Red C Poll 27 June: How Do Figures Translate Into Seats?

Adrian Kavanagh (28 June 2010)

The latest Red C poll points to a remarkably consistent trend in terms of support for the three largest parties – again underlining the significant “Gilmore Gale” increase in support for Labour but also highlighting the strenght of Fine Gael support. But how would these figures translate into seats should these results be replicated in a general election? This analysis suggests that the link between party support and seats is not as clear as may be thought, despite the relative proportionality of the Irish electoral system.  This analysis suggests that, on these figures, Fine Gael would win 65 seats, Labour would win 48 seats, Fianna Fail would win 46 seats, Sinn Fein would win 5 seats, while 2 seats would be won by independents and other small parties. On these figures, the Green Party would fail to win a seat.

The latest edition of the Sunday Business Post‘s series of Red C opinion polls puts Fine Gael in a healthy lead as the state’s nost popular party at present, estimating their current support level to be at 33%. While the poll is not as positive for Labour as the recent, controversial, Irish Times Ispos-MRBI poll was, it does in a similar manner reflect the recent upsurge in popularity for the party and its leader, Eamonn Gilmore, with Labour support estimated, at 27%, to be 5% higher than it was in the previous month’s (May 30th) poll. Fianna Fail support levels remain static at 24%, but Green Party support falls from 5% to 2%- a level of support that would see the loss of all that party’s Dail seats if it were to be replicated at the next general election. Sinn Fein support falls from 10% to 8%, although this would be a higher level of support than what the party achieved in 2007, while support for independents and other, smaller parties, is estimated at 6%. No regional breakdown is offered on these poll figures, apart from reporting that Labour support in Dublin is estimated to stand at 34%.

But what do these poll figures mean in terms of the likely number of Dail seats won by the different parties? As noted in a previous post, the proportion of seats won by parties will not measure up exactly to their actual share of the first preference vote, mainly because these first preference votes need to be filtered through the system of Irish electoral constituencies. In order to address this question, as in previous analyses, I estimate what the party first preference votes would be in the different constituencies, assuming similar (proportional) change in party vote shares in all constituencies. For instance, Fianna Fail’s share of the vote is currently estimated to be four-sevenths of its 2007 share, while Labour’s would be more than two-and-two-thirds times its vote share in the that election.  This of course is a very rough model, and ignores the fact that changing support levels between elections tend to vary geographically 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). It also fails to take account of the local particularities of the different regions (unlike the Ispos-MRBI poll analysis, there is no scope to carry out separate regional analyses based on these poll figures) and, even more so, in the different constituencies, where national support trends could be exacerbated or blunted due to factors such as candidate selection, local political history, local political issues, or party organisational strength. Based on these estimated figures, I proceed to estimate the destination of seats in the different constituencies.

My estimates as to what parties’ shares of the first preference votes would be:

Carlow-Kilkenny 28.7% 37.2% 26.0% 3.5% 4.6% 0.0%
Cavan-Monaghan 23.5% 40.6% 3.5% 1.7% 24.8% 6.0%
Clare 29.3% 49.1% 4.9% 2.5% 4.6% 9.7%
Cork East 17.6% 29.9% 44.8% 1.0% 6.3% 0.4%
Cork North Central 18.9% 30.5% 30.1% 1.4% 8.6% 10.5%
Cork North West 33.4% 50.6% 14.3% 1.7% 0.0% 0.0%
Cork South Central 26.7% 35.9% 25.8% 3.7% 6.2% 1.8%
Cork South West 24.0% 42.4% 25.1% 2.8% 5.7% 0.0%
Donegal North East 33.1% 31.1% 5.5% 0.7% 22.9% 6.7%
Donegal South West 32.3% 30.7% 8.2% 0.7% 27.1% 1.0%
Dublin Central 25.7% 11.5% 33.5% 2.5% 10.6% 16.2%
Dublin Mid West 21.6% 16.4% 32.9% 5.2% 12.1% 11.8%
Dublin North 27.5% 19.2% 29.0% 8.0% 3.5% 12.7%
Dublin North Central 26.7% 32.4% 20.4% 2.3% 4.6% 13.5%
Dublin North East 21.0% 25.3% 37.0% 2.6% 14.1% 0.0%
Dublin North West 24.3% 10.4% 46.7% 1.0% 15.7% 1.9%
Dublin South 25.6% 35.4% 29.9% 5.1% 3.7% 0.3%
Dublin South Central 16.0% 14.6% 47.2% 2.1% 9.8% 10.3%
Dublin South East 16.8% 22.8% 45.0% 6.0% 5.5% 3.9%
Dublin South West 18.9% 20.1% 44.4% 1.3% 11.7% 3.6%
Dublin West 19.2% 21.9% 40.5% 1.4% 4.9% 12.0%
Dun Laoghaire 19.1% 27.1% 40.6% 3.1% 2.4% 7.7%
Galway East 25.6% 52.9% 9.3% 0.9% 4.1% 7.1%
Galway West 24.5% 28.1% 33.7% 2.7% 3.9% 7.1%
Kerry North-West Limerick 15.9% 34.4% 25.6% 0.7% 20.8% 2.5%
Kerry South 21.6% 27.9% 33.1% 0.7% 3.7% 12.8%
Kildare North 20.5% 23.1% 41.9% 1.9% 2.5% 10.0%
Kildare South 26.8% 19.1% 50.7% 2.4% 0.0% 1.0%
Laois-Offaly 40.8% 41.4% 8.0% 0.6% 7.4% 1.9%
Limerick City 29.9% 32.8% 29.3% 1.2% 5.2% 1.8%
Limerick 29.8% 52.7% 16.4% 1.1% 0.0% 0.0%
Longford-Westmeath 20.9% 32.8% 41.3% 0.7% 3.9% 0.3%
Louth 25.8% 37.6% 14.1% 3.4% 18.4% 0.9%
Mayo 13.9% 64.2% 3.1% 0.3% 5.7% 12.7%
Meath East 24.5% 30.5% 31.0% 1.3% 4.4% 8.3%
Meath West 32.7% 38.5% 11.8% 1.2% 14.3% 1.6%
Roscommon-South Leitrim 23.9% 50.3% 5.1% 0.8% 10.3% 9.6%
Sligo-North Leitrim 24.3% 48.8% 10.7% 1.3% 13.9% 1.0%
Tipperary North 19.6% 19.0% 27.0% 0.5% 4.3% 29.7%
Tipperary South 27.9% 26.6% 24.4% 0.7% 3.7% 16.7%
Waterford 25.8% 31.7% 29.0% 0.9% 7.4% 5.2%
Wexford 22.4% 35.0% 33.7% 0.5% 7.8% 0.6%
Wicklow 19.9% 25.4% 39.5% 2.9% 5.2% 7.1%
STATE 24.0% 33.0% 27.0% 2.0% 8.0% 6.0%

Based on these estimated figures, the destination of the different seats within these constituencies is estimated as follows:

Carlow-Kilkenny 2 2 1
Cavan-Monaghan 1 3 1
Clare 2 2
Cork East 1 1 2
Cork North Central 1 2 1
Cork North West 1 2
Cork South Central 2 2 1
Cork South West 1 1 1
Donegal North East 1 1 1
Donegal South West 1 1 1
Dublin Central 1 2 1
Dublin Mid West 1 1 2
Dublin North 1 1 2
Dublin North Central 1 1 1
Dublin North East 1 1 1
Dublin North West 1 2
Dublin South 1 2 2
Dublin South Central 1 1 3
Dublin South East 1 1 2
Dublin South West 1 1 2
Dublin West 1 1 2
Dun Laoghaire 1 1 2
Galway East 1 3
Galway West 1 2 2
Kerry North-West Limerick 1 1 1
Kerry South 1 1 1
Kildare North 1 1 2
Kildare South 1 2
Laois-Offaly 2 3
Limerick City 1 2 1
Limerick 1 2
Longford-Westmeath 1 1 2
Louth 2 2 1
Mayo 1 4
Meath East 1 1 1
Meath West 1 2
Roscommon-South Leitrim 1 2
Sligo-North Leitrim 1 2
Tipperary North 1 1 1
Tipperary South 1 1 1
Waterford 1 2 1
Wexford 1 2 2
Wicklow 1 2 2
STATE 46 65 48 0 5 2

Relative to previous analyses of the May 2 and May 30 Red C poll figures,  the estimated number of seats being won by the three larger parties remains relatively consistent with Fine Gael seat numbers falling in the low-to-mid 60s and seat estimations for Fianna Fail and Labour standing in the mid 40s in this, and the previous two analyses. The results of this analysis is not as positive for the Labour Party, however, as that for the Irish Times Ispos MRBI poll was.

(In some cases, as with the 1992 election, Labour will increase its chances of winning seats in some constituencies by recruiting local politicians from outside the party – this could apply to the constituencies such as Mayo, where former independent TD, Jerry Cowley, has joined the party, and Roscommon-South Leitrim, where Labour has recruited John Kelly who polled strongly as an independent candidate in the 2007 election. If the base 2007 Labour vote is reinterpreted as the 2007 Labour vote plus the 2007 Cowley/Kelly vote (and indeed the base 2007 Fianna Fail vote reinterpreted as the 2007  Fianna Fail vote plus the 2007 Flynn vote), the model would predict the following results in these constituencies, which would see Labour in with a chance of winning a seat in both these constituencies:

Mayo 18.4% 61.0% 14.8% 0.3% 5.5% 0.0%
Roscommon-South Leitrim 20.1% 42.4% 27.9% 0.7% 8.7% 0.1%

Based on these figures, Cowley now has a very good chance of winning a Labour seat – probably one of the seats assigned to Fine Gael – in Mayo in the model above (the Fianna Fail Mayo seat is also more secure), while Kelly would win a seat – probably one of the seats assigned to Fine Gael – in Roscommon-South Leitrim. This could potentially leave Labour with 50 seats in the Dail!)

On these figures, Fine Gael would emerge clearly as the strongest party in the state with Fianna Fail failing to win the largest number of seats in a general election for the first time since 1927.  The estimated number of seats to be won by Fine Gael and Labour is well in excess of what these parties won in the last general election (51 for Fine Gael, 20 for Labour) and the coming together of a Fine Gael and Labour coalition would result in the largest majority in the Dail for any government (113 seats for a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government, as against the 101 for the Fianna Fail-Labour government following the November 1992 general election). On these figures the only realistic government options would be Fine Gael-Labour (113 seats), Fine Gael-Fianna Fail (111 seats ) and Labour-Fianna Fail (94 seats) – all of which would enjoy comfortable majorities in Dail Eireann. Unless Fianna Fail can experience a dramatic surge in their poll figures between now and the next general election, there seems to be no potential role in the next government for independents and the small parties, despite the figures suggesting that Sinn Fein would gain an extra seat (two gains in the Donegal constituencies, a loss in Dublin South Central). On these figures, Fine Gael appears to be the only party with prospects of coming close to forming a single party government, or one supported by independents and the smaller parties, and presently do not look likely to be willing to enter into a coalition with Sinn Fein. The other alternative partner for Fine Gael should they manage to win seat levels in the high 70s, the Green Party, appears on the basis of these figures to have little prospect of winning a seat at the next election.

What is notable here is that the two (currently!) largest parties would both be expected to get a seat bonus relative to their popular support levels – Fine Gael winning 39.2% of the seats on the basis of a 33% support level and Fianna Fail winning 27.7% of seats on the basis of a 24% support level. This “bias” can be accounted for by the parties’ levels of strenght, which means that there candidates will usually be amongst the highest placed candidates in a constituency on the basis of first preference votes and thus be in a position to take transfers from weaker candidates from other parties as counts progress. Labour’s relative weakness in the more rural parts of the state also offers Fianna Fail and especially Fine Gael an opportunity space to translate levels of support into even more significant levels of representation – in some constituencies, such as Cavan-Monaghan and Laois-Offaly at present, the “Gilmore Gale” would appear to be blowing to the benefit Fine Gael, simply resulting in higher votes for Labour candidates and subsequently higher vote transfers to Fine Gael when these candidates are eliminated.

In keeping with Elaine Byrne’s thought-provoking post, urban-rural political differences are also very apparent here, even though this poll does not offer a regional breakdown of party support. It does suggest that the Gilmore Gael will blow strongest in Dublin, in terms of seats won and levels of popular support, in keeping with results in previous elections when the party was expected to enjoy, or did enjoy, significant surges in support, as discussed in an earlier post. While the simulation suggests that Labour would come close to winning almost half of the Dublin seats, with the larger oartuies faring poorly here, it suggests that the larger parties would be holding their own in the more rural parts of the state, at least in terms of seats being won.

8 thoughts on “Red C Poll 27 June: How Do Figures Translate Into Seats?

  1. I’ve been following this series of posts for a while now and very interesting, keep it up.

    However struggling a little to reconcile your projections in those constituencies I am familar with on the ground. For example the two Kildares – you are predicting two Labour seats each for both north and south constituencies.

    It is is difficult to see how, with the party at mid twenties nationally but also local factors such as a strong independent left wing challenger, no history of a second seat in either constituency and no immediately obvious reason why the Labour vote in Kildare South for example should rocket to over 50% what would surely be one of the highest in the country. This in a constituency with two sitting FF TDs and already seeing a determined FG assault on taking a seat. Are you sure these figures are correct?

    • In terms of what this exercise sets out to do, the figures are “correct”, but as (I hope) I’ve clearly stated in the third paragraph these estimates are solely based on what parties achieved in 2007 and the most recent poll figures – they do not, and cannot, take account of the local particularities of individual constituencies such as Kildare South. Even if the next general election ends up with similar support patterns to the recent polls, there will of course be constituencies where the extent of the swing to Labour will be less pronounced and others where the Gilmore Gale will blow more vehemently.

  2. OK have double checked the figures and see where you’re coming from. Given Labour’s current standing and what has almost become the status quo, hard to believe they were still at 10% back in 2007.

    I suppose the interesting thing, and what possibly skews it here, is how this translates in each locality. In the example taken of Kildare South there is already a popular sitting Labour TD, who was already well above the national average in 2007, pulling in 20% of the vote, or twice the national party preference, to get elected. The question will be whether the vote in already strong areas such as this will rise by the same proportion as elsewhere, or is it there less scope for it to grow, given the existing strong base. Ironically I wonder could it be traditionally weaker areas that may benefit more from any ‘Gilmore Gale’ than those where the party is already doing well and with seats in situ.

  3. Thanks, Adrian, for an excellent analysis. In addition to all the local factors you instance is the sheer statistical noise of seemingly random variation in support trends which never happens in a uniform way across the board as your simulation must, of necessity, assume. Thus the Gilmore gale may blow more stongly in more urban, less affluent, more rapidily changing constituencies with differential effects across the country.

    Perhaps the biggest factor you appear to omit is the “sweeper factor” whereby the last seat in a constituency is often won by a small party or an individual with a very low first preference base (as low as 5%!), but with a very high level of acceptability as a least worse option. Labour is uniquely well positioned to benefit from this as its policies are generally less controversial, does not have the odium of Government attached to it (as the Greens have), and is not as controversial as Sinn Fein.

    Thus I would see Labour picking up seats in many constuencies where it currently has no precence and very little by way of base (2007) support. Conversely, it may find it very difficult to pick upsecond seats in many constituencies unless it succeeds in managing its vote v. effectively.

    I agree the is a lot of “Clegg” factor about current polls and Gilmore will not succeed in being all things to all people for that much longer. Equally the Government parties are hardly likely to gain support as more Billions are flushed down the toilet into Anglo etc. If over half the Fine Gael front bench don’t think much of their leader, its hard to see how they can persuade the country of his merits and so the situation is extraordinarilly volatile and unstable. FF and FG will never agree to serve under a Labour Taoiseach, and FF won’t serve under FG. I can’t see Labour serving under Enda, but then they have sold out so many times before…

  4. Interesting point about the “sweeper factor” Frank, though this is something that an analysis such as mine can’t really take adequate account of given that one at this stage would be just effectively “guesstimating” transfer trends. I do agree with you to a degree that there are some constituencies where Labour have not figured in previous elections where the transfers factor could see them actually win – especially seeing as Labour probably will be as “transfer friendly” as the Greens were in 2002 and 2007 (but won’t be in 2012)! A good example of this in 1992 would of course have been Clare where vote transfers helped Bhamjee overcome a 827 vote deficit relative to Daly FF on Count 1. There will be constituencies however where Labour support is just too low and the transfer effect in these constituencies might well be to the advantage of Fine Gael. I would also argue that the “sweeper effect” could possibly compensate for poor Labour vote management in some of their stronger/Dublin constituencies, assuming we’re not talking of FF in Dublin Central 2007 style vote management.

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