This was written for the Evening Herald of Mon Oct 17th.
There are ten days to go until polling day in Aras11. That means that two thirds of the campaign is behind us and, if the polls are correct, so are two thirds of the candidates.
Michael D Higgins, who has been in the top two in the polls almost since the beginning of the campaign, is now joined at the top of the poll, by Sean Gallagher.
Indeed he is not merely joined at the top of the poll by Gallagher; he is surpassed by the independent who appears to have caught the big momentum just at the right point.
The curious thing about the last RedC poll is that Gallagher’s surge has not been at Higgin’s expense. Both candidates actually increased support. In a role that may not sit too comfortably with him or the Labour Party, Higgins is becoming the traditional mainstream established party candidate while Gallagher is taking the role of non establishment figure garnering the non-party and independent backing.
Around 50% of voters have backed an independent candidate since the start of the campaign. With ten days to go they now appear to be backing the independent candidate who seems the strongest and has the best chance of winning.
This trend had begun to emerge in the last RedC poll on October 6th. While 21% of voters said in that poll that they were likely to vote for Gallagher, only 5% said they thought he could actually win the race.
His emergence as a front runner among the independents in that poll has seen him take support from other independents, like Davis and Norris. They will now need to fight hard if they are to have any chance of putting in a decent showing.
Gallagher would also appear to be getting considerable backing from remaining Fianna Fáil supporters, something he had not been achieving before this.
The latest RedC poll does come with the health warning that it was conducted just before last Wednesday night’s Primetime debate with Miriam O’Callaghan. That was not Gallagher’s greatest moment, though RedC researchers believe that these debates are not having significant impact in the results in their polling.
There are two other interesting features in this poll. The decline in support for Martin McGuinness must run contrary to what the Sinn Féin big strategy. He had appeared to be holding his support in the face of a fairly constant barrage about his past, mainly from Gay Mitchell and Fine Gael.
Then along came David Kelly. In one short but painfully honest encounter he encapsulated in a harrowing personal story what others had been trying to say abstractly. The fall in McGuinness’s support makes his Mansion House fiesta now look like Neil Kinnock’s ill judged Sheffield rally.
The other is the continuing decline in support for Gay Mitchell. I am personally at a loss to explain this, except to return to the analysis that this race for the park is turning into a competition between the strongest traditional party candidate: Higgins and the strongest independent candidate: Gallagher.
While Gallagher is cannibalising independent support on one side, Higgins is doing the same on the traditional party side – and at Mitchell’s expense.
I live in what would be regarded as a true blue Fine Gael area. In past local and general elections I have been inundated by Fine Gael canvassers and leaflet drops.
This time: nothing. Apart from the infamous “Litir Um Toghacan” I have not received once call, one leaflet or one attempted contact from the local Fine Gael organisation, and these are people who know Gay Mitchell well.
A campaign that cannot even convince its own activists and core supporters can only be described as an unmitigated disaster.
The one ray of hope from the polls for Mitchell is the enormous volatility there has been in recent weeks.
Yes, the voters would seem to be splitting into two camps, one pro party, the other anti-party, but within those camps they are still volatile. All could change in the last week with one big revelation or story on either side.