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Lets Move on From Polls


I know that the last fortnight has yielded a veritable landslide of polls from most if not all the major media outlets in the country, another one today over at the Irish Times (here, subs req'd). In terms of its own inherent news value, the poll says 54% would like a change in government (though not necessarily a Fine Gael/Labour/Green concoction).
Other notables;
FF: 36% +2
FG: 25% unchanged
Lab: 14% unchanged
SF: 10% -1
Green: 5% +1
PD: 4% unchanged

Reaction aplenty over at the politics.ie forum. Though I am far more concerned about the manner in which these polls are rapidly turning discourse at the start of the new term into talk of elections and giving the impression of one long campaign up until 2007 sometime.
The benefit to the government of the emergence of polls cannot be downplayed. A guy like Eddie Hobbs can do immense amount of damage with his 'polemic' and many others can too, the government has a hard time combatting criticism as much of it is merited these days.
A poll however offers them the sole opportunity to do just that, they can use the numbers in the same way they throw spending figures at us, not in terms of qualitative value but as matters of factual improvement. The poll offers them a backdoor response to criticism by citing their past record on this or that and saying that they are listening etc.
I am not rallying against polls per se, it just seems that some editors have come under the illusion the next election is around the corner, well it aint, at least not until SSIA time which will boost the Coalition no end.
Yet the 'misdirection' afforded the governing parties by polls, offering cover from engaging with criticism and problems, can be most damaging at moments like these. The dail is due to return next week and a snapshot is arguably quite handy to have, yet broader discussions are at play which deeply require the oxygen of publicity, in weeks these results will be consigned to memory, yet privatisation of he health system will still loom large on the agenda, as will issues of pensions, equality, taxation and commitment to a fair society.
The examiner reports that the Green party are planning to tackle the Government next week on just such a platform, criticising performance and policy is the job of opposition, responding and adapting is the job of government. The role of defending your numbers to journalists is establishment navel gazing. Many of us will not be called to vote any time soon, yet our opinion needs to be cemented on issues of the day.
The rhetoric rolling from the parties in the past few days, including 'major' speeches by Rabbitte et al, seems to be a proper symptom of movement toward the middle in a rational attempt to attain major votes from those who participate. The only party seeming to motivate new voters is Sinn Fein, their growth standing as testament to their strategy, irrelevant of morality.
So the release of polls merely supports the theory that a move to over-populate the centre ground will merely cement existing levels, alienating those already disillusioned with the political system and no longer entertaining their needs or interests in policy considerations. Perhaps the transformation of Rabbitte is most marked in this regard.
Many of us are concerned over the issues of national consideration outlined above, yet it seems that much of the Dail bubble is more focussed on the material politics at the moment of support and votes, little time or account is given to the normative function of the interim between elections in deciding direction, deducing goals from first principles and carrying the electorate with you to support your moves.
To be honest it seems that not tying themselves to coalitions this early in the political cycle is benefitting the greens by giving them space to breath and find their feet on issues of policy, many may well scoff at stereotypical environmentalists etc, but they are doing and will do some serious running on policy where others will focus on strategy and numbers. The electorate are not stupid and increasingly refuse to be considered as rationally reducible numbers in the voting game. Those parties like Sinn Fein and the Greens whice ostracised or scoffed in mainstream circles have sufficient space to exercise normative discussion about Social Justice, inclusion, the North and other areas.
Many feared that this might befall Labour post pact as it was forced to row-in behind FG policy position and reenforce the stsus quo of argument. Perhaps they may be correct as well as those who said it will increase votes.
The triumph at this early period of process over policy (hat-tip:ie-politics) seems to suggest that the mainstream has learned little about reengaging a political process and has little interest in being seen to include those at the fringe and sidelines. Doing so reduces the pool of votes as turnout falls and makes a move to the centre both the cause and solution to our problems.
I reckon that the true benefit in the preoccupation of our system with polls and snapshots will go to the parties who bravely leave the mothers breast of numbers and rational certainty, make arguments and find a responsive audience in the electorate.
Meanwhile, our front pages and airwaves should be implicit in encouraging policy from first principles and helping to construct the myriad of those principles we believe in.
As a progressive i feel that the polls are reducing the output of discourse and stymying the wealth of tough questions we as a society must grapple with.
How we treat our newest, oldest, youngest and poorest, how responsible we are to the sick and the well and how run-down our structures are becoming in delivering our desired outcomes might be considered as questions of today rather than the short vox-pop of election 2007.
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