Red C-Sunday Business Post polls (25th September): Transfer patterns suggest Higgins to win with Davis as main challenger

Adrian Kavanagh, Sunday 25th September 2011

The main message coming from the two Red C-Sunday Business Post opinion polls, published on 25th September, is that vote transfers would see Michael D Higgins win the presidency despite trailing David Norris in terms of first preference votes. In all, the polls offer mixed messages for the government parties, some cold comfort for Fianna Fáil in the wake of the previous week’s disastrous Millward Brown Lansdowne poll figures for that party, and very good news for Sinn Féin and the Others grouping.  Transfer figures provided with the presidential election poll suggest that, in order to go on to win the contest, Davis Norris would need to almost ten percent ahead of Michael D Higgins on the first count, while Martin McGuinness would need to be eight percent ahead.

The Red C-Sunday Business Post poll puts support for the five confirmed candidates and two other potential candidates in October’s presidential election contest as follows: Gay Mitchell 13%, Michael D. Higgins 18%, Sean Gallagher 11%, Mary Davis 13%, Martin McGuinness 16%, David Norris 21%, Dana Rosemary Scallon 6% with second preferences expected to go as follows based on the poll figures: Gay Mitchell 14%, Michael D. Higgins 20%, Sean Gallagher 14%, Mary Davis 16%, Martin McGuinness 8%, David Norris 6%, Dana Rosemary Scallon 7% Based on these poll figures, I would predict that Michael D. Higgins will win the election, beating David Norris on the final count by 524,593 votes to 410,264 votes.

First step in this model will be to estimate the turnout for the election. The turnout is likely to be lower than the turnout for the general election, but there will be likely to be more people voting than in the previous presidential election in 1997. Fortunately there was also a general election in 1997 and this can offer a yardstick to help guesstimate the turnout. The numbers turning out to vote increased by 24.1% between the general elections of 1997 (1,806,932 voting) and 2011 (2,243,176 voting). Applying the same level of increase to the number that turned out to vote in the presidential election of 1997 (1,279,688) gives us a turnout of 1,588,641 voters. Given that 1997 was a highly uncompetitive election in which Mary McAlese had established an unassailable poll lead some weeks before the election, the likelihood is that the high profile afforded the current contest added to the very competitive nature of the contest suggested by these, and other, poll figures, the likelihood is that the turnout may well be higher than what is estimated here. Indeed the possibility of a record turnout for a presidential election, surpassing the 65% level for the 1966 contest, cannot entirely be discounted.

Based on the poll figures (for support and transfer patterns) and this estimated turnout value, the counts would be likely to progress as follows:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Norris    340,423    350,149    359,308    361,863    390,910
Higgins    291,791    312,217    367,171    418,270    476,362    581,908
McGuinness    259,370    272,987    302,296    322,735
Davis    210,738    236,999    268,140    329,459    394,006    433,097
Mitchell    210,738    224,355    255,496
Gallagher    178,317    183,180
Scallon      97,264

There is some glimmers of good news in this poll for all the seven candidates/potential candidates listed here. While the addition of Norris as a candidate would see him lose the front runner status he has enjoyed in recent weeks (and also lose roughly one third of the first preferences votes he could expect to win should Norris not contest), The ability of both Higgins and Davis to attract transfers over and above any of their main rivals would see them edge out their current main rivals, Norris and McGuinness, as the election count progresses, leaving both candidates to contest the final count (with Davis narrowly edging ahead of Norris on the penultimate count). Norris will be heartened by his strong poll showing, as will McGuinness, but weak transfer figures for both candidates suggests that they both need to increase their first preference shares significantly over the campaign if they are to win the race for the Aras. Mary Davis is emerging as the dark horse in this election based on  her first preference and especially her ability to attract vote transfers, while neither Sean Gallagher or Gay Mitchell are out of contention and are well placed to allow a strong showing by either to push them back into serious contention, especially given their relatively stronger transfers ratings relative to Norris and McGuinness. As for Dana, while this poll suggests she is well off the pace, this poll figure is relatively similar to the levels she won in polls during the 1997 campaign, and these polls tended to significantly under-estimate her support as the final election figures showed.

The main message coming from this poll perhaps relates more to the findings of the transfer patterns, especially given the closeness of the contest as suggested by the poll findings relating to first preference figures. The low figures for transfers associated with McGuinness and especially Norris suggests that these two candidates will need to be polling significantly higher in terms of of first preference tallies than more transfer-friendly candidates, such as Davis and Higgins, if they are to go on to win the contest. So how far ahead would Norris and McGuinness need to be on the first count, based on support patterns evident in these poll figures, in order to go to be the winners once all the counting has concluded? First looking at David Norris, by replicating the model while increasing his vote and keeping the relative poll ratings of the other candidates consistent we can see that for him to edge out Michael D. Higgins narrowly on the final count that he would need to be over thirteen percent ahead of his closest rival on the first count – these figures would have the candidates’ support levels as follows – Norris 29.3%, Higgins 16.5%, McGuinness 14.7%, Davis 11.9%, Mitchell 11.9%, Gallagher 10.1%, Scallon 5.5%:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Norris    465,153    473,908    482,151    484,451    510,595    528,326
Higgins    262,634    281,018    330,481    376,473    428,761    528,058
McGuinness    233,452    245,708    272,088    290,486
Davis    189,680    213,317    241,346    296,537    354,634
Mitchell    189,680    201,936    229,965
Gallagher    160,498    164,875
Scallon      87,545

Carrying out the same analysis in the case of Martin McGuinness shows that he would need to be nearly eleven percent ahead of Michael D Higgins on the first count, based on these transfer patterns, in order for him to enjoy a (very!!!) narrow win on the final count – McGuinness 26.9%, Norris 18.7%, Higgins 16.0%, Davis 11.6%, Mitchell 11.6%, Gallagher 9.8%, Scallon 5.3%:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Norris    297,220    305,712    313,709    315,939    330,322
Higgins    254,760    272,593    320,573    365,187    445,728    534,915
McGuinness    428,068    439,956    465,546    483,391    492,021    534,963
Davis    183,993    206,922    234,110    287,647
Mitchell    183,993    195,882    223,071
Gallagher    155,687    159,933
Scallon      84,920

The extent to which both candidates’ share of first preferences would need to increase would not be as significant if their main challenger was a candidate such as Gay Mitchell, lacking the same ability to attract significant transfers to them as Michael D Higgins would. If Norris ended up vying for the presidency with Mitchell (in this case replicating the above analysis but swapping the positions of Mitchell and Higgins) he would need to be just under eight percent ahead of what would be his main challenger on the first count in order to win – Norris 25.2%, Higgins 12.6%, McGuinness 15.5%, Davis 12.6%, Mitchell 17.5%, Gallagher 10.7%, Scallon 5.8%:.

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Norris    400,093    409,354    418,076    430,842    457,437    501,120
Higgins    200,664    220,113    272,440    343,930    397,121
McGuinness    246,971    259,937    287,845    295,504
Davis    200,664    225,670    255,322
Mitchell    277,842    290,808    320,460    374,078    397,718    500,970
Gallagher    169,793    174,423
Scallon      92,614

If McGuinness ended up vying for the presidency with Mitchell (in this case replicating the above analysis involving McGuinness and Higgins, but swapping the positions of Mitchell and Higgins) he would need to be almost seven percent ahead of what would be his main challenger on the first count in order to win  – McGuinness 23.8%, Norris 19.5%, Higgins 12.1%, Davis 12.1%, Mitchell 16.7%, Gallagher 10.2%, Scallon 5.6%:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Norris    297,220    305,712    313,709    325,414    360,103
Higgins    183,993    201,827    249,806    315,357
McGuinness    361,830    373,719    399,308    406,331    434,713    481,527
Davis    183,993    206,922    234,110
Mitchell    254,760    266,649    293,837    343,001    424,993    481,506
Gallagher    155,687    159,933
Scallon      84,920

So, in order to be in a position to win, both Norris and McGuinness will either need to gain up to another ten percent in terms of first preference votes over the rest of the campaign (leaving them with a percentage share of the first preference vote in the high 20s, at least), or else significantly improve their transfer attractiveness, or else hope that they are vying at the end with a less transfer-attractive candidate, such as Mitchell. Both are helped somewhat by the large number of candidates in the field, which means also that there will be probably a significant increase in numbers of non-transferable votes as supporters of lower placed candidates fail to give preferences to all candidates.

However, unless either Norris or McGuinness significantly improve on their first preference tallies or become more transfer-attractive, it is hard to see either winning in a head-to-head battle for the presidency with Higgins. At present, and being mindful of these transfer patterns, the main threat to a Higgins victory would appear to be a surge in support for Mary Davis (or for Gay Mitchell, to a less evident extent) as the campaign progresses. If the first poll of the official campaign shows momentum building for Davis, she could well offer a serious challenge to Higgins for the ultimate prize.

****************************************************************************************

In terms of the poll measuring current levels of party support, support levels for both government parties are seen to be roughly 3% lower than the levels achieved in the February 2011 election, but this will be a significantly most disappointing poll finding for Fine Gael given that party’s very strong showings in a range of opinion polls in the months since the election. The post-election honeymoon may finally be over for Fine Gael – previous polls suggest that this ended somewhat earlier for Labour and this poll figure compares relatively favourably with some other polls held during the post-election period but most notably the September 4th Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll. Offering even better news for Labour is the finding that Michael D. Higgins still stands poised to win the presidential election – Higgins’ significant ability to attract to transfers would see him win the election based on these poll
standings despite David Norris currently leading the field in terms of first preference votes.

The September 25th Red C-Sunday Business Post poll puts national support levels for the main political parties and groupings as follows: Fine Gael 33% (down 8% relative to the last such poll in May 2011), Labour 16% (down 3%), Fianna Fail 15% (down 1%), Sinn Fein 15% (up 4%), Independents and Others 21% (down 8%). The significant trends here relative to the previous poll in May relates to the significant drop in support for Fine Gael, with support levels for the government parties falling by a combined level of 11%.

Based solely on assigning seats on the basis of the constituency support estimates (simply using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats), party seat levels would be estimated as follows: Fine Gael 69, Labour 28, Fianna Fail 18, Sinn Fein 20, Others 31. When the factors of vote transfers and vote splitting/management (based on vote transfer/management patterns oberved in the February 2011 election) are accounted for and constituency marginality levels at the February 2011 election taken account of, the party seat levels would more than likely be as follows: Fine Gael 70, Labour 32, Fianna Fail 16, Sinn Fein 21, Others 27.

The constituency support estimates based on the poll figures are as follows:

FF FG LB SF OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 25% 37% 14% 15% 9%
Cavan-Monaghan 16% 33% 4% 36% 10%
Clare 20% 41% 13% 0% 27%
Cork East 15% 35% 27% 17% 6%
Cork North Central 13% 23% 21% 22% 20%
Cork North West 23% 47% 12% 12% 6%
Cork South Central 25% 33% 16% 13% 13%
Cork South West 21% 47% 12% 12% 8%
Donegal North East 14% 27% 8% 34% 18%
Donegal South West 17% 16% 4% 43% 21%
Dublin Central 12% 18% 23% 19% 28%
Dublin Mid West 10% 28% 25% 18% 18%
Dublin North 14% 30% 22% 0% 34%
Dublin North Central 11% 35% 19% 8% 27%
Dublin North East 10% 27% 29% 18% 16%
Dublin North West 10% 15% 35% 32% 8%
Dublin South 8% 33% 15% 4% 41%
Dublin South Central 8% 21% 29% 20% 22%
Dublin South East 10% 33% 21% 6% 30%
Dublin South West 9% 25% 30% 26% 10%
Dublin West 15% 25% 24% 9% 26%
Dun Laoghaire 14% 34% 27% 0% 26%
Galway East 16% 40% 11% 9% 25%
Galway West 18% 27% 10% 9% 36%
Kerry North-West Limerick 10% 36% 16% 30% 9%
Kerry South 11% 29% 9% 0% 51%
Kildare North 13% 31% 25% 9% 22%
Kildare South 20% 32% 24% 10% 14%
Laois-Offaly 23% 30% 6% 16% 25%
Limerick City 19% 41% 17% 14% 8%
Limerick 19% 48% 16% 0% 17%
Longford-Westmeath 18% 37% 23% 12% 11%
Louth 13% 27% 15% 31% 14%
Mayo 14% 62% 4% 10% 10%
Meath East 17% 39% 18% 14% 12%
Meath West 15% 42% 11% 26% 6%
Roscommon-South Leitrim 12% 34% 7% 14% 32%
Sligo-North Leitrim 18% 33% 8% 20% 21%
Tipperary North 14% 21% 16% 9% 40%
Tipperary South 11% 30% 9% 7% 44%
Waterford 12% 34% 15% 15% 23%
Wexford 16% 32% 17% 9% 26%
Wicklow 9% 35% 14% 15% 27%

Based solely on assigning seats on the basis of the constituency support estimates (simply using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats), party seat levels would be estimated as follows:

FF FG LB SF OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 1 2 1 1
Cavan-Monaghan 1 2 2
Clare 1 2 1
Cork East 2 1 1
Cork North Central 1 1 1 1
Cork North West 1 2
Cork South Central 1 2 1 1
Cork South West 1 2
Donegal North East 1 1 1
Donegal South West 1 1 1
Dublin Central 1 1 1 1
Dublin Mid West 1 1 1 1
Dublin North 1 1 2
Dublin North Central 1 1 1
Dublin North East 1 1 1
Dublin North West 2 1
Dublin South 2 1 2
Dublin South Central 1 2 1 1
Dublin South East 2 1 1
Dublin South West 1 2 1
Dublin West 1 1 1 1
Dun Laoghaire 2 1 1
Galway East 1 2 1
Galway West 1 2 2
Kerry North-West Limerick 2 1
Kerry South 1 2
Kildare North 2 1 1
Kildare South 1 1 1
Laois-Offaly 1 2 1 1
Limerick City 1 2 1
Limerick 1 2
Longford-Westmeath 1 2 1
Louth 2 1 2
Mayo 1 4
Meath East 2 1
Meath West 2 1
Roscommon-South Leitrim 2 1
Sligo-North Leitrim 1 1 1
Tipperary North 1 2
Tipperary South 1 2
Waterford 2 1 1
Wexford 1 2 1 1
Wicklow 2 1 1 1
STATE 18 69 28 20 31

When the model is amended to account for seats that may be won or lost on the basis of a large/small number of candidates contesting the election, vote transfers and vote management (e.g. discrepancies between votes won by party front runners and their running mates which would see potential seat wins fall out of a party’s hands), the seat allocations across the constituencies would look more like this:

FF FG LB SF OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 1 2 1 1
Cavan-Monaghan 1 2 2
Clare 1 2 1
Cork East 2 1 1
Cork North Central 1 1 1 1
Cork North West 1 2
Cork South Central 1 2 1 1
Cork South West 2 1
Donegal North East 1 1 1
Donegal South West 1 1 1
Dublin Central 1 1 1 1
Dublin Mid West 2 1 1
Dublin North 2 1 1
Dublin North Central 1 1 1
Dublin North East 1 1 1
Dublin North West 2 1
Dublin South 2 1 2
Dublin South Central 1 2 1 1
Dublin South East 2 1 1
Dublin South West 1 2 1
Dublin West 1 1 1 1
Dun Laoghaire 2 1 1
Galway East 1 2 1
Galway West 1 1 1 2
Kerry North-West Limerick 1 1 1
Kerry South 1 2
Kildare North 2 1 1
Kildare South 1 1 1
Laois-Offaly 1 2 1 1
Limerick City 1 2 1
Limerick 1 2
Longford-Westmeath 1 2 1
Louth 2 1 2
Mayo 1 3 1
Meath East 2 1
Meath West 2 1
Roscommon-South Leitrim 2 1
Sligo-North Leitrim 2 1
Tipperary North 1 1 1
Tipperary South 1 2
Waterford 2 1 1
Wexford 1 2 1 1
Wicklow 2 1 1 1
STATE 16 70 32 21 27

Given that there are a number of other potential gains seen to be within Sinn Fein’s grasp (such as Roscommon-South Leitrim and Waterford), in addition to the seven seats gains suggested by the results of this analysis, this has to be seen as a good result for that party and suggests that the party may be making political gains resulting from their decision to contest the presidential election and to run a high profile candidate in Martin McGuinness. This is the first poll to show the combined support levels of the two government parties falling below the 50% level for the first time since the general election, but although both parties would be predicted to lose six seats each they would still be winning a more than sufficient number of seats to maintain a comfortable majority in Dail Eireann based on these figures. Fianna Fail will be relieved that these figures are decidedly better than those of last week’s poll in The Sunday Independent but on the other hand these poll figures suggest that the party is now being outstripped by Sinn Fein as the main party amongst the opposition groups. With a potential combined seat tally of 70 across Labour, Sinn Fein and left-leaning independents and smaller party (including ULA) candidates, the poll findings also suggest the potential of an alternative Left coalition government option, should Fine Gael and Fianna Fail over time move towards a political marriage.

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3 thoughts on “Red C-Sunday Business Post polls (25th September): Transfer patterns suggest Higgins to win with Davis as main challenger

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