by Michael Gallagher (16 June 2010)
If FG asked the PSAI for its opinion on whether it should change its leader, would Irish political science be able to offer any evidence-backed advice? There are (as usual) arguments on both sides.
Someone alternative such as Richard Bruton may be in some sense a ‘better’ leader, ie a more credible Taoiseach-in-waiting VERSUS the benefit of getting a ‘better’ leader could be outweighed by the cost, in terms of public image and internal cohesion, of the process of ousting the existing leader.
FG is weak in urban areas, especially Dublin, and hence needs to have a leader who can connect better with that growing section of the electorate VERSUS there is no point in having a leader who boosts the party’s support in one region of the country if at the same time support drops by an equivalent amount in those areas where the existing leader was an electoral asset.
Many FG members and elected representatives have found that voters tell them, in effect, ‘I’d vote for you if only you had a better leader’, and opinion polls consistently show deep reservations among the electorate about Enda Kenny’s credentials as a potential leader VERSUS for some voters this may be a convenient rationalisation and in fact they would probably not vote FG no matter who its leader was, and moreover the 2002 election study (see The Irish Voter) suggested that party leaders have at most a marginal effect on voting behaviour, shown also by the high personal ratings both Mary Harney and Gerry Adams have had at various times in recent years without this seeming to make any difference to their respective parties’ support levels.
It is surely an indictment of the leader that at a time when the government is at historically low levels of support the main opposition party appears to be making no headway at all VERSUS this may be like a national football association believing that success is its due and sacking the manager every time it fails to win the World Cup, even though experience shows that its performance seems to be much the same no matter who the manager is, suggesting that there are deeper questions to be addressed.