Saving The Battleground




From top: Swing states that can decide the US Presidential Election; Derek Mooney

The battleground stakes will decide the US Presidential election while Ireland’s political battleground is the new and first time voter.

Derek Mooney writes:

There are now, mercifully, only two more weeks of campaigning left in the U.S. presidential election. These campaigns seem to start earlier and last longer with each electoral cycle.

This one started early in 2015 with Hilary Clinton launching her bid in April, and Donald Trump launching his, descending a golden escalator, in June.

Paradoxically, while the modern presidential campaigns have been expanding in length, they have (until this cycle) been contracting in their reach, with the focus going to the 9 or 10 swing/battleground states seen as potentially winnable by either side.

They are the States that both candidates and their surrogates have visited most regularly. They are where the campaigns have focussed their biggest spends. Voters living in States such as Florida, Ohio Virginia, can expect to receive multiple messages from either candidate seeking their vote.

Live in one of the other 40 or so States and you won’t get much attention.

You won’t get the big campaign visits, the telephone canvassing or the big TV adverts. It is as if your vote is not as important or as valuable, as your State is seen as being firmly and unshakeably in either the Dem or GOP column and not in play.

The same is true in the UK. About 56% of the seats in the UK. are viewed as so secure and safe as to be hardly worth contesting. Both the Labour and Tory parties each have a slew of safe seats where their majorities are so large that they could, in the caustic words of the late Tony Banks MP, run “a pig’s bladder on a stick” and get them elected.

So, just like the US., UK. general elections are fought and decided in a number of swing/battleground constituencies.

This is no coincidence. One of the main reasons for US. and UK. elections being played out in only a portion of constituencies is the voting system. Both use the first-past-the-post system where the winner is the one who gets more votes than the next highest person.

The U.S. presidential system has the added complication of the Electoral College of 538 votes. Each State has a number of votes in the Electoral College, roughly proportionate to its population and these are allocated to the winning candidate, but let’s not make this too complicated just now.

One of the other consequences of using a first-past-the-post voting system is that it usually leads to – and probably enshrines – a two party system: hence the Dems and GOP in the U.S. and the Tories and Labour in the UK.

Our PR system means that every vote counts and that you cannot ignore large swathes of territory or take groups of voters for granted. The multiple seat aspect makes our system even more competitive again. In multiple seat constituencies the campaign battle is often fought on two fronts with the competition occurring not just between parties, but also between candidates from the same party.

As a former campaign manager I can tell you that I often spent as much time and energy tracking the activity of our own party running mates as I did of the other crowds.

This is not to say that campaigns do not target swing voters or battlegrounds areas as in the US or the UK. it is just that they are not as easily identifiable or grouped geographically.

New and first time voters are one such a key battleground as parties know that new voters no longer just vote the way their parents did.

Irish voters have become more willing to change their party allegiance. They are now, to use a phrase a colleague of mine coined some years ago, more politically promiscuous. This is not something new. The trend was evident as far back as the 1990s, though it was blurred by the strength and attraction of the Bertie factor back then.

Voters have to be won over and won back at each election. Their loyalty cannot be presumed from electoral cycle to electoral cycle.

OK, although I have just spent the last 600 plus words trying to explain why we do not have definable electoral battlegrounds here like those in the UK. and the US., let me try a dreadfully unscientific exercise to show where we might have some non-definable, non geographic battlegrounds.

Though the hard numbers may differ, most of the recent opinion polls have shown minimal movement between the parties and groupings since the last election.

The results have been fairly consistent put Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael within an ass’s roar of each other with support levels in the mid-to-high 20s, trailed by Sinn Féin in third place in the mid to high teens, and then by the “others” – who largely stay where they were, or drop slightly.

So, taking this minimal movement as a starting point let me take a huge leap and submit (i.e. presume) that all bar the last seats in the 40 Dáil constituencies can be considered reasonably safe – though I know that such a suggestion will send the incumbents into paroxysms of rage.

So, if an election were to be called in the near future the virtual “battleground” of these 40 last seats would break down as follows (based on who now holds these final seats):

Fine Gael 18
Fianna Fáil 8
Sinn Féin 3
Labour 4
Others 7 (Inds, Ind Alliance, AAAPBP, Green)

Fine Gael’s total here is somewhat overstated as it held some of these final seats against another FG candidate. If you crudely correct for that (by going to the second last seat in each case) you get the following “battlegrounds”:

Fine Gael 13
Fianna Fáil 8
Sinn Féin 6
Labour 4
Others 9 (Inds, Ind Alliance, AAAPBP, Green)

This still leaves Fine Gael potentially quite vulnerable. It is far more susceptible to a swing against it than any other party, with the exception of the Labour party which has 4 out of its 7 seats in this potential battleground. Fianna Fáil is in a stronger position with about 82% of its current lot of seats looking secure. The figure for Sinn Féin is about 74%.

Obviously this back of the envelope exercise ignores a range of critically important factors including election timing, retirement of sitting TDs, automatic re-election of the Ceann Comhairle and, of course, how the next election campaign is fought and how big is the swing, if any.

This is just intended as a very general indication of the virtual battlegrounds which may be in play.

The good news is that these battlegrounds are so virtual and undefinable that every vote will count.The bad news is that because every vote will count, when the next election comes you can expect to be asked for that vote several times over, unlike the good people of the least swing State in the U.S. Kansas.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Monday mid-afternoon. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


19 thoughts on “Saving The Battleground

  1. Cot

    Could Derek tell us which FF politician was involved in hushing up the Mary Boyle case. And the Father Molloy case for that matter.

  2. Spaghetti Hoop

    One of many incorrect facts: Hillary Clinton, then Senator, launched her campaign for presidency in 2007. Two elections ago yes, but still important to this piece and the context of her current campaign.

    Also “‘an ass’s roar” is not the type of language I would expect from a communications and public affair consultant.

    1. Derek Mooney

      My advice to clients is always to keep it simple, to use their own words and employ their own natural phraseology and cadences, That applies here. As to specific phrase: it is a descriptive colloquialism which the vast majority of readers will easily understand.

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        My advice to you is to steer away from the inflammatory use of ‘battle ground’ in your synopsis of the US political system. If you know anything about the US Civil War and its aftermath you would know better. Don’t stoke embers into a fire, as they say colloquially.

        1. Kieran NYC

          ‘Battleground state’ is a common term in political discourse over here.

          No one gets triggered by a Civil War connotation.

        2. Starina

          battleground is a very common term in American elections. i have never seen anyone associate it in this context with the civil war before. don’t make stuff up, please.

      2. Deluded

        A point of pedantry, Derek.
        An ass’s roar is loud and can be heard from a great distance, hence the expression “not within an ass’s roar of…” meaning very far away.
        To describe, therefore, two entities as within an ass’s roar of each other is meaningless.

        1. Brother Barnabas

          But now that he’s got you thinking, Derek, what are you thoughts? A little curious, I bet, yes?

          For the record, I think you’d be hot as fire in a pair of assless chaps.

  3. Kieran NYC

    That reminds me. I need to finally read What’s the Matter with Kansas? Several friends have recommended it.

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