Brexit Holds the Key to Election

Published by: Richard Colwell


The summer is over and the Dail returns this week, with the three questions of Brexit, Budget and Elections on everyone’s mind.  So, can the government in its current form a) outlast any Brexit negotiation period and b) get a budget signed off, with the pressure of a possible election on the cards?

Polling of first preference vote by party gives us some indication of just how closely this imminent election will be fought.  In todays poll both larger parties are in spitting distance of each other.  Fine Gael just about take the lead securing 29% of the first preference vote – but this is still some way down on the highs of 33% seen at the start of the year.

In contrast Fianna Fail end up just behind on 28% of the vote.  While this does leave them just in second place, it represents a 4% gain in support since before the Local and European Elections and suggests that the two parties are virtually neck and neck in the minds of the electorate.

Evidence in recent elections would suggest that Fianna Fail tend to do better at the ballot box than polls suggest, so why would the party wait till May 2020, as Leo Varadkar has suggested as a good date for any election?  The key to this of course is Brexit.   However, it’s not just about providing stability for Ireland during the negotiations, it’s also to do with the fact that Brexit is such a vote winner for Fine Gael.

For evidence of this just look at the results, when the public are asked which leader of the two main parties, was the best to lead the country through the Brexit crisis.  Leo Varadkar significantly outpolls his rival Micheál Martin by 47% to 34%, in stark contrast to how tight stated vote intention is for the two parties they lead.  Even a third of Fianna Fail voters see Varadkar as the best option to lead on Brexit.

Brexit is a very real and tangible concern for voters, and in the current environment it somewhat overshadows all else.  Already, we have seen a significant decline in consumer confidence as concerns about the impact from Brexit are taken on board by voters.  In today’s poll we also see that 20% of voters claim to have already cut back spending in preparation for a possible downturn.

Fine Gael have been seen to perform well throughout the negotiations and are seen as safe pair of hands with regard to Brexit.  In contrast the party has perhaps not fared as well in the public’s perception on things like housing, health and even what was a core strength of prudence economic competence.

With this in mind, it would appear to be prudent from a party point of view for Pascal Donoghue to announce a low spend “No Deal” based Budget is likely.  This potentially helps to re-build the parties reputation for economic competence and is likely to sit well with many voters.  When asked the majority (61%) of voters would prefer increased spending on public service over personal tax cuts or increases in social welfare.  Although, they also have to bear in mind that despite the need to show prudence, it is Fine Gael voters (42%) who would more like to see tax cuts, than those supporting Fianna Fail (36%) or the Greens (14%).

With these factors in mind, it makes sense for Fianna Fail to try and score points over aspects of the budget, but ultimately to support it for now while Brexit negotiations continue.  Why fight a vote during Brexit negotiations, with the party whose strength is around Brexit, when a few months later there is a chance to fight one with the focus on a more domestic agenda?

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September 2019 Poll