They say that silly season ends when the Dáil returns from the summer recess. The trend appears to have broken this year as we cope with a barrage of stories surrounding the date of the next general election. The level of speculation has intensified in recent days, prompting a need to clarify the situation. Running a full term has always been the likely scenario for this government, and the situation has not changed materially over the past year. A November election is unlikely for the following reasons:
1. Support for government parties remains weak
With government parties now finally on an upward trend, it is likely for this trend to continue (or even accelerate) during an election campaign. However, this does not change the fact that both government parties remain c. 20% below their record performance at the 2011 general election. Purposely forgoing three extra months to campaign and improve these numbers would be a foolish decision.
2. Support for Labour is even worse
The most recent opinion poll at the time of writing is the Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll taken on September 21st/22nd. It shows Fine Gael on 28% and Labour on 8%. This represents a decline of 8 and 11.5 percentage points respectively since the 2011 election. These declines do not vary strongly from each other, however when taken as a percentage of each party’s 2011 result, the situation becomes more stark.
Of those who voted Fine Gael at the last election, c. 76% would do so today. The corresponding figure for Labour is only 41%.
In short, Labour has little incentive to agree to an early election. It has the greater task to regain support and is likely to demand more time to do so.
3. November is typically dark and wet
Climate data suggest a preference for a spring election. Although temperatures are relatively similar across the November-March period, rainfall is c. 30% less in the spring months, and sunshine hours are improved by c. 48%. This is crucial for campaigning (primarily by door-to-door canvassing). Party supporters are less likely to campaign during dark and wet conditions, and voters are less likely to answer the door.
4. It’s Labour’s call
After five difficult years in coalition, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is conscious that he needs to achieve a second term of cohesive government. Crucial to that cohesiveness will be to maximise seats for both parties (a transfer pact was recently agreed), and to avoid decisions that would irk the junior coalition partner. It is therefore likely that Labour will have the final say on the election date, despite indications to the contrary.
5. The budget takes effect in January 2016
The latest exchequer returns point to an exceptionally positive fiscal position. Tax take continues to run ahead of “profile”, giving the coalition further room to restore household incomes and services. While the budget is announced in October, the impact of measures are not enacted until the following January. An election campaign throughout February 2016 would capture voters following their first paycheck of the year. Households are likely to be in a better financial position at this point, and therefore more likely to support the incumbent government.
6. History points to a spring election
On this occasion the government has no option for a May or June election. The constitution indicates that the election must be held before 8th April 2016. History suggests that spring or summer elections are the clear favourite over winter ones. February stands out in particular as preferred by previous administrations.
The evidence stacks high for a spring election although nothing in politics is certain. In seeking to maximise coalition support, Enda Kenny is likely to choose a date in early 2016.