The Echo Chamber: “Why do people support Fine Gael?”

We’re at the tail-end of March, 2015. The Irish Water protests have waned and opinion polls are showing a rise in support for the coalition government. A recently-published Red C poll shows that Fine Gael have jumped up by three points to 27% and that support for Sinn Fein has dropped by 4 percent.

A lot of people are unhappy about all of this. For many of them, it is difficult to understand how Fine Gael is still the most popular political party in Ireland. I mean, how can the party that introduced water charges still have the public’s backing? What about the Martin Callinan debacle? What about their failure to challenge the big dogs in Europe and get a write-down on our national debt?

The reactions to this poll vary from attempts to discredit the results to lectures about how the people of Ireland “never seem to learn”. “We deserve the politicians that we elect”, remarks one person. Another poster attempts to casts doubt on the results by stating that Red C polls are flawed. Others allude to a media conspiracy that is hell-bent on keeping the current government in power.

All in all, people are having a hard time accepting it.

One of the most telling comments comes from a poster on The Journal:

I’d be more inclined to take 50-80,000 people on the street as a reliable poll on the government’s popularity than a phone call to 1,000.

The poster in question is trying to make the point that 50K-80K anti-water-charges protesters are a better benchmark for popularity than an opinion poll.

This is a flawed statement.

You see, there are a couple of things that are wrong with this comment. Firstly, the Irish voting population consists of over three million people – take 80,000 away from 3,000,000 and you’re left with 2.91 million voters that didn’t show up at the protests. Secondly, a loud minority does not necessarily represent the wants and needs of the silent majority.

When people are annoyed, they protest. When people are content and/or hopeful, they rarely say a thing. To sum it up: A person that attends a demonstration is going to be much louder than a person who thinks that things are heading in the right direction.

There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between young Irish Internet users and the rest of the voting public. The people who expressed surprise and anger at Fine Gael’s standings in recent popularity polls seem to have isolated themselves. They have created their own echo chamber of sorts – posting on websites and communities where people who think like them are more likely to congregate. They like “Anti Fine Gael” and “Anti Irish Water” Facebook pages. They take part in discussions on The Journal. They follow anti-austerity figures on Twitter. Essentially – they have built an online experience that reinforces their political beliefs.

By doing this, they deprived themselves of alternative opinions. Some examples of why people might support Fine Gael:

  • People who have a secure job and/or are happy with the direction that we are heading in do not want to “rock the boat” by voting for “change” (i.e. left-wing parties such as Sinn Fein). Do you blame them?
  • Believe it or not, there are many Irish people who actually support Fine Gael’s social and economic policies (this seems to be a difficult pill to swallow for many).
  • There are many people out there who do not believe in left-wing economics.
  • There are voters out there who are optimistic about the future. These voters were pleased with the positive economic figures for 2014. These will give Fine Gael the benefit of the doubt, simply because things are “heading in the right direction”.
  • A sizeable number of voters fear the possibility of Sinn Fein getting into power. To try and combat this, they will vote for the party that is more likely to beat them to the punch. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

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