by Frank Schnittger
Sat May 16th, 2009 at 08:12:28 AM EST
Cross-posted from the TH!NK ABOUT IT Euroblogging site.
As readers of my series on the US elections will hopefully recall, I try to do my political analysis on the basis of hard data as much as possible. Personal impressions, anecdotal evidence, and debunking MSM media agendas will only get you so far.
So it's great when a real, live, opinion poll comes along to confirm or confound your previous perceptions, not that I am an unalloyed fan of the genre. Hilary Clinton was, after all, so far ahead in the opinion polls at one stage prior to the first Democratic Primaries as to be almost out of sight.
Up until now in the European elections in Ireland, we have only had one recent Sunday Business Post Red C poll and some rather dubious projections by the Predict09.eu website which do not appear to take the complexities of the Irish three seat constituency single transferable vote proportional representation system into account, despite the presence of Michael Marsh, a distinguished Irish political scientist, on their editorial board.
But yesterdays Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll ticks all the boxes. Not only is the sample size (2000) big enough to yield a 2% margin of error, but the sample size for each of the four constituencies (500) is big enough to yield a 4% margin of error where it matters, at the level of each constituency.
There is no point in a party having 10% of the vote evenly spread across the country, when you need almost twice that in any one constituency to actually win a seat. What matters is whether your vote is concentrated enough around one candidate or constituency in order to come close enough to the 25% quota needed to beat all others for the last seat.
The impact of an electoral system on how politics are conducted is a subject which has always fascinated me, and I am a huge fan of the Irish system despite its apparent complexity and local peculiarities. It does allow for a mix of independents and party apparatchiks to be elected, and gives the voter the ultimate choice of not only party but candidates as well.
Last time around we had Fianna Fail (4), Fine Gael (5), Labour (1), Sinn Fein (1) and independents (2), all represented in the European Parliament. Before that the Greens had a seat despite a national vote of only about 5% at the time.
So what predictions are possible based on this latest poll? bearing in mind all the usual caveats about "a week is a long time in politics" and the fact that previous elections have seen some quite dramatic late surges by particular candidates
There are four sitting MEPs for a constituency now reduced to three seats so one has to lose out. Gay Mitchell (Fine Gael) on 26% and Proinsias De Rossa (Lab) on 21% seem safe - the latter because he is also doing well on second preferences which should bring him up to the 25% quota. The last seat is a real dog fight between Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald (14%) and Fianna Fáil's Eoin Ryan (11%) with the latter doing much better on second and lower preferences which may allow him to hang on. Failing to win a seat in the Capital would be a real blow to Fianna Fail Leader and Taoiseach Brian Cowen's credibility.
Mairéad McGuinness (FG) on 33% is way ahead of the quota (of 25%) and should be easily elected on the first count. Ironically this may militate against Fine Gael retaining their second seat in the constituency as their second candidate John Paul Phelan (FG) is way behind on 9%, and although he will get the bulk of Mairéad's surplus (33% - 25% quota = 8%) there is a tendency for many of a party's first preference voters to give their second preferences to other parties/candidates (on regional, gender, or personality grounds). So he may only get c. 5% of that surplus bringing him up to 14% - still behind Nessa Childers (Lab) on 17% first preferences - who is also doing well on second preferences from other candidates/parties.
If Fine Gael could "manage their vote" by encouraging far more of their supporters to give their first preference to John Paul Phelan so that both he and Mairéad McGuinness were on c. 21% each, they would have a far better chance of retaining both seats as both could then still pick up lower preferences votes from minor candidates on their elimination and thus edge up towards the 25% quota. (In practice, the final successful candidate never has to reach the 25% quota because some votes "die" with a minor candidate because some voters have not expressed a lower preference. Thus if a voter votes e.g. no. 1 Green and gives no lower preferences to any other candidate, that vote dies when the Green Candidate is eliminated as the lowest remaining candidate in the poll).
Liam Aylward (FF) on 19 per cent seems safe once he receives a reasonable transfer from his party running mate.
Brian Crowley (FF) 27% should be safely above the quota and thus elected on the first count (when only first preference votes are counted). Seán Kelly (FG) 17%, a former president of the GAA and first-time candidate should be safe after his running mate, sitting MEP Colm Burke's 10% of the votes, are distributed based on the his voters' second preferences.
That leaves Labour's Alan Kelly (13%), current Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott (12%) and Sinn Féin's Toireasa Ferris (12%) in a scrap for the last seat. My guess is that Labour will be better able to attract lower preference votes as both Sinn Fein and Kathy Sinnott (conservative catholic) have been somewhat more polarising candidates/parties, and if a voter doesn't give them their first preference, they are less likely to give them a lower preference vote.
North West Constituency
MEP Jim Higgins (FG) 20% and former MEP Pat "The Cope" Gallagher (FF) 19% are safe once they get a good proportion of their party running mates lower preference vote transfers.
The North West's other sitting MEP, Independent Marian Harkin (18%) is slightly more vulnerable but has not been a particularly polarising candidate and thus should do well on transfers. Declan Ganley (9%) is apparently attracting only 3% of second preferences votes with little support outside his native Galway. No figure is given for Labour's Susan O'Keeffe's support, but her second preferences are likely to favour Harkin rather than Ganley on both gender and ideology grounds.
Having said all that, you can't fault Libertas for not trying to stir things up, with controversies about immigration and Lech Walesa:
Libertas accused of being 'fascist' over migrant plan - The Irish Times - Sat, May 16, 2009
The party's Dublin candidate, Caroline Simons, said yesterday that the immigration issue was the "elephant in the room" in the European election campaign.
She said that Libertas was calling for the adoption of a "blue card" throughout the European Union that would allow a citizen of the EU to live in another member state for up to two years as a guest worker as long as they were not a burden on the receiving state.
I wonder how such a "Blue Card" scheme will play with Libertas' new found allies in eastern Europe?
Walesa expected in Ireland for Libertas election rally - The Irish Times - Sat, May 16, 2009
SOLIDARITY CO-FOUNDER Lech Walesa is expected to address a Libertas European election event in Ireland in the coming days.
The former Polish president has been attacked as a "disgrace" at home for appearing at Libertas events in Rome and Madrid - for a reported fee of 100,000.
As the European election enters its final phase, Mr Walesa's reported five-city tour is also likely to include an address in Warsaw. Any such appearance will be a controversial one for the Polish icon many of his countrymen have accused of selling out.
It is unlikely that either controversy will do much for the Libertas vote but it is still early days in the campaign and my predictions below can only be based on the data in the latest opinion poll.
Prediction (based on this weeks poll)
Fianna Fail 3 (seats down from 4)
Fine Gael 4 (5)
Labour 3 (1)
Sinn Fein 1 (1)
Independents 1 (2)