Dan White: Forget polls - money talks
When it comes to predicting General Election results I have only one piece of advice: follow the money. Forget what the polls and pundits are saying. Talk is cheap. The bookies generally don't get it wrong.
In my experience, the money people are prepared to wager with their bookie is a far more accurate predictor of the likely election outcome. Money is unsentimental and not distorted by loyalties or preconceptions.
The bookies are offering all sorts of bets on today's election. Who will become Taoiseach or Tanaiste, how many seats will each party win, when will Enda Kenny's hair fall out etc.
However, for those of us who want to get a handle on the likely results, the best guide is the odds being offered by the bookies on individual constituency battles.
Trying to predict the results of Irish General Elections exclusively on the basis of national opinion polls is asking for trouble. This is because such polls are unable to capture the combination of transfers and local issues which often decide the crucial last seat in each constituency. The odds being offered on candidates contesting each constituency are far more likely to pick up these vibes.
After examining the odds being offered on each constituency by Ireland's three largest bookmakers, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Boylesports, it would appear Fine Gael is on course to win 74-76 seats. While this would be by far the best result in its history, it would still fall short of the 80 seats being predicted earlier this week.
Fianna Fail will have far more cause for disappointment when the ballot boxes are opened tomorrow, with the party on track for as few as 20 seats. If the bookies are right Fianna Fail could be reduced to just two seats in the capital.
Mary Hanafin is fighting for her political life in Dun Laoghaire while Michael Mulcahy is facing an uphill struggle to retain his seat in Dublin South-Central from the twin threats of Fine Gael's Colm Brophy and People Before Profit's Joan Collins.
Minister for Community Affairs Pat Carey's seat in Dublin North-West is looking far more vulnerable as is that of Sean Haughey in Dublin North-Central. Other likely high-profile Fianna Fail casualties in the capital include government chief whip John Curran in Dublin Mid-West and Conor Lenihan in Dublin South-West.
The outlook for Fianna Fail's former coalition partners the Greens is even bleaker. They are unlikely to have any seats in the new Dail. Party leader John Gormley is almost certain to lose his seat in Dublin South-East.
One of the new TDs taking his seat for the first time on March 9 is almost certainly going to be outspoken Senator Shane Ross. All of the bookies are quoting extremely short odds on the scourge of the quangos switching his political base to the lower house. Joe Higgins is also likely to regain the Dublin West Dail seat he lost in 2007.
Add it all up and the bookies' odds are pointing to somewhere in the region of 74-76 seats for Fine Gael, 36-40 seats for Labour, 20-24 seats for Fianna Fail, 16-18 seats for Sinn Fein and up to a dozen independents.
If the bookies are right, the most recent opinion polls have been understating the true level of Labour Party and Sinn Fein support and overstating that of Fianna Fail, with punters certainly believing that what has been Ireland's most successful political party for the past 80 years is on track for its worst defeat ever.