THE first opinion polls since the election date was announced has confirmed exactly what’s this columnist has been suggesting for the past year or so.
That’s the fact the outcome is destined to be much closer than generally indicated.
The results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showed the combined vote of the Coalition parties is well below the level required to be sure of winning a second successive term in office when voters go to the polls on Friday, February 26.
The breakdown was Fine Gael, 28 per cent (down two points), the Labour Party, seven per cent (no change), Fianna Fáil, 21 per cent (up two), Sinn Féin, 19 per cent (down two), and Independents/Others, 25 per cent (up two).
If these figures are replicated on election day, the number of seats per party would be Fine Gael 58, Fianna Fáil 35, Independents and others 36, Sinn Féin 25 and the Labour Party 4.
The strong showing by independents and smaller parties was one of the main features of the poll. So was the narrowing in the gap between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
It will be interesting to see how these figures translate to a constituency like Mayo.
While it is not expected at this time that an independent or smaller party candidate will be seriously in contention for a seat, they can still have a big say on the outcome in terms of transfers.
But what the statistics are indicating more than anything in a Mayo perspective is that Fine Gael’s objective of winning three seats out of four is looking less likely by the day.
It would, obviously, be unprecedented for an outgoing Taoiseach to lose his seat even if there is a strong feeling in many pockets of the county that Enda Kenny has not done enough for his own.
So that leaves Michael Ring or Michelle Mulherin with a battle on their hands. Ring would love the word to go out that he’s in trouble. But it’s hard to see it in view of the fact he has been the one TD seen most allocating money to towns, parishes and villages across the county.
Deputy Mulherin knows that every vote is precious to her and she will not be found wanting in terms of spirit and determination. In effect, however, it looks like she will have to unseat an outgoing Taoiseach or Minister of State to save her own one.
Nothing is impossible in politics, of course. One analyst who remains convinced that Deputy Mulherin will be okay is Adrian Kavanagh of NUI, Maynooth, an expert whose views are often published in this column.
His party support estimates for Mayo, based on the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, give Fine Gael a 55% share, which he believes will convert into three seats for the party, with the other seat going to Fianna Fáil on 21%. Sinn Féin is on 13% , with independents on 11.
It’s not easy to call as nobody can accurately predict how transfers are going to pan out.