Can Social Democrats keep the ‘bounce’?

March 13th, 2023 8:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

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THE bounce being experienced by the Social Democrats (SD) as revealed by last weekend’s Ireland Thinks poll will give great energy to the relatively new party. The fact that the boost comes just days after Skibbereen woman Holly Cairns took over the reins of the party is not that surprising.

Many parties see a temporary ‘bounce’ in the days following a refresh at the top. And Cairns’ elevation to this role created a huge amount of publicity in the days just prior to the Sunday Independent-commissioned poll being taken.

The big question now is just how temporary will this increase be? Can the party hold onto the new support that they have garnered – with a more than doubling of approval, from 4% to 9%?

For a long time the party was stagnating and didn’t seem to be able to capitalise on the goodwill that many felt it was encountering on the doorsteps.

But the dramatic change at the top last week now appears to have been well-timed and, as Ms Cairns has noted, the tide does seem to be changing somewhat on the Irish political landscape. 

While Sinn Féin has been a thorn in the side of the two major parties in recent years, this poll reported a drop of 2% in support for the party. Unfavourable mentions in a recent high profile court case have no doubt reminded certain elements of the electorate of its dark historical connections, but they may also have simply fallen victim to the rise in Social Democrats’ support.

The only other party to see a rise in approval ratings, apart from the SDs, was Fianna Fáil, with a modest rise of just 1% to a fairly unimpressive 19%, no doubt buoyed by the popularity of its leader, Micheál Martin who, at 45%, is still just two points ahead of Cairns’ 43% rating.

That latter figure is an incredible achievement for a politician who only got involved in national politics before the last general election. But Deputy Cairns’ success has been characterised by one common thread: the element of surprise. From her entry into local politics, by the margin of one vote, to her attaining the last seat in Cork South West in 2019 – none of it could have been predicted. That last seat was won after she stole a march on Fine Gael’s Tim Lombard, with the help of transfers from Cllr Paul Hayes – himself a former Sinn Féin member.

Then her rise within the Social Democrats itself, after being handed the difficult agriculture and disability portfolios (as well as food, marine, rural development and social justice), was somewhat meteoric. She rose to prominence in no time with her no-nonsense contributions in Leinster House.

It is also a mark of her abilities that none of her party colleagues felt any progress would be made by challenging her for the top job.As a result, last weekend’s poll results are probably not so surprising, when taken in that context.

But the Irish electorate are a fickle bunch, and nothing can be taken for granted. The next election is still a long away off, and the parties have two more hurdles to negotiate first – the local and European elections.

These will prove to be interesting bellwethers for all major players, and also for the not-to-be-under-estimated independent groupings. But not as interesting as the next general election outing, of course.

With all three current TDs in Cork South West looking fairly comfortable in their seats, it is hard to see who can pose a threat to the current status quo. Fine Gael’s drop to 21% on a national scale does not augur well for the party regaining any seats in this part of the country, and despite the popularity of Sinn Féin on a national stage, they do not have a tangible presence here currently. The loss of Liadh Ní Riada, although from the northern end of the region, is another blow to their profile in Cork, at a time when enticing more women into the political arena is proving increasingly difficulty due to the toxicity of social media.

If nothing else, the next three elections (local, Eurpean, general) will provide classic armchair entertainment for all political addicts. 

Start stocking up on the popcorn.

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