BERTIE AHERN’S influence on Fianna Fáil’s election fortunes may have been greatly overstated, a new study has suggested.
The study also confirms a long-held view of TDs: namely that getting potholes fixed in their constituency is much more valuable to their re-election hopes than any crucial legislative work they may do in the Dáil.
The analysis of Irish voters was carried out by academics at Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast, who surveyed more than 2,500 voters following the 2002 general election.
The results were published last night in a book entitled, The Irish Voter: The Nature of Electoral Competition in the Republic of Ireland, which the authors say provides a comprehensive analysis of the motives, outlook and behaviour of voters.
The study found that enduring loyalty to a party, often inherited from parents, was one of the principle reasons for people voting the way they did.
“I think the benchmark is that people have enduring loyalties to parties, the source of which is not easy to get at, but it’s quite clear that many people effectively inherit those from their parents, even now,” said Prof Michael Marsh, Associate Professor of Political Science at TCD and one of the book’s authors.
The role of leaders such as Mr Ahern, by contrast, is overstated, the book says.
Mr Ahern led Fianna Fáil to a comfortable re-election victory in 2002, the year studied, and it was generally believed his widespread popularity had contributed immensely to that result.
But Prof Marsh said: “Leaders can help their parties, but effects are marginal, even in the case of Bertie Ahern.
“The local candidate is much more important. It’s much clearer that people will vote for a candidate they think is good even if they don’t think the party is good, whereas very few people will vote for a leader who is good if they don’t like the party.”
Voters evaluate these candidates on the basis of what they have done for their constituency, according to the study.
“Politicians are professionals, they know what gets them re-elected, and what gets them re-elected is not performing in the Dáil, it’s the potholes, it’s knocking on the doors, and in fact, knocking on the doors in the campaign does seem to be significant in terms of turning out the vote and getting people to vote for the person who knocked on the door,” he told RTÉ radio.
While general elections are different to referendums, he said there were lessons to be learned from the study for both sides campaigning on the Lisbon Treaty.
“The study does underline the apparent importance of the door-to-door canvas in winning support and getting out the vote, which may also hold lessons for both the pro- and the anti-Lisbon campaigns.”
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