Adrian Kavanagh (11 June 2010)
The Irish Times/Ispos MRBI poll, published in The Irish Times on Friday June 11th (also discussed here), rates Labour as the most popular political party in the state at present and also suggests that Sinn Féin will win that party’s highest share of the national vote since the 1920s. The poll figures offer a more sobering picture for Fine Gael, whose support levels now stand at just 1% higher than what the party won in 2007, while the threat of Electoral Armageddon hangs over the heads of the government parties, with Fianna Fáil likely to lose half of the its seats and the Green Party expected to lose all of the party’s six seats should these poll figures be replicated in a subsequent general election.
The proportion of seats won by parties in Irish general elections does not tend to measure up exactly to their actual share of the first preference vote (although the system is decidedly more proportional than its UK counterpart), mainly because party’s first preference votes need to be filtered through the system of Irish electoral constituencies. In order to address this question, I attempt to estimate what party first preference votes would be in different constituencies, assuming similar (proportional) change in party vote shares in all constituencies, as I did with the earlier RedC poll analyses. The only difference in this case is that my estimates are based on changing party supports levels regionally (based on party support by province figures referred to in the analysis by Stephen Collins) rather than nationally, given that regional breakdowns in support are, by and large, available for this poll. How does this work? Well, for instance, Fianna Fail’s share of the vote in Dublin is estimated in this poll to now stand at just two-sevenths of the level of support that the party won in 2007, while Labour support in the Dublin region is estimate to be over twice the vote share that the party won in the capital in the last election. So for any Dublin constituency, the Fianna Fail support levels would be estimated at two-sevenths of the percentage support levels achieved by Fianna Fail in 2007 in that constituency and the Labour support level would be estimated at twice the 2007 percentage support levels.
This of course is a very rough model, and ignores the fact that changing support levels between elections tend to vary geographically, even within specific provinces or regions, and also the impact that territory transfers, brought in by the 2007 Constituency Commission report, would have on vote share (although changing numbers of seats are taken account of). On the assumption that the base level of Labour support in Roscommon-South Leitrim and Mayo will have been added to by the recent acquisitions of John Kelly and Jerry Cowley (with the base level of Fianna Fáil support being similarly improved by the return of Beverley Flynn to the fold), I have added these candidates 2007 levels to the Labour (and Fianna Fáil) support levels in these constituencies to generate more realistic estimates there. Based on these estimated figures, I proceed to estimate the destination of seats in the different constituencies in each of the different region/provinces and then to aggregate these to complete the national estimates.
My estimates as to what parties’ shares of the first preference votes in the different constituencies would be:
|Cork North Central||14.6%||23.9%||29.0%||2.3%||14.3%||15.9%|
|Cork North West||31.5%||48.3%||16.7%||3.5%||0.0%||0.0%|
|Cork South Central||22.3%||30.3%||26.7%||6.8%||11.1%||2.9%|
|Cork South West||20.6%||36.9%||26.8%||5.2%||10.5%||0.0%|
|Donegal North East||34.3%||24.3%||7.5%||3.1%||21.3%||9.4%|
|Donegal South West||34.0%||24.4%||11.3%||3.4%||25.5%||1.4%|
|Dublin Mid West||13.6%||14.9%||32.9%||5.7%||17.3%||15.6%|
|Dublin North Central||18.0%||31.5%||21.7%||2.7%||7.0%||19.0%|
|Dublin North East||13.8%||24.0%||38.3%||3.0%||21.0%||0.0%|
|Dublin North West||15.8%||9.7%||47.8%||1.1%||23.0%||2.5%|
|Dublin South Central||10.1%||13.2%||46.9%||2.3%||14.0%||13.5%|
|Dublin South East||11.1%||21.7%||46.8%||6.8%||8.3%||5.4%|
|Dublin South West||12.2%||18.8%||45.4%||1.5%||17.2%||4.9%|
|Kerry North-West Limerick||11.9%||26.0%||23.8%||1.2%||33.4%||3.7%|
My guess-timate as to the destination of seats in all of the constituencies (Note: these figures assume that Fianna Fail are guaranteed a seat in Louth because Seamus Kirk, as Ceann Comhairle, will be automatically returned to the Dáil):
|Cork North Central||1||2||1|
|Cork North West||1||2|
|Cork South Central||1||2||2|
|Cork South West||1||1||1|
|Donegal North East||1||1||1|
|Donegal South West||1||1||1|
|Dublin Mid West||1||2||1|
|Dublin North Central||1||1||1|
|Dublin North East||1||1||1|
|Dublin North West||2||1|
|Dublin South Central||1||3||1|
|Dublin South East||1||1||2|
|Dublin South West||1||2||1|
|Kerry North-West Limerick||1||1||1|
(If only the national level poll trends are taken account of – in a similar vein to my earlier analyses of the Red C poll figures – a somewhat different result is produced – in this case the seat tallies are predicted to be: FF 34, FG 39, LB 57, GP 0, SF 7, OTH 9. Even when just takign account of geographical patterns at the macro/provincial level, notable difference in seat tallies are hence observed; this suggests that the geographical expression of national trends will have a significant bearing on the overall picture come election day and also underpins the limitations of analyses that just focus on national level trends.)
Even with a higher share of the national vote than Fine Gael, the model predicts that Labour might not emerge as the largest party in terms of the number of seats won. This is down, to a large degree, to the fact that there are a number of constituencies – particularly in the Border, West and Midlands regions – where Labour would still not be in contention for seats, even if their vote share was to be over three times that of their 2007 support levels, in line with the national trend predicted by the Irish Times/Isbos MRBI poll. Good vote management by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, in addition to the considerable amount of ‘wasted votes’ by weaker parties in different constituencies (including Labour in constituencies such as Cavan-Monaghan, Clare, Laois-Offaly and Sligo-North Leitrim), would see these parties winning more seats than their share of the vote would warrant in a number of constituencies. It should be added that judgments on seat allocations are simply based on the estimated percentage support levels however, and other factors, such as vote transfers, party discipline and the number of candidates running per party would have a significant impact on seat distributions, over and above this. In the case of Fianna Fáil, the total number of seats might be lower than the predicted allocation, if the party ends up running similar numbers of candidates to previous contests (2002, 2007) resulting in a splitting of an already reduced party vote, if votes transfers to decline in line with declining support levels, or if party discipline collapses in an “every man for themselves” scenario where TDs become solely focused on saving their own seats. Labour’s current support levels call for a bolder approach in candidate selection, particularly in the Dublin region where the party, on a projected 30% support level across the city, has a chance of winning two seats in all of the constituencies, apart maybe from Dublin North Central, and also would have a serious chance of winning three seats in Dublin South Central. The party’s prospects of emerging as the largest party in terms of seats after the next election demands, however, that they address their inherently weak areas of support in the Border, Midlands and Western regions. This would involve some constituencies where there is no great tradition of Labour support, but also constituencies such as Laois-Offaly and Cork North West where the party does have a tradition of support. The key to breaking through in these constituencies appears to lie in drawing in politicians from the independent ranks, or from other parties, such as Kelly in Roscommon-South Leitrim, who would have their own already established support bases to which the effects of a “Gilmore Gale” could be added to push the party into contention for a seat in those constituencies.
These poll results are disastrous for the Green Party and the Dublin support figure offers more cause for concern than the national figures does, given that the party main support lies there and given that five of the party’s six TDs represent Dublin constituencies. With the party’s support levels in its strongest region now effectively less than half of what it was in 2007 and with an expected fall-off in transfers from other party, the party simply is in a position where it is not in contention for a seat in any constituency, with the exception, maybe, of Galway West,
So who would be the main winners and losers in this scenario? The simulation would predict the election of a raft of new Fine Gael and Labour TDs, such as John Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny), Fidelma Healy-Eames (Galway West) and Mairéad McGuinness (Louth) for Fine Gael, and Ann Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny), Eric Byrne and Rebecca Moynihan (Dublin South Central), Eamonn Maloney (Dublin South West) and Alex White (Dublin South) for Labour. It also suggests that Sinn Fein would gains in constituencies such as Donegal North East (Padraig McLochlainn) and Donegal South West (Pearse Doherty), while Toireasa Ferris would be predicted to top the poll in Kerry North. On the other hand, the simulation suggest that a number of senior Fianna Fáil figures would lose their seats, including Pat Carey (Dublin North West), Brian Lenihan (Dublin West), Barry Andrews (Dún Laoghaire), Conor Lenihan (Dublin South West) and Seán Ardagh (Dublin South Central), with Mary Hanafin’s seat (Dún Laoghaire) also emerging as vulnerable.
In terms of government formation, despite Sinn Féin’s strong showing this simulation would discount the involvement of the smaller parties as potential coalition partners, leaving only three potential government options – Fine Gael/Labour (109 seats), Fianna Fail/Labour (94 seats) or Fianna Fail/Fine Gael (95 seats). If the latter is discounted as a potential government option, this leaves Labour with the choice of being a junior or equal partner in a Fine Gael-Labour government or becoming the senior partner in a coalition with Fianna Fail with Eamonn Gilmore as Taoiseach.
Finally, the C.M.A. provisions! It is important to take cognisance of the timing of this poll; there are still two years to run in the lifetime of the present Dail meaning that Fianna Fáil still has ample time to claw back lost ground. It is also worth noting that Fianna Fail support would, when it comes closer to polling day, be enhanced by the popularity of local representatives – the likelihood of people voting for individual Fianna Fáil candidates (rather than the Fianna Fáil party) would probably see support for this party registering at a higher level than polls are predicting – as well as its stronger local organisation network. Labour’s inherent weakness in rural and western parts of the state suggests that increased support for the party must plateau at a certain level – probably around the low 20s unless the Gilmore Gale assume hurricane proportions – and it is still worth noting that Labour remains a small party in organization terms, lacking at present the membership and financial levels to battle Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on a evle playing field. Ultimately, I still think we are in “Nick Clegg poll figures following the first leadership debate territory” (although Labour support levels have registered consistently high in a number of recent polls) and do not expect Labour to outpoll the two main parties come the next general election. Should this happen, then we are in serious political realignment territory and facing into the most dramatic change to the Irish political landscape since the founding of the State.