Saturday, May 05, 2007
INSIDE POLITICS - IRISH EXAMINER POLL
Like a comic book hero, Bertie Ahern has a certain quality of indestructibility about him. During his first payments controversy last October, he got a proper charcoaling (to use this week’s running metaphor; the barbeque) but emerged amazingly without a singe.
The opening of Fianna Fail’s election campaign coincided with fresh allegations about Mr Ahern’s personal finances, carried in last weekend’s newspapers. The issue has dogged the Taoiseach leader all week and led to what has been, by common consensus, a dismal start to the campaign.
But the Irish Examiner/Lansdowne Market Research, the first opinion poll to be carried out in this campaign, shows that the impact of the controversy has not been as damaging as might have been imagined.
The sampling among 1,006 adults nationwide was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday. At this stage, the issue of Mr Ahern’s finances was clearly dominating the agenda though it might be said the controversy did not crescendo until later on Wednesday and on Thursday and the remarkable Vincent Browne confrontation.
But for all all that, given the disastrous week that the party has had, Fianna Fail will some small comfort from the fact that its support is down alrigh, but that the hit it has taken is comparatively small. And after all his misfortunes and woes this week, Bertie Ahern has emerged battered, and dented but still intact.
Fianna Fail’s support levels are at 37%, some two points down on the last Examiner poll in September 2006 and five points adrift of the 42% that almost saw it win an overall majority in 2002.
Realistically, the party was never going to attain those heady heights again.
Nonetheless there are three weeks to go in the election campaign. It is indubitable that FF has had a train wreck of a week. And still its strategist will be able to point to this poll as a minor morale-booster. It still leaves the party very much in contention, especially with three weeks to go in the election campaign, especially with 21% of those polled saying they were still undecided.
In 1997 and in 1992 the party polled 39% which was enough on both occasions to get the party into government. It’s only two points shy of that at present. Yes, in the past Fianna Fail has started high in the polls and gone downhill after that. But we may see a reverse of that pattern this time – or a platueaing. If not, the party will be in meltdown territory. But as things stand it can still consider itself to be in the vicinity of government.
As expected core FF supporters have rallied around their beleagured leader but his general satisfaction rating of 56% is also comparatively respectable, still running ahead of Pat Rabbitte’s impressive 48% and Enda Kenny’s 41%.
However, before the FFers get carried away, the alternative government has reinforced its credentials with both Fine Gael and Labour making strong surges since last September’s poll. Fine Gael is two points up at 26% and Labour is up three at 13%, a five point jump.
By contrast, the junior partners in the coalition, the Progressive Democrats will be in very deep trouble if these findings are repeated on polling day. The party’s two per cent showing will mean that it will retain only a handful of its current seats.
The overall trend is of a marked swing away from the Government parties – a whopping 11 per cent turnaround since last autumn when the Taoiseach was last embroiled in a financial controversy.
At various stages over the past three years, we have seen strong surges in support for either Sinn Fein and the Greens. At various stages too, both have been portrayed as being on an “inexorable rise”. But these findings suggest that support for Sinn Fein might have plateaued and even receded a little and that the rise of the Greens might have come to the halt.
The independents have also been written off by many commentators, with a high attrition rate among the sitting TDs. But at 9%, they may still be a significant force.
On any other week the news would be an 11% swing to the alternative. But given the rocky road Bertie Ahern had this week, Fianna Fáil’s 37% bucks the expected trend.