by Michael Marsh, TCD
Micheal Martin admitted on RTE today that an election now would devastate FF if current poll estimates proved to be accurate. At the same time, perhaps paradoxically, speculation about the likelihood of a collapse in the government’s Dáil support seems to have intensified. While Green support looks more firm as their votes become more critical – because they can extract real policy concessions – FF’s own cohesion seems more problematic as the criticism of the minimal reshuffle shows little sign of abating. My personal view has always been that this government is there for the long haul because so many government supporters risk losing their seats if they provoked an early election. As the government’s majority narrows, however, the defection of a very small number of FF TDs could prove fatal. If a few such TDs estimate that the best chance of keeping their own seats would be to bring about an early election then the government could fall, but the current standing of the parties would surely mean this was a very high-risk strategy.
Today’s poll by RED C gave FF 24%, FG 35%, Labour 17%, SF 11%, Greens 5% and others 9%. These numbers are broadly in line with what we have seen from RED C for some time, though mark a relatively high point for SF. The Labour vote is lower than recent TNS/mrbi polls, but Greens do much better with RED C.
If these shares were to be realised at an election, what would this mean for the parties? The estimations here are necessarily crude. They assume that the rise/fall in each party’s vote happens evenly across the country – something that never happens in practice. Even so, if some areas resist the national trend, that mean others will bow excessively to it. Only if swings are related in some may to marginality would we be likely to get outcomes that are very different to those suggested here. I have then generally given a seat to a party for each quota of votes won, with additional seats going to the largest remainders.
My best guess is that an election now – on these poll figures – would give FF just 47 seats, as against 69 for FG and 31 for Labour. RED C suggests the Green vote would hold up quite well, enabling it to keep 3 of its six seats, while SF could grow to 11 with Others winning 6. In practice, and following the patterns of recent elections, we might expect to see others do a little better and SF a little worse than this, but there is no reason to assume any major change from these figures.
This outcome would really be devastating for FF who would lose about one third of its seats. It is hard to see it winning any seats at all in some constituencies, such as Kerry N and Dublin SE, and in only a handful of places might it hope to win two seats: Carlow-Kilkenny, Laois Offaly, Cork SC, Louth (with the CC) and perhaps Mayo, and it most of those it won three seats in 2007. In almost three quarters of all constituencies FF would lose a seat, so if all incumbents ran again many would be defeated. In many constituencies FF would have to think very hard about whether it should run more than one candidate and its vote would be just under or just over one quota; in such cases running two could reduce the party’s chance of winning even one seat! It is hard to see the party not selecting all incumbents, but that would mean the party’s electoral strategy could be less than optimal.
In current circumstances, where there is likely to be one seat over which two incumbents are fighting a TD might hope to insulate himself by running against the party, placing some distance between themselves and the party leadership. Could this have prompted John McGuinness’s likely ‘running mates’ in Carlow Kilkenny, the three of them surely chasing two seats now – to row in behind his criticism of the reshuffle? Whether this strategy could encompass bringing down the government, however, is much more problematic. It would obviously force a defector to run as an independent at the consequent election. This might sometimes deliver an additional seat to the FF gene poll if not directly to the party, but it could also be that the defector could win the seat at the expense of their former party, driving FF seat share down still further.