Dublin Key to Fine Gael’s Last 2 Weeks
A week or so ago, as we were in the midst of a deluge of polls, I hazarded that Fine Gael may be on route to a majority or very close to it. While legitimate doubts were raised at the time, the trend for FG since has been upward and tonights margin-of-error beating 3% rise suggests that Fine Gael are doing really well at building momentum into the final two weeks.
The form team in this regard is Fianna Fail circa 2002, when with 41% of first preferences they ended up a few hundred votes shy of a majority. The 42% threshold may indeed yield FG their majority, but some hurdles remain. Labour in Dublin are the first of these. Since the local elections, Labour’s hope for a large rise in seats has resided on building in Dublin on their success at local level, turning their status as the biggest party in Dublin at local level into two seats in many constituencies.
That hope, and the fact that they remain in a strong (if not insurmountable) position in Dublin gives the lie to a week of spats between the two major parties. For Fine Gael, especially for the likes of Noonan and Varadker in particular, the numbers bear out that for FG to get close to a majority with 42% of the vote, Labour’s position in Dublin has to be eroded. 46 seats are available in Dublin, if FG were to come second or leave little or no gap between themselves and Labour, it could mean the difference between 72-75 seats and 80-83 seats.
When this is added to a gap between the parties on fiscal and social issues, it puts the tit-for-tat of the last week into stark relief. They are at odds on the IMF, fiscal management, growth projections, the health service and other issues. It won’t stop a deal being done, but if FG can get away without Labour, they will do all they can to do it.
This weekend marks the point, with two weeks left, when most voters begin to pay attention in standard elections, while we can argue the public are switched on already (for the past two years almost), there is still a feeling that the final two weeks are the formative period – when decisions on preferences are made and stuck to. It will be interesting to see how the parties try to communicate with voters in this time – whether debates, policies or slip-ups will swing people in behind anyone other than FG.
It is certainly all to play for, but we can expect to see plenty more spat between Fine Gael and Labour as the focus for the bigger party zones in on governing alone. Dublin is the key to FG’s last two weeks and they are sure to know it. Kenny will be taking part in the 5-way leader’s debate on The Frontline on Monday but if last week’s debate were the place to frame the debate, Mondays will be the place to get a single, memorable sound-bite.
Though Martin is loath to utter them (pull the other one), the soundbite will be the best way to ensure that something is achieved from a 5 person all-in with Pat Kenny (apologies for the unfortunate mental images). The challenge is there too for Labour, they have lost a lot of ground from their peak. Constant attacks from FF and FG have hurt them, added to by the failure (see Jan O Sullivan on the banks Weds on Today with PK) of front benchers to get the fiscal policy across under cross-examination. If this is repeating on the doors, Dublin is a battleground for them.
The difference between 2009 figures and the overall level of support for parties in Dublin is difficult to assess at a remove, one would need to spend a lot of time with the breakdown of boundaries for the election. This is due to the mixture of 3/4 seaters in many council areas. However a top-level analysis suggests that Labour have grown their overall support in Dublin’s suburbs, or have powered ahead in the Dublin City area. I think it unlikely to assume Labour on 40% in the Dublin City area and rather more likely that they have added on a few percentage points in the outer Dublin areas encompassed by Fingal, South Dublin Co. and Dun Laoghaire. Though only a few.
For Fine Gael the figures are much more promising, aside from Dun Laoghaire and their strong position in South Dublin, they didn’t break 30% in Dublin in 2009. Therefore the implication of the current 30% figure for Dublin suggests they have solidified their presence in South Dublin but lifted support in the other three council areas. They need it.
The current figures are a statistical dead heat. They are not sufficient for Fine Gael to swing into overall majority territory. The major problem they face is the Dublin is a mixture of 3-4-5 seaters, rather than a smaller number of 5 seaters. They will have to work extremely hard to take 2 seats in 3 or 4 seaters. They have shown capable of taking 3 seats in Dublin South, but the dog-fight in Dun Laoghaire should see them suffer unless there is a ‘wave election’ for Fine Gael (not something I am ruling out).
My feeling is that Fine Gael have made up a lot of ground in Dublin, but may need a much larger overall lead on Labour to get results – smaller seat numbers per constituency are disproportional. To convert a percentage into seats requires a lot of organisation and luck.