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Coalition Chaos – Too Late For A Plan B

Government After Next Election

Outright Betting

We’re just about half way through the campaign and best of luck to anybody trying to call this one. This seems to be the election that’s throwing conventional wisdom on its head.

Too Tough To Call
After a week in which Sinn Féin were under the cosh for their stance on the Special Criminal Court, the party must have been bracing itself for the worst from Sunday’s Red C poll. But they actually ended up jumping three points to 20% – a level of support which if (a big ‘if’, mind you) replicated in an election would get them 30-plus seats.

Fianna Fáil, despite seemingly enjoying the best opening week of any of the parties, were trailing back at 18%, barely above their 2011 performance.

And the news was even worse for the Coalition as it dropped a combined five points. If the 28% for Fine Gael and 8% for Labour is where they end up in the election, then the outgoing government won’t be returned. No wonder the odds on that happening have widened to 4/1 with BoyleSports. The FG-FF combination, which Enda Kenny significantly declined to definitively rule out at the weekend, is just 6/4.

If it wasn’t for Fianna Fáil’s absolute insistence that they won’t go into government with Fine Gael, those odds would be considerably tighter.

Coalition Chaos
The Coalition strategists are clinging to the hope that votes will start to swing their way in the final days of the campaign. They claim that they aren’t getting the hostility that was there when they were canvassing for the locals, but they accept there is a reluctance among voters to plump for the Government parties. They believe though they can still draw across soft independent supporters at the 11th hour.

For that to happen, the Coalition needs to get the debate back on the economy and away from justice. Expect both Fine Gael and Labour to ramp up the attacks on Fianna Fáil, reminding voters who was at the wheel when the economy went over the cliff. The dangers of a hung Dáil will also be driven home. It remains to be seen though how effective these messages will be.

And the worry for the Coalition must be that its ‘stability versus chaos’ message is not getting traction.

It’s too late at this stage for a ‘Plan B’ even if they had one.

Toxic Labour
The other big concern must be the pressure Labour is under. Fine Gael can still come in with more than 30% of the vote, but there is a real doubt if Labour can get to the 10% it needs to stay relevant. The constituency poll showing party leader Joan Burton losing her seat in Dublin West was further proof, if proof were needed, that the number of safe Labour seats can be counted on one hand. The party seems to be toxic with working class voters, where Sinn Féin is particularly strong.

Those constituency polls are also showing Fianna Fáil doing better than its national poll rating, suggesting the party will end up with at least 20% of the vote and around 35 seats. In contrast, Sinn Féin’s poll ratings tend to be overstated and I still think the party will end up at around 15% and seat numbers in the low twenties.

Independent Attraction
The other big question is whether Independents can hold the high level of support they are currently attracting? Will over one in four voters really opt for Independents or ‘others’ come Election Day? The main parties don’t think so but there’s no sign of any weakening in their support levels – yet.

The ‘yet’ is important. Because though support levels have hardly moved since the start of the year, the suspicion lingers that this election will only be decided in the final days when voters really engage in the campaign. The Government parties better hope that’s the case.

Keep An Eye On…
Kerry. The Healy-Rae family’s decision to add Danny to the ticket alongside Michael is quite a gamble. Clearly Michael was on course to comfortably top the poll and the Healy-Raes thought a second seat might be on. But will voters be willing to elect two brothers from the same constituency or is there a danger the move could backfire? I think there is a danger.

Value Bet
Winning two out of three seats in a constituency is a massive ask for a party on around 20% of the vote nationally. But Fianna Fáil have a chance of doing so in Offaly. Barry Cowen will take the first seat for FF. Despite Fine Gael struggling here, it should take a seat. The final seat is between Renua, Independents, possibly Sinn Féin and the second FF candidate Eddie Fitzpatrick.

Renua’s John Leahy (13/8) is the slight favourite to win out but if Fitzpatrick can stay ahead of Independent John Foley, the latter’s transfers could see him home as they both hail from the same part of the constituency near Edenderry. At 5/2, he looks nicely priced.

*Prices correct at time of publication