The winners of “Air” and “Ground” wars will determine who leads the next Government

The results of the Local and Euros elections have highlighted how both local organisation and campaigning/canvassing (ground war) as well as strong name recognition and experience (air war) will be key in determining the outcome of the next General Election.

In our February article on the poll of polls, we observed some trends in opinion polls and potential pointers to what might happen in a general election. Since then, we have seen 7 more opinion polls and two actual elections -the Euros and the Locals. So where stand the parties now and are we any nearer to knowing how a General Election might pan out?

This table reflects our DruryPN Poll of Polls and draws on all of the data in those opinion polls, aggregates them over quarters and shows the trend of support for all the main parties. In addition, we show the actual results in the Locals and the Euros -by first preference vote.

So, what’s new? The opinion polls (which typically ask directly “what party would you vote for if a general election was called in the morning?”) show a narrowing of the gap between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil from 7% to 2%. What the averaging out does not capture is the significant changes we saw in the real polls on 24 May.

To an extent, both big parties had contrasting fortunes. Fine Gael, on 25.3%, polled less well in the Locals compared to where they had been trending in the opinion polls. By comparison, Fianna Fáil beat their opinion poll trend by 1% attracting 26.9% of first preferences and maintaining their lead in local Government over Fine Gael. The Euros, however, told a different story -with Fine Gael hitting 29.6% of first preferences, a whopping 14% ahead of Fianna Fáil.

For the other parties, the rise of the Greens (especially in the Euros) and the decline in the Sinn Féin vote were the most significant developments. Ironically, it seems likely that the rise of the Greens was at the expense of Fine Gael, while the demise of Sinn Féin probably benefitted Fianna Fáil the most. Independents of various hues performed well in the Locals and the Euros, suggesting that a fair proportion of the electorate are still very open to voting independent.

Relevance to General Election…

The Local Election result confirms the value of Fianna Fáil’s traditional and organisational strength. It suggests that Fianna Fáil have an advantage when it comes to the “Ground war” in an election -campaigning on local issues, having a record of engaging with local communities, drawing from a strong cadre of county councillors etc. Being in opposition allows you to frame most local issues in terms which blame the Government of the day, even if, at times, the linkage is tangential. The recovery of Fianna Fáil in parts of Dublin will give them heart that they can now compete in what has been tough territory for them since 2011.

On the other hand, the Euro elections suggest that Fine Gael could have an advantage in the “Air war” -the level of name recognition, experience in governing or dealing with significant policy issues and the ability to perform well in the media. Nowhere was this more evident than in Midlands/North West where the Fine Gael vote surged from just over 20% in 2014 to over 33% this year. Such a result at a time when there is a lot of “negative noise” about rural Ireland must surely be down to having 2 candidates with high personal recognition, aided by one having a strong record/profile on Brexit.

When it comes to the General Election Fine Gael will have a clear lead on name recognition. Like them or loath them, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and most senior Ministers are household names. Apart from Micháel Martin and two or three of his front bench, many potential Fianna Fáil Ministers are unknown to most members of the public. Agree or disagree with their views, Fine Gael will have well established positions on all the big policies like tax, climate change, housing etc. In contrast Fianna Fáil (like any opposition party) will be less specific on policy.

Campaigns matter…

As each of the major parties now plan their General Election campaigns, a strong focus will be on -how do we win the ground and air wars. How does Fine Gael counter Fianna Fáil’s local strength in many constituencies? How does Fianna Fáil counter Fine Gael’s name recognition and policy depth? Will the Leaders’ debates which dominate a lot of the “Air war” prove decisive? As the politicians and their strategists head for their summer holidays, this is where their thoughts will be going, as they look to maximise the advantages and learnings they have gleaned from the recent elections.