Eoin O’Malley (19 February, 2011)
We have a tendency to see new polls and take them as indicating some real change in the fortunes of the parties since the last comparable poll was taken, when possibly much of the variation is caused by differences in samples – the luck of the draw. One way to alleviate the tendency to overstate the importance of the most recent poll is to take a poll of polls. The two most recent polls by Red-C and Millward Brown in tomorrow’s Sunday Business Post and Sunday Independent are broadly consistent and are also consistent with recent trends. Fine Gael’s position is solidifying and Labour is slipping slightly. The Greens look unlikely to return any seats. The results of my weighted poll of polls are
The weighted average estimates presented here are possibly more valid than any single poll because it should average out errors (assuming the errors in the polls are not all systematically in one direction). It means that the results of one poll won’t have a major impact on our overall assessment of the state of the parties. We will expect that some polls will have error above and beyond the margin of error. Even with the best will in the world some samples produced by polling companies are ‘rogue samples’ and produce results that are not good estimates. About one in twenty will be like this.
On these figures, using Michael Gallagher’s method of projecting polls to seats we would expect to see Fianna Fáil return 25-29 TDs (incl. Seamus Kirk); Fine Gael would win 65-69 seats, lower than the estimates currently being touted; Labour would win 33-37 seats and Sinn Féin 17-21 seats. It’s difficult to say much about the smaller parties because local considerations and the geographical concentration of the vote matter most, but we can assume Others would win between 17 and 20 seats.
There has been some evidence in local polls and in the SBP-Red-C question on second preferences that Fine Gael is getting a lot of transfers and as by far the biggest party might be expected to get an even bigger seat bonus than is factored in. Even if the bonus gave it 12 seats more than it ‘deserved’ on a proportional basis (about what Fianna Fáil got in 2002), it would still, at 75 seats, be eight seats shy of a majority.
On that basis, and given that it’s far from clear what type of independents might be elected, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition is still the most likely government to emerge. But it will not be a coalition of equals. And it is not comparable to the government in 1992, which though the numbers might be broadly the same (FF had 68 and Labour 33) Fianna Fáil had a very poor election by its then very high standards and Labour had its best result ever. In 2011 Fine Gael will not be minded to concede as much as Reynolds was willing to give to Spring, and even though it still might be Labour’s best result ever and it could be the second largest party for the first time, Labour will be disconsolate at its failure to make a bigger breakthrough.
This is even more reason why Labour might be better to stay in opposition as I argued here.
In weighting the polls I take into account a number of issues (see here for details).
There is an element of arbitrariness in the weighting (and because I don’t have the full details of the polls, I’ve guessed things such as the dates of fieldwork), but in general it should give a better indication of the state of the parties.
Below are the data and weightings used.