1) The meltdown
The economy fails to recover strongly. There are more harsh budgets but little sign of any fiscal improvement and hence no opportunity for the government to win over voters furious at how the boom was lost. Fianna Fáil repeats its local election performance and ends up with just over 50 seats, half the combined total of Fine Gael and Labour, who have a thumping 30-plus majority and are looking certain for two terms in office.
Likelihood: Would have been the outcome if the election had been last year but may not happen in a 2012 election, given some form of economic improvement looks likely. Fianna Fáil's ability in fighting elections and voter uncertainty about Fine Gael cannot be ignored as factors.
2) Damage Limitation
The economy starts to recover. Unemployment remains stubbornly high but signs of improvement are definitely visible. There is residual anger about its role in the collapse but the government gets some recognition for taking tough decisions. Enda Kenny stays on as leader of FG but his inability to entirely convince helps the government, as does Brian Lenihan's (right) performance in election debates on the economy. FF loses 12-15 seats – bad but not a wipe-out – and the party has a decent presence on the opposition benches from which to rebuild. Fine Gael and Labour win a comfortable, but not a huge, majority of the seats and form the government.
Likelihood: By some distance, looks the most likely outcome at this point.
3) The Comeback Kids
The economy shows strong signs of growth and unemployment dips below 10%. Consumer sentiment recovers. The recapitalised banks are stabilised. Anger over who caused the bust has dissipated and there is nervousness among the electorate about changing things just when it looks like matters are improving, particularly as Kenny/the new Fine Gael leader Richard Bruton (delete one name depending on events) hasn't convinced. Fine Gael and Labour both gain seats but remain a couple short of an overall majority, but Fianna Fáil and Labour combined have a comfortable working majority. Labour is unwilling to form a three-way coalition with either Sinn Féin or the remaining Green TDs – it instead does a deal with Fianna Fáil.
Likelihood: It won't happen. It can't happen. Can it?