Donegal South West by election: The numbers…

Adrian Kavanagh, 5 November 2010

On the basis of the most recent general election results in Donegal South West, this might be expected to be one constituency where Fianna Fail could actually have a realistic chance of winning a by-election (thus becoming the first government party to do so since Noel Treacy won the Galway East by-election in 1982), but a study of local election result trends in the three electoral areas that this Dail constituency is comprised of – Donegal (Town), Glenties and Stranorlar – offers a more sobering portrait for Fianna Fail and offers Fine Gael hope that they could be the party to win this by-election, thus offering prospects of yet another electoral success in western Ireland for the “Kenny Krusade”.

Of all the constituencies in Ireland, “in theory” Donegal South West should be one of the constituencies where the party would have the least fear of facing a by-election in, with perhaps only Laois-Offaly offering more favourable ground for the party to fight a by-elections in. The party put in one of their strongest performances in 2007 nationally here, with only Laois-Offaly, Donegal North East, Cork North-West and Kildare South comparing as favourably. In the 2007 General Election, Fianna Fail won over half of all the votes cast in this constituency (50.5%) with Mary Coughlan getting over the quota (26.4%) on Count 1 and Pat “The Cope” Gallagher (24.1%) coming very near to this. Fine Gael’s Dinny McGinley won 23.0% of the first preference votes, getting over the quota with Labour and Green transfers, while Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein won 21.2% of the vote – the highest vote share won by any Sinn Fein candidate in the 2007 General Election and the second highest general election vote share won by any Sinn Fein candidate since the 1920s,  only exceeded by Martin Ferris 2002 result in Kerry North.  Labour (2.8%) and the Green Party (1.4%) were well off the pace in this contest, as was the sole indepdendent candidate (1.0%).

The most recent electoral contest in this constituency was the 2009 local elections and these figures offer less comforting news for Fianna Fail. The Donegal South West constituency is comprised of the electoral areas of Donegal (Town), Glenties and Stranorlar. Fianna Fail had polled very well in these electoral areas in the 2004 local elections (despite a generally poor national performance by the party in those elections), winning 46.3% of the total number of votes cast in these electoral areas, as against 23.6% for Fine Gael, 14.7% for Sinn Fein (for whom Pearse Doherty was a candidate in Glenties), 1.9% for Labour, 1.7% for the Green Party and 11.8% for independents/others. However in the 2009 local elections, Fianna Fail support dropped significantly in these electoral areas and the level of this decline far outstripped the national trend for the party in these elections , with the party support falling by 4,339 votes (with share of the vote down by 16.9%). The main gains in this area was made by the main opposition parties – Fine Gael’s number of votes increased by 2,044 (up by 1.6%) and Labour’s number of votes increased by 2,794 (up by 6.7%) – and especially the independents and others grouping (votes up by 5,667, share of vote up by 11.9%). Sinn Fein gained an extra 316 votes relative to their 2004 result, marking an actual 1.3% decline in the party’s share of the vote between 2004 and 2009. It is worth noting that this decline can be probably attributed to Doherty not running as a local election candidate in Glenties in 2009 (having been elected as a Senator in 2007) where the party share of the vote fell by 2.7% (although Therese Gallagher did hold the Sinn Fein seat here).

The current bookies’ favourite, Pearse Doherty, has proven himself to be significant vote-getter and he was undoubtedly the most unlucky candidate in the 2007 election, with a vote share that would have seen him comfortably elected in most other constituencies  and would have pushed him over the quota in a 4-seat constituency and well over the quota in a 5-seat constituency. While it is dangerous to predict results in Dail elections on the basis of local elections, there must be concern over the fact that the Sinn Fein vote did not increase between 2004 and 2009 at the same time as Fine Gael and Labour support was.  Doherty in Donegal South West will probably a more transfer-friendly candidate than Sinn Fein candidates tend to be but the likelihood is that he may need to win over 30% of the first preference votes unless he can take a significant share of Fianna Fail transfers if the Fianna Fail candidate is eliminated ahead of Fine Gael’s Barry O’Neill. If he is to beat O’Neill, who would seem to be his main competition for this seat, he will need to poll a very high personal vote from his Glenties base – at the same time as O’Neill will be reliant on strong local support from the Donegal Town end of the constituency to keep him in contention. Former Sinn Fein party member and current independent councillor for the Donegal (Town) electoral area, Thomas Pringle, who ran in the 2002 General Election but not in 2007, is contesting this election and threatens to take “natural Sinn Fein” votes off Doherty in the southern end of the constituency. On the other hand, his participation in this election might increase the turnout level of “natural Sinn Fein” supporters in the Donegal Town end of this constituency – and a good chunk of these votes might be expected to revert to Doherty at a later count.

Frank McBrearty’s success in Stranorlar was the main reason for Labour’s improved fortunes in Donegal South West in 2009. The party support levels here are still too low to expect even a Gilmore Gale to see Labour taking this seat, but the main interest here will lie in studying the degree to which the Labour vote is growing – can it increase to a sufficient level (between 10 and 15 per cent) where the party might have a realistic chance of competing for a seat at the subsequent general election. If McBrearty polls especially well, his transfers will have a significant bearing on whether O’Neill or Doherty wins this seat.

Female candidates have proven to be significantly more successful in by-election contests than another other electoral contests (excluding presidential elections!) over the 1990s and 2000s with seven of the nineteen by-elections contested over the past twenty years being won by female candidates, amounting to a success rate of 36.8%. No female candidate has been selected so far to contest this constituency however.

11 thoughts on “Donegal South West by election: The numbers…

  1. ..and you would have thought that Dublin Central would have been FF’s best shot in a Dublin constituency, but look what happened there.

    If I were in FF I’d aim to get hammered in all four by-elections (one-by-one). This might get some of people’s anger out of their system before the General Election.

  2. The trends in last year’s local election don’t really count for much as in the Glenties electoral area Seamus O’Domhnaill (Brian’s brother) ran as an independent but has now rejoined Fianna Fail. Adding his 1st preferences to the other Fianna Fail candidates would give Fianna Fail around 42% for the vote just about holding their vote from the 2004 local elections

  3. Hmm, debatable as to how many of the 2,011 votes for O’Domhnaill would be personal or natural FF votes? And whether he would have got as high a vote if he had ran as a FF candidate and not an independent in those elections? I can’t say…
    If those 2,011 votes are added to the FF 2009 total, this would leave them at 14,313 votes(34.2%) for the Dail constituency area – no doubt a better figure than one in the post (with O’Domhnaill figures not included) but still a significant drop in support relative to their 2004 level.

  4. Fianna Fáil have never ever faced into any elections with its national poll levels as they are so it is simply not possible to know how the by-elections will turn out and each townland is an election battle in itself with issues and personalities within the townland going back generations coming into play.

    Also, don’t forget whoever wins this seat will probably be the shortest serving TD ever as they’ll no sooner be elected then there’ll be a general election.

  5. i am from Donegal, all i can say is i would be very surprised if Fianna Fail dont win this seat.

    Despite those silly polls that the independent publishes, Fianna Fail’s support in Donegal always has been quite high.

    After Labours display on vincent browne’s tonight show will guarantee he won’t be elected.

    Donegal needs a strong candidate who is competent and has a strong education behind them.

    Labours candidate does not represent that. It will come down to the end of the day between Seinn Fein and Fianna Fail.

    The pressure is on Finn Gael and Labour to make a gain because they are seen as the next government if they cant take this seat then it will be hugely embarassing for both.

    I am not a Fianna Fail supporter, in the past i have been in favour of Finn Gael and Labour but all three bring absolutely nothing to the table.

    Fianna Fails biggest threat is Students and Old Age Pensioners, incidentally they are holding this by-election on a Thursday so students from other county’s will be unable to make it back in time to vote.

    A clever ploy but it sums up how desperate they are to hold on to power.

    I suspect that alot of people will vote for independents as a protest vote.

    But i would be extremely surprised if Fianna Fail lose this seat

  6. Pingback: Donegal South West in maps «

  7. The GE figures in the poll are quite interesting – as you might know I do projections in my blog of national polls to local constituencies based on a weighted formula (the percentage swing in the votes for parties, the percentage swing in the votes ‘against’ parties, and the percentage of the “Spring Tide” experienced in that area in ’92). Recent constituency polls in Cork and Dublin suggest that this formula is pretty reliable.

    This week’s DSW constituency poll suggests GE ratings of 31% SF, 25% FG, FF 19% and LP 18% (margin of error 4.4%), whereas my spreadsheet’s projections from the most recent RedC poll projected to DSW gave SF 26%, FG 26%, FF 29% and LP 15%. The only real outlier is FF at 10% lower in the constituency poll (and I think we would expect them to be well down), SF at 5% up is 0.6% outside the margin of error (again he’s had a very good campaign boosted by the court case), and FG and LP are within m.o.e.

    On balance, this poll appears very close to what one could expect, and I think you can assume that FF have lost this seat, Doherty has to mess it up to lose it, and the main competition will be between Doherty/McBrearty, and then whichever of them succeeds to overtake FF for second.

    • “the main competition will be between Doherty/McBrearty, and then whichever of them succeeds to overtake FF for second.”

      Sorry – I of course meant O’Neill/McBrearty!

  8. There are interesting pointers in the results of the Donegal South West By Election in addition to the first preference percentages. Let us consider the actual counts:

    Donegal SW Count
    First Count
    Pearse Doherty 13,719
    Frank McBrearty 3,366
    Brian Ó’Domhall 7354
    Barry O’Neill 6,424
    Thomas Pringle 3,438
    Anne Phelan 131

    Independent who had withdrawn before election eliminated
    Second Count
    Pearse Doherty (+17) 13,736,
    Frank McBrearty (+9) 3,375,
    Brian Ó’Domhall (+4) 7,358,
    Barry O’Neill (+18) 6,442,
    Thomas Pringle (+53) 3,491.

    Mc Brearty Eliminated
    Third Count

    Pearse Doherty (SF) +1452 = 15,188 +43% of McB
    Brian Ó’Domhall (FF) +278 = 7,636 +8.2% of McB
    Barry O’Neill (FG) +871 = 7,313 +25.8% of McB
    Thomas Pringle (Ind) +272 = 3,763 +8.1% of McB

    Non Transferrable +502 = 524

    Thomas Pringle Eliminated and fourth count proceeds
    Final Count

    Pearse Doherty (SF) + 1,709 16,897 +45.4% of TP
    Brian Ó’Domhall (FF) + 433 8,069 +11.5% of TP
    Barry O’Neill (FG) + 869 8,182 +23.1% of TP
    As the combined vote of O’Neill +O’Domhnall was less than the O’Doherty total, O’Doherty was elected without reaching the Quota

    On the final count, the combined FF+FG total was less than the Quota of 50%+1vote and less than the Sinn Fein total.(On First Count SF+Lab+LeftIndependent=60%)
    Mc Brearty transfer to Fine Gael was 26% as against 43% to Sinn Fein. This was much less than a traditional Fg/Lab coalition transfer. The transfers from McBrearty and from Pringle to Fianna Fail were 8% and 12% respectively. This is less than half the Fianna Fail per centage of Poll on the first count. This indicates that Fianna Fail will suffer even more on crucial late counts than on first count in the next election. Labour and Left Independent transfers to Sinn Feinn worked well exceeding 40% in both cases.
    The dog that didn’t bark in the night—-
    Left Independent Thomas Pringle was not squeezed by Sinn Fein or by Labour.In the Spring-tide election Labour squeezed all other lefts. In the coming election the defection from Fianna Fail will be so great that left independents and Sinn Fein will be lifted as well as Labour. This augurs well for the prospects of the recently launched Unite Left Alliance in the next election. A Labour/Sinn Fein/Left majority may yet be possible on the numbers. The next election is likely to take place after the budget cuts are implemented. The defection from Fianna Fail will be all the greater.

  9. Reblogged this on Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses and commented:

    Given that a series of by-elections are scheduled to take place at the end of November, probably only a few months ahead of a general election contest, this old Adrian Kavanagh post on the website might be of some interest, given the parallels that might exist between the 2010 contest in Donegal South-West and the upcoming by-election contests.

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