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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

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Changing political landscape fast becoming Double Dutch

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Big winner...Ivan Bacik after her by-election victory.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Holland is so used to enduring a perennial political log-jam – where every election just digs you deeper and deeper into a rut – that they’ve actually come up with their own name for it.

It’s called Dutchification – when society has become so urbanised, and globalised, and fragmented, and lacking cohesion, that no party, or parties, can expect to win any more.

The former RTÉ journalist Peter Cluskey wrote a very interesting article last week about this continued electoral limbo they have in Holland, where he’s been based for many years.

And truth be told, the same is happening here; the day of overall majorities is long gone.

We have gone from having two large parties to having three medium sized ones (and with the demise of Fianna Fáil it could even by two medium sized ones, or one large and one medium).

The reality is that it will be difficult for the foreseeable future for any two parties to form a coalition, and it could be difficult for any three parties to do the same.

The old fealties to the three long-established parties have been blown out of the water.

The biggest pool of voters now has no permanent loyalty. They are the floaters.

And there is a growing ‘none of the above’ contingent too, possibly spurred on by the cynicism, empty populism and downright lies, of social media.

They will vote for a party that opposes the government. And once that party they support goes into government, they immediately withdraw their support for it. Short of coming up for an elixir that guarantees everlasting joyous life, these voters will never support a party in government.

I know it sounds cynical but if you talk to enough people around the country – as I always try to do – the person with a deeply cynical disposition and a hate of politicians is no longer a rarity.

Sinn Féin is the growing party at the moment and – from this vantage point – looks like it will be in government for the next spin.

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.

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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

Toughest of first years for the three at the top

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Tough year...Coalition leaders Eamon Ryan, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just a year ago, we got a new Government. It contained two parties who had separately led governments throughout the history of the State but had come together for the first time. Then there were the Greens. It was formed during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, caused by a Coronavirus pandemic. It came after an election of huge churn where the first time no single party won over 50 seats or, indeed, 40 seats. Seven of the Ministers were new to Government and two were recently-elected TDs.

Almost all of the collective effort in the past year has gone into addressing the enormous challenges of Covid-19. It has meant unprecedented levels of spending, of support, has led to extended lockdowns, huge percentages of people without employments, and whole sectors shut down for 15 months and counting.

Every new government has teething problems. Given those additional challenges, this coalition was not going to be an exception. Many of the Ministers had lousy starts and looked out of their depths, or out of sorts.

The administration of late is on a more even keel but the big challenges lie ahead when the huge financial supports currently in place begin to be dismantled.

I interviewed Eamon Ryan last week. He does not do negative. Most others would see the jagged internal Green Party rows and squabbling as a huge drag; the bitter divisions detracting from the achievement; the reputation of both Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin being damaged in the process.

Not for Ryan. While he acknowledges there will difficulties this is the prism through which he viewed the Greens’ first year in government and its response to Covid.

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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