Mary Lou McDonald is going to face a few difficult questions come Monday morning. The immediate reaction on Twitter to the RTE exit poll from GE2020 is one of delight by Sinn Fein supporters and many on the left. No doubt it is a big moment for them, but by the middle of next week they will realise the missed opportunity. FG and FF were both there for the taking. The simple, basic truth is that Sinn Fein didn’t run enough candidates.
Remember, the final Irish Times / MRBI poll a week ago, put Sinn Fein at 25% of the vote. If tonight’s exit poll is accurate they have lost momentum in the last few days of the campaign. The reason for this is a mix of the media and their own campaign strategy.
Sinn Fein spent the last few day of the election cycle on the defensive responding and apologizing to the Quinn family. As I said earlier in the week the decision to campaign for inclusion in the final debate and ultimately winning that battle probably worked against them. It freed up the news cycle to start digging up mud to sling at them in the last few days of #GE2020.
Lest we forget this has consistently been the media approach to Sinn Fein in the last few days of every major election campaign in the last 10 years when they appear to be on the cusp of making a major breakthrough. Irish media 101 is to remind everyone that deep down they are bad guys. Every election cycle it kinda of works. It would appear it has worked to the tune of 3% in this election. But let’s not forget the real mistake here and it’s one of Sinn Fein’s own making.
Sinn Fein simply didn’t run enough candidates in the right places. I am willing to believe now that if Sinn Fein ran 55 candidates instead of the 42 that they ran – they would be the largest party in the country tonight by some distance. The dead cat’s bounce that they always get from a focused negative media attack, in the last three days of an election campaign, would not have counted. Mary Lou McDonald didn’t run enough candidates to capitalize on the wind at her back.
In a lot of ways 22% of the vote is the perfect result given the mistakes Sinn Fein made in candidate selection. If 42 candidates had delivered more the questions would have been even more problematic. The litmus test for Sinn Fein tomorrow is to compare their final seat results with Labour in 1992. Dick Spring also ran 42 candidates and returned 33 seats from 19.3% of the vote. Granted the Dail size has reduced by a handful in that time but if Sinn Fein don’t beat this number easily with over 22% of the vote – election strategy will be called into question. Rightly.
Sinn Fein’s seat return will be examined all the more because of the 3 way tie. FF and FG also returned 22% so it will be impossible to ignore the disparity in the number of seats each party returns. And ask why.
Sinn Fein will almost certainly come last in that department. We are in a hugely interesting situation – one of FG or FF are going to reap the rewards of a massively lop-sided seat bonus. Exit polls tend to underestimate Fianna Fail support by 1-2 % over the last couple of elections. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues in #GE2020 and if it does it might be enough to to swing those seats the FF way.
After the startling success of the Greens in the European and local elections the Irish electorate have taken a time-out in this election. At close to 8% it is a significant vote but not a decisive one. To me it’s a vote where the Irish electorate have said climate change is real and we want to do something about it but it’s not by taking a wrecking ball to the economy. The electorate response to the Greens seems to be that Yes we recognise that the whole heating system in our house needs to be replaced but we don’t want to raze our homes to the ground in order accomplish it. I would suggest that if any party wants Ireland to fully embrace climate change as a political venture they need to figure out how we can do it and make money at the same time.
No doubt tonight is a big night for Sinn Fein – the criticism above is not meant in a vindictive sense but rather to point out it could and should have been a lot better. Both FG and FF were on the ropes. The result has allowed both to stumble back to their stools to catch breath. Except in politics the respite isn’t one minute but 5 years. They will regroup. Under no circumstances should Sinn Fein consider going into government based on this result. Consolidate the gains in opposition and be ready to really lead a government in 4 or 5 years time. Tonight Sinn Fein have proven they are now a big party in the Republic. The first item on the agenda to remain one is to stop running election campaigns like they’re a small one.
Our earlier article on the Sinn Fein Bounce is here