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*Roisin Garvey with The Clare Echo Editor, Stuart Holly. Photograph: Joe Buckley

The last set of opinion polls for 2021 were announced last weekend and made for interesting reading. The usual caveat that a poll is but a snapshot in time is ever present, but there is still much we can gleam from that snapshot.

Remember the calls of Gilmore for Taoiseach as Labour hit 35% in polls ahead of the 2011 ballot, or Fianna Fáil’s delight at reaching 32% in the first poll after the 2020 election was officially called. Things can change very quickly as voters weigh up options closer to polling day.

Nevertheless, Sinn Féin consistently polling in the low 30’s% is a welcome boost to Mary Lou McDonald’s team as they head into the Christmas recess. The headline figures from the B&A poll last weekend read, SF 34%, FF at 23%, FG on 20%, Greens and Labour on 5% each, Others on 3% and Independents on 9%. This gives an overall landscape consisting of Government parties on 48%, Opposition parties on 42% with Independents making up the rest (with a rounding error responsible for the errant 1% in that poll).

Over the past 30 years in Clare, SF’s poll rating in the county usually tracks at roughly 57% of their national figure. Therefore, a national poll rating above 30% should all but guarantee the party a seat in Clare next time around. With two candidates in the field, with a good geographic spread, they might even hope to still be in the fray for two seats, but this is still unlikely without a massive vote transfer rate from all other parties. The more likely scenario is that one SF candidate being eliminated will elect the other, once their vote is redistributed. The battle there will be between the two candidates to stay ahead of their running mate to take the SF seat on offer.

FF polling at 23% is 1% higher than their 2020 general election result. Given the party took 34% of the vote in Clare off a 22% national poll, a seat for FF looks guaranteed for the party in Clare on current figures too. With better vote management they too would hope to be in the hunt for a second seat once again, but a lot will come down to local factors if their ambition is to be achieved.

Their coalition partners in FG will be disappointed that they appear to have squandered their good poll ratings early in this Government and now are well off the pace set by SF, having been caught by FF. A national figure of 20% is only 1% lower than they scored in 2020 and as such, should see the party return one seat in Clare again, assuming they have good local vote management once more. Otherwise, they could be in danger of ceding a seat and being without representation in Clare for the first time since the death of William Murphy and the loss of the subsequent by-election in 1968.

The Greens put in a good challenge in Clare in 2020 but Róisín Garvey’s hopes of moving from the Senate to the Dáil won’t materialise with her party sitting at 5% nationally, 2 points lower than their polling at the last General Election. As for the rest of the parties, there is little hope of them putting in any challenge worth talking about if the current trend continues. Labour continues to disappoint, and this is reflected in their stagnant poll results. As such, I don’t expect to see them lighting up the Clare electorate soon, save for the selection of a particularly energising big-name candidate. Even then, it’s a long shot!

This leaves the 9% of the electorate that currently say they favour independent candidates. This is over 3% down on the 2020 national polling result for Independents, which may prove some worry for local TD Michael McNamara. However, his stock has risen through a heightened media profile which should offset any national swing away from non-party candidates. His flirtations with the antivaxx voting block were noted with concern by many, but thankfully he has stayed on the right side of the line, instead probing the exact nature of the Government’s role in current decision making, as opposed to being just a rubber stamp to the whims of a singularly focused committee. If I were a gambling man, I’d back the Scarriff native to retain his seat regardless of the national mood towards Independents.

At the end of the day, the Government will have to be happy with the latest set of polls, all of which put Government parties on a higher share of the vote than the combined strength of opposition parties. This may well leave some Independents in the position of king makers, should current trends follow all the way to the next polling day.

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