When Campaigns Go Wrong #GE2020

I wrote this piece on Sunday Feb 2nd and it appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Feb 3rd. It was written in the immediate wake of a series of national opinion polls showing Fine Gael slipped further back and Sinn Féin advancing further to either tie with, or pull ahead of Fianna Fáil.

This column looks at the various possible government formation outcomes. I explain why I do not see either a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael grand coalition or a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin coalition as likely. I conclude that the most likely outcome is a Fianna Fáil/Green/Other coalition (probably a minority govt), though it will take weeks, if not months, to negotiate and agree. The only alternative to that is another election. 

I assume, for this coumn, that the polls are broadly correct, but that they both slightly underestimate Fianna Fáil’s support and slightly overestimate Sinn Féin’s. 

GE2020 posters Success has many fathers, defeat is an orphan. As true as this is in sports, it is an absolute certainty in political campaigning. Have no doubt that all those fine young marketing executives who told their colleagues over Christmas how remarkably close they were to the Taoiseach and Fine Gael, now struggle to remember just who Leo, Eoghan or Simon might be.

In the words of the great yellow rose of Finglas, Jim Tunney, there are too many folks around politics who opt to buy their colours coming out of the match, rather than going in.

So, before I look at the events of the last few days and attempt a feeble look forward to what may be to come, let me raise a glass to toast those in all parties and none who are sticking by their party and candidates, despite the polls.

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Stick a fork in @FineGael in #Ge2020

I wrote this #GE2020 analysis for Broadsheet.ie with less than two weeks of campaigning to go. I look at four key sets of data from the four national polls published at this point and conclude that they show no route back to office for Leo Varadkar or Fine Gael 

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With eleven days of this general election campaign to go, the one clear message emerging from the national polls is that it is time to stick a fork in Fine Gael. It is not just done, it is done to a crisp. The only thing rare about Fine Gael in two weeks’ time will be the number of constituencies where it holds more than one seat.

“Hold on there, Mooney” I hear you shout, “…on what are you basing this prediction of doom? You’re the one who’s repeatedly told us that national newspaper polls are not good indicators of how seats will go.”

Yes, I reply. That is true – and extremely well put, I might add. I am also deeply moved that you have been paying such attention to my ramblings here… but, this prediction is not just based on the headline figures on party support, it is based on a series of important findings within those polls.

These findings come from separate polls, but they sit remarkably well together and underpin the trend that has been repeated in the four polls published over the past two weeks.

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Double Down Varadkar in #GE2020

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 20th, after the first week of the #GE2020 campaign and the first national newspaper poll showing the sharp fall in Fine Gael support which I had been predicting for weeks. 

GE2020 postersOf all the possible ways he could have responded to yesterday’s bad poll numbers, the Taoiseach went and picked the worst. Ok, it was not quite the worst. He could have nutted a journo and told the rest of the media entourage assigned to go to hell, so at least he didn’t do that.

Where most other leaders would have taken the: well, it’s just a poll, a snapshot in time, there are three weeks of campaigning to go, the Taoiseach decided to shun humility, restraint or conciliation and went on the attack instead. He warned voters

“I think the opinion poll demonstrates that there is a real risk, a real danger that we’ll have a Fianna Fáil-led government”.

It is an approach we have seen before from this Taoiseach, when things are not going his way: the double down.

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UK Election Has Some Lessons For Us, But Most Must Be Ignored

This analysis piece first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on December 16th 2019. Here I consider the lessons fron the Tory’s big win in the UK general election and how very little of what happened there should or could play well in an Irish general election.  

Varadkar and Johnson

Addressing the 1992 U.S. Republican convention, the former Nixon and Reagan speechwriter and perennially unsuccessful right-wing challenger for the presidential nomination, Pat Buchanan, described that year’s Democrat convention as “…the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history.”

Buchanan’s problem with the 1992 Democrat convention, and its selection of new-comer Bill Clinton as nominee, was that it wrecked Republican plans to paint them as liberal and disconnected. Instead of going to the radical left as Buchanan and President Bush (1) had wanted Clinton moved quickly to the centre and reached out to the working-class voters who had backed Reagan at the two earlier elections.

Desperate to save the Bush strategy, Buchanan was now trying to claim that the Democrats were still fundamentally liberal (a dirty word in American politics) and were only “dressed up as moderates and centrists” to fool the voters.

Buchanan was wrong.

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Digital campaign wars and warm lettuce

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Nov 4th, 2019 and looked at the weekend Fine Gael digital attack on Fianna Fáil which backfired badly and ended weak.

JOC Tweet

Being active on social media is not the same as being good at it. This is something Fine Gael learned yesterday morning.

At 9am it launched a digital attack claiming Fianna Fáil is not producing policies. Pretty basic stuff from a party in government, you’d have thought. Hard to screw that up. Attack the main opposition party for not doing enough. Claim they are just criticising you, trying to score points and acting like an… well… an opposition.

To be fair, Fine Gael got most of the basics right. They produced a decent digital video, loaded with graphics and charts and pumped it out across social media platforms. They backed it up with a press release in the name of Colm Brophy TD, hoping that the following day’s print media would pick up on it.

So far, so meh… yet, within barely an hour their digital campaign was not just misfiring, it was backfiring and going down in flames.

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Polling mays and may nots

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 17th 2019 and followed the latest Red C poll which showed the two main parties neck and neck and on a combined total of 57%. At the 2016 general election the two parties were also 1% apart, but on a combined total of just 50%. I have thought for a long while that the two parties combined will poll around 60% at the next general election and, right now, I would predict Fianna Fáil to pull ahead of Fine Gael by anywhere between 2% and 4%

Red C

Conventional political wisdom used to say that the parties in government welcomed long Dáil recesses. Not only did they free Ministers up from having to hang around Leinster House answering awkward questions, on and off the record, from smartass opposition TDs, irritating journos and panicking backbenchers, they were a time for the government parties to get back on message and hopefully get their poll numbers up.

The idea was that Dáil sittings broadly tend to favour the main opposition parties when it comes to opinion polls, as their insolent haranguing of the Taoiseach is featured nightly on the TV news. Dáil recess means no Dáil TV coverage and no Dáil TV coverage means less of a platform for the opposition to catch the news cycle.

The high visibility, and audibility, of the Taoiseach over the summer would suggest that his team subscribe to this wisdom. He was seen to be out and about. His appearances at the Kennedy and MacGill Summer Schools and the West Belfast Féile an Phobail went down well.

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