OPINION polls. Yes, those modern day inventions that make handy money for the polling companies. They are offered to the public with all the belief and fervour that even the best sales people would envy. On many occasions, they have been as useless as a lighthouse in the Bog of Allen.
In a constituency the size of Mayo, it is my ‘opinion’ that you cannot get any real grasp of voting intentions by sampling around 500 voters and that to pretend to do so is just entering the Hans Christian Anderson world of fairytales. (In 2002, the MRBI company carried out a poll in Mayo which stated that Michael Ring, Jim Higgins and Tom Moffatt would all be elected on the first count. Both Higgins and Moffatt lost their seats).
Only people who work on the ground and among the grassroots can pick up the little stirrings that hint at a drift one way or another towards candidates.
Last week, the Western People published an opinion poll conducted by the Red C company. Some of the findings were ludicrous and I’ll tell you why. It showed Fine Gael taking 50 per cent of the first preference vote and ending up with two seats. On the other hand, Fianna Fáil’s three candidates, plus Beverley Flynn, have a combined tally of 37 per cent and they end up winning three seats!
Both John Carty and Dara Calleary (eleven per cent each) have virtually three times as many first preference votes apiece as their colleague Frank Chambers (four per cent), which to anyone with a basic understanding of Mayo politics knows is total bunkum. Frank Chambers is a real contender for a seat and none of his party colleagues is dismissing him out of the equation. There would appear to be grassroots evidence that Beverley Flynn is holding steady.
It goes without saying that Michael Ring (21 per cent) and Enda Kenny (20 per cent) will not receive two out of every five votes cast in Mayo. Neither will each of them poll five times more votes apiece than their party colleague John O’Mahony (four per cent). The Mayo manager, as Fine Gael strategists will tell you, is better placed than four per cent in the polls. If Fine Gael take 50 per cent and can’t bring in O’Mahony or Michelle Mulherin, it will be horrid bad vote management.
Jerry Cowley showed up at eight per cent and this may be close to the mark. The Mulranny GP realises he is in a tough fight this time around but he has ample notice to try and rectify matters.
One of the greatest laughs of the poll published last week was the placing of Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Murray on three per cent. This would equate to a reduction in his Council vote in the Swinford Electoral area where he headed the poll in 2004! I can assure any polling company out there that Murray is over seven per cent and, with the Sinn Féin momentum on a roll in the aftermath of the elections up North, he remains very much the dark horse in May’s election.