By any measurement, the 2019 European and Local Elections have been relatively dull affairs. As we enter the final week of the campaign, it's approaching the brutal phase: where winners and losers are determined.

And the consequences don't end once the final seat has been allocated. Just think back to May 2014, when Eamon Gilmore walked into a press conference at Iveagh House where he served as Minister for Foreign Affairs. He described the European and Local Election outcomes as "a very bad day" for the Labour Party and then promptly resigned as its leader.

So a lot is riding on the next few days for every candidate, every political party and every party leader.

In the elections for the European Parliament, the next big event is the series of three constituency debates, over three successive nights, on RTÉ. Tonight, Prime Time will focus on the Ireland South constituency; on Monday, Claire Byrne Live will cover Dublin; and Prime Time will be back on Tuesday for the Midlands-North-West.

With canvassers suggesting that much of the electorate have yet to make up their minds, there is still a lot to play for. Will there be a sharp exchange between the candidates which defines the debate? Could there be a stunt which backfires? Might it all be a damp squib as candidates get a bout of nerves and pull their punches? The theatre, such as it is, will be watched closely.

While the European Elections garner a lot of media attention, the Local Elections are also of huge significance. That's because they are a particularly good barometer as to how political parties are performing. A strong performance in the locals suggests that a political party is on course to do well in any future general election. Equally, if a party loses a significant number of councillors, then sitting TDs will get very nervous which in turn can have serious consequences for the party leader.

Two opinion polls published today, by the Sunday Times and Sunday Business Post, give us some insight into how the parties stand on the cusp of the final week of campaigning. The Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post suggests a five point drop for Fine Gael on last month's survey. A Behaviour and Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times puts Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil running neck-and-neck. It's worth noting that both polls pick up a spike in support for the Greens of four points.

While opinion polls give us an indication of what way the electorate is thinking of voting, exit polls are inquiring from people leaving polling stations about how they actually voted. Exit polls are also face-to-face interviews, where-as opinion polls can be face-to-face, telephone or even online. Another significant difference is that an exit poll canvasses the opinions of 3,000 voters whereas opinion polls usually involve questioning around 1,000 people. All that means exit polls are more accurate - with a margin of error lower than 2%.

That's why all eyes, at 10pm this coming Friday, will be on the RTÉ / TG4 exit poll carried out by Red C. This data will give a very good indication of what level of first preference support the 59 candidates in the European Elections are likely to garner. That in turn will greatly assist analysts in predicting who is guaranteed a seat and which candidates are likely to be in the shake-up for the final seats.

The exit poll data on party support will be just as interesting to politicians. That's because this information will be used by party backroom teams to assess when a general election should be held.

A surge for Fine Gael could prompt Taoiseach Leo Varadkar into throwing caution to the wind and heading to Áras an Uachtaráin to dissolve the Dáil. An advance by Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, could place irresistible pressure on Micheál Martin to pull the plug on his confidence and supply agreement with the minority coalition government.

The Europeans and locals are sometimes labelled "second order" elections. On this occasion, they could be of primary importance in determining the future direction of the State.


Read more
Elections 2019
24 May: What are we voting on?
Who are the Local Election candidates?
Why the Local Elections matter
Watch: The candidates contesting the EU Elections