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When Yes might really mean No: how opinion polls cannot reflect ‘soft’ votes

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There are many stock phrases that could describe what happened last Friday but none are as apt as the lovely Irish phrase: ‘Tháinig sé aniar aduaidh orainn’ (It [a sudden gale] came upon us from the north west).

I had a feeling for a long time that the vote was going to be No but I must say I was thrown by the opinion polls, particularly our last one which showed a sizeable gap between the sides. In previous referendums, late swings had been captured by the opinion poll. And even though there was a gap favouring the Yes side, everybody knew that the momentum was behind the other side and the pendulum was swinging from Yes to No.

This time it was different. The sample was taken a week before the poll. There was no major intervening event, a St Paul on the road to Damascus moment where voters suddenly saw the light. Sure, there were the TV debates where Micheál Martin did well and it was certain that No campaigners (especially the impressive Democracy Matters) were far more visible and active in the last few days of the campaign.

But did that explain such a dramatic surge, a mobilisation of the 21 per cent of the ‘don’t knows’ to close the 17 point gap between Yes and Nos.

I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it.

Sure, a lot of people made up their minds – and read the literature – in the last three days and truly engaged.

But those who were recorded as Yes’s in so many polls were not really Yes’s. It was too early for them. Citizens who were contacted more than a week out had not really engaged with the issues, had not thought about how they were going to vote. Most would have been vaguely aware of the arguments and would have perhaps remembered the superficial ones of €20 million savings and fewer politicians pushed by Fine Gael. And so they may have said they were voting Yes, when their votes were soft to say the least.

So how many of the 44 per cent of the Yes were only soft Yes’s, transient yes opters who would either not vote on the day or vote No. I’d say at least half.

On the other hand – and in marked contrast – I would warrant that every single one of the 27 per cent of respondents who said they were voting No meant it. They were conviction voters, committed voters who were not going to waver.

Opinion polls are not exact scientific instruments. They only give a broad brushstroke indication, a lie of the land. It’s how you interpret them that’s important. For example, the first thing you have to realise is that while many respondents express a preference, only a portion will vote. Yet, 92 per cent of respondents in The Irish Times poll said they would vote. In real life, less than half of that number voted. In a poll like this when there is a choice between the establishment view and an alternative view, you can take it that the percentage of anti-establishment support will be closer to the true level.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

City’s cycling plans must get out of the slow lane

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Days like this...the Galway Community Cycle making its way along Grattan Road.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

From about the age of ten I began cycling to school every day, from Glenard into Sea Road – not alone in and out in the morning and afternoon, but also home and back at lunch-time – because everybody had dinner in the middle of the day in the 1980s.

The concept of separate facilities for cycling back then were as alien as having parking for spaceships. Traffic was much lighter though; only a third, maybe a quarter, of the cars on the road today.

I can remember accidents involving bikes – fatal and serious ones – during my youth. I’d say up to half the pupils in my school cycled every day.

That picture has changed over the years. The Galway Transport Strategy quotes a figure from the 2011 Census which says that five per cent of people cycle to work, school or college.

The city is compact and relatively small. The strategy recommends “high quality facilities for walking and cycling” to encourage more people to walk and cycle to school, to work, to the shops, or for leisure.

So what’s happened in the 30 years since I left Galway?

Traffic volumes have increased and the number of people using bikes for the daily commute has decreased. There are some bicycle lanes in the city but the percentage is very small compared to other Irish cities.

I spent a few hours cycling around Galway last week and wrote a piece on it for The Irish Times. I might have cycled in and out to school when I was a kid but I would not put my eleven-year-old daughter on a bike in Galway. It’s just not safe enough.

I put in a number of queries to Galway City Council last week and they told me there was a total of 20.45 kilometres in the city – that excludes off-road and park cycle tracks such as NUIG.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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