It is way too early to call the Aras11 race

My latest article on the aras11 race from the Evening Herald 13th August 2011


In about 75 days we will vote for our next President. It is a long way away and there will be plenty of polls to mull over between now and then.

The latest RedC Paddy Power poll does throw up some unexpected numbers, so I suspect with the next two or three polls. I would not expect them to settle down and reflect actual voter intentions until much closer to October 27th.

Uncle Gaybo tells us that he will make up his mind on whether to run or not. He has some big things to mull over, including his high level of potential support. They are impressive by any standards, almost Norrisian when compared to polls taken in recent weeks.

But what do these big numbers mean or matter when the beneficiary is not in or out of the race yet? Plus, he should consider that early leads come with a major health warning from Irish presidential election history.

The first major poll of the 1997 Aras race was conducted by IMS and published in the Sunday Independent about 40 days before polling (on September 21st)

It showed the Labour party’s candidate, Adi Roche in a commanding lead with 38% – ten points ahead of Uncle Gaybo’s figure today. On polling day, on October 30th she ended up on 7%.

If things changed that much for her in 40 days, consider how much more they might change over the course of 76 days. The words “sprint” and “marathon” come to mind. Come to think of it, so do the words “obstacle course”

As with Uncle Gaybo, Adi’s name had come into the fray as a bit of a surprise announcement just days before an opinion poll. The Irish Times poll; published ten days later, had Roche on 22%, behind McAleese (who polled 35% in both polls).

I know the dangers of comparing polls from different polling companies with different samples. I also know that Adi’s declining poll numbers followed a tough and difficult campaign.

The point I am making here is that any poll taken so far out from the actual polling day, particularly with some candidates yet to declare, is no indicator of how anyone might fair out on the big day. This applies to those at the top or the bottom of the poll. We may as well poll as to who will win the 2012 Eurovision inAzerbaijan(Though it’s a fair bet they’ll be East European)

To put it in its crudest terms, this poll seems to me to simply reflect how well the public recognises the candidates’ names, so far.

I say this as the truth is that the Presidential campaign not started yet. Yes, there has been a lot of coverage over the past few weeks, but this has focussed on particular individuals rather than the full slate.

Apart from a few short one to one interviews on the Pat Kenny radio show and his rather terrible Frontline debate where most of the potential candidates stayed away, there has been no opportunity to calmly judge the candidates suitability to be President.

The campaign proper in October will matter. By then we will know who is definitely in the race or who is not. We will start to hear clear messages from each of them why they are the right person to succeed President McAleese. We will hear about their values and their thoughts on what the next seven years should bring.

We, the public will be able to assess and review the candidates individually and collectively over that three to four weeks of intensive campaigning.

The last thing anyone wants or needs is an 11 week campaign. No one’s sanity, patience or tolerance could withstand 75 days of that.

So let us stay calm, wait to see who is in or out and all take a few deep breaths from now until late September when the race can begin in earnest.

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