. Anybody who follows politics closely will know that Fine Gael has improved of late, and Enda Kenny's Ard Fheis speech galvanised the party and given it some momentum.

But a five point leap? That's a biggie, especially when Fianna Fail are down by three points. That's an eight-point turnaround which is enormous. In the context of Bertie's tactics of stringing everybody along on the election date, it might now seem wiser for the him to cashed in his chips earlier (and go for May 17) rather than watch his huge stack tortuously disappear.

The strange thing is that there's no major event or scandal or political controversy or failing that has driven this reverse. Are people that worried about their properties that they are prepared to throw the Government out on a whim whenever there's a bit of a wobble?

It could be that despite the naysayers, Fine Gael and Labour have finally marshalled all the disparate strands together - the messages, the policies, erasing doubts over Kenny's leadership, the credibility of the Mullingar Accord - and has convinced voters that it can provide a realistic alternative.

In that vein, Frank Flannery suddenly takes on John the Baptist status rather the hopeless optimist he seemed a while back. All those months of prophesising Fine Gael gains of 20 or more suddenly seem less lunatic, more visionary.

And this opinion poll will add to that momentum. But a note of caution is needed. The fact that TNS/mrbi has a certain cache and that for the paper of record doesn't make it infallible. There's a 3 per cent margin of error. And a deliberate weighting against FF to counter the traditional habit of its support being overstated.

There's the more general point also that no matter how pollsters dazzle us with science, measuring people's opinions (especially when they haven't formed opinions yet) is as hermetic as carrying water in your cupped hands.

Snapshot in time is the cliché we all use. It's more like looking at the TV news through a shop window. You can watch the gist of what's happening but can't hear the details. And in a doctors differ frame of mine, when you compare this national poll with the findings of the Red C regional polls for TCH titles (yesterday's poll for Cork South Central in the Evening Echo showed FF on course to retain its three seats there) the findings don't tally like they should.

What they all tell us is that this election will be much closer than 2002, that the Government could well be toppled, and we may have a political landscape as complicated as that of 1948. Politically, it could well turn out to be a long long summer.

This is my column from today's Irish Examiner

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your maths do not add up. In your Examiner piece today you say the most likely combination will be FF/Greens. But then you give FF 67 and the Greens 11 - that leaves them five short of Government. They will need independents.