THE sigh of relief in Government circles was almost audible.
Last Friday, an opinion poll conducted by TNS mrbi showed opponents of the Lisbon treaty outstripping supporters. The nightmare scenario of a defeat in his first major test as Taoiseach was looming for Brian Cowen.
There was nothing the yes campaign could do but increase its canvassing effort and hope a second opinion poll, due yesterday, delivered better news.
The Red C poll, for the Sunday Business Post, showed the yes side ahead, but by just three points.
It’s a slim lead, but one to which the yes camp clutched, and there is now a sense of cautious optimism among the side.
But the no camp will find plenty of reason for optimism, too.
On the surface, both polls don’t appear to have much in common, and one could be forgiven for recalling that old maxim about lies, damn lies and statistics.
How, for example, could two polls, conducted using similar methodology and published within two days of each other, show the yes side on 42% and 30% respectively? How could two polls show undecideds at 35% and 19%?
But the no campaign will look at the pattern of the two polls, rather than the top-line findings. And the pattern common to both polls is that the no camp is within reach of the yes side and, most crucially, is gaining votes at a quicker speed.
The TNS poll, for example, showed that the no side had gained 17% since mid-May, compared to the yes side’s decrease of five points in the same period.
The Red C poll showed a less dramatic, but still impressive, gain of 6% for the no side since late May, compared to an increase of just one point for the yes camp in the same period.
The no campaign have cause to be happier then, but they too will be cautious, knowing the polls could serve as a wake-up call to previously lethargic supporters of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour — all of which support the treaty — to get out and vote.
So as we enter the final phase, it really is all to play for. One Labour official recalled yesterday the 1996 divorce referendum. It was the closest plebiscite in the history of the State, with 50.3% of people voting yes and 49.7% voting no — less than 1% of a difference.
Lisbon, he speculated, might just give the divorce referendum a run for its money.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved