Adrian Kavanagh, 17th October 2011
The Sunday Business Post-Red C poll shows momentum for Sean Gallagher continuing and now pushing him well ahead of Michael D. Higgins and other contenders and on these figures he could expect to enjoy a comfortable victory on the final count by more than 200,000 votes. Just as interesting is the degree to which this campaign is opening up, or rather intensifying, questions to do with politicial class divisions that exist within Irish society (rural, urban middle class, urban working class) and impact on parties, voters and various elements of the political commentariat.Analysing the figures: The 16th October Sunday Business Post-Red C poll on the presidential election points to the campaign having hit a critical juncture, with effectively two candidates left in serious contention to win the presidency and with gathering momentum pushing Sean Gallagher into a significant poll lead, which would see him comfortably claim the presidency on the final count with a gap of over two hundred thousand votes over his main rival should these figures be replicated on election day. While US campaigns thrive on the basis of Mo-Mo (money and momentum), it can be seen that Gallagher is relying on just one of these (momentum) given his low campaign spend relative to other candidates due to his decision not to use posters – effectively amounting to a form of “Po-Mo” (based on tweet from Philip Cowley – see below) – or maybe rather a case of NoPo-Mo! Just as interesting is the extent to which the figures released with the Red C poll findings infers underlying divisions between key different Irish political class types.
The two presidential election polls (Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI and Paddy Power-Red C) published last week dramatically changed the dynamics of the campaign, noting the sudden surge in Galalgher support effectively funnelling the field of contenders for the presidency down to three, or rather two, candidates. The Sunday Business Post-Red C poll confirms these trends, with Gallagher again making further significant gains in support, Higgins also gaining support (but to a much less significant degree) and all other candidates losing ground relative to the two front runners. The poll estimates support levels for the candidates (and the changes relative to last week’s Red C poll for Paddy Power) as follows: Gallagher 39% (plus 18%), Higgins 25% (plus 2%), McGuinness 13% (down 3%), Mitchell 8% (down 2%), Norris 7% (down 7%), Davis 4% (down 4%), Scallon 2% (down 3%). On the basis of these figures, Sean Gallagher would be expected to win the presidency, beating out Michael D Higgins on the final count by a significant margin. While Higgins still appears slightly more transfer-attractive than Gallagher (estimated to take 20% of all vote transfers, against a 19% estimate for Gallagher), Gallagher is estimated to take decidedly larger share of the McGuinness transfers (34% against a mere 9% for Higgins) and this would further cement his victory, should these figures be replicated in the election on October 27th. Ultimately Higgins must eat into the Gallagher lead over the final weeks of the campaign if he is to still enjoy hopes of winning the presidency – he cannot hope for a significant bounce from transfers to make up a significant difference in terms of first preference votes to the extent that he might have hoped had the front runner been David Norris or Martin McGuinness.
This analysis will focus on the figures provided in the Sunday Business Post-Red C poll in terms of trying to estimate the likely election outcome. The 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, might not have been discounted given the closeness of earlier polls but should Gallagher extend his lead over the final polls of the campaign then some of the electorate may view the contest as a foregone conclusion and decide not to vote. On the other hand, should the gap between Gallagher and Higgins narrow in the final weeks of the campaign, different turnout levels between areas and groups could well prove to have a significant bearing on the election outcome, especially in cases where the two main contenders are drawing the main support from high/low turnout geographical areas (e.g. rural versus urban), age cohorts (e.g. older voters versus younger voters) and social groups (e.g. urban middle class/rural class versus urban working class).
Based on the poll figures (for support and transfer patterns) and this estimated turnout value, the counts would be likely to progress as follows:
The model also suggests that only three candidates will win a sufficient number of first preference votes and transfers to reach the sufficient number of votes (12.5% of what first preference votes amounted to/one quarter of the quota) at any stage during the count (and before they are eliminated) to allow them to reclaim campaign expenses – in the case of the model above this figure would amount to 198,580 votes. On these figures this would not be an issue for McGuinness, Gallagher and Higgins – all of whom are exceeding this figure on the basis of first preference votes alone (although a further loss of support for McGuinness may cause concerns in this regard for him), but the other candidates would not attain enough first preferences or subsequent transfers votes to reach this figure. Gay Mitchell would be the closest of these four candidates to this level, but even he would be over 40,o00 votes shy of this (his level of support when he would be eliminated on the fourth count would equate to 9.8% of the first preference votes). Mitchell is in a position when he can hope to reclaim/gain sufficient sufficient support levels to manage to garner enough first preferences and transfers to reclaim expenses, but he will need to gain another three percent in support over the next ten days in in order to do so.
It is worth noting that this poll was held ahead of the Prime Time candidates’ debate last week and there may be merit to claims that Sean Gallagher’s failure to sufficiently denounce the failures of Fianna Fail in government may cost him some support and allow Michael D Higgins narrow the margin evidenced between the two candidates in the October 16th poll. Either ways there is still time for Higgins (who, it is worth stressing, continues to gain support) to make up ground on Gallagher, but this will not prove to be the case if the Gallagher campaign continues to have the same momentum behind it as it does based on these poll findings.
Political classes and the 2011 Presidential campaign: In the past scholars such as John Whyte referred to the limited impact of class differences on an Irish political system that was largely dominated by two centrist parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, although others, such as Michael Marsh, have argued that class differences do have an impact on Irish elections with the extent of this impact varying at different elections. I would argue that class is a significant factor in Irish elections, but only if we think of political classes and conceive of these as amounting to more than just traditional working class and middle class dimensions to incorporate a rural voting class. Socio-economic differences between these are obviously important (and in some ways indices related to accesibility, such as broadband access, may be as important as those relating to economic well-being in this regard) but perhaps what is more important is the differences in terms of outlook, or world-views, between these different groups. Political class differences in turn have a bearing in terms of explaining the geographies of support that different parties receive at election times, with certain constituencies, or areas, tending to be mainly dominated by one (or two) of these different classes resulting in particular voting patterns being associated with such areas. Class differences exist within the larger parties and may be underpinning internal rivalries within these parties, which occasionally surface at the time of leadership elections and leadership challenges (as with the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail “heaves” of 2010 and 2011, as well as the Fianna Fail “heaves” of the 1980s and early 1990s). It is also worth noting that different Taoisigh have tended to represent one of the different political class groups almost on an alternating basis in recent decades (with the rural class’s continued dominance of this post (Cowen followed by Kenny) amouning to a deviation from the normal pattern of alternating this post between these class groups – the normal pattern would have been maintained had the Fine Gael “heave” of 2010 proved successful). Poltical class identities of areas and constituencies are not set in stone and significant changes to the demographic and socio-economic make-up of areas, as associated with significant levels of in-migration into an area, can bring about a change in this regard.
So what are these different political classes and what makes these unique? Based on a number of decades observing Irish politics and studying Irish voting behaviour, I would argue that these can be described as follows:
Rural: Voters here tend to lean towards Fine Gael (at present) but would still retain a greater level of sympathy towards Fianna Fail that would be observed from the other class groups. Labour enjoys some degree of support amongst this group but only a certain level and it was this ceiling to the Labour rural-class support base that put paid to “Gilmore for Taioseach” aspirations at the February 2011 election. Single-issue or gene-pool (ex Fianna Fail and Fine Gael) independents enjoy significant support levels amongst this group, while this is perhaps the group amongst which the more notable increases in Sinn Fein support may be evidenced over the coming years, amounting to further electoral break-throughs along the lines of Brian Stanley’s victory in Laois-Offaly in February 2011. Voters in this area tend to be unlikely to support small left-of-centre parties or political groupings (unless these are based around a candidate who has done the “work on the ground” for a considerable period of time, as with Seamus Healy) and tend to be VERY unlikely to support Green Party candidates. Ideological differences don’t have the same resonances as for the other political classes and voters place greater stress on constituency work than on political differences. Voters are highly likely to turn out to vote in local and general elections and less likely to vote in referendum elections (especially in the West and especially in Donegal).
Urban working class: Voters here tend to lean towards Labour, Sinn Fein and other smaller left-0f-centre political parties and groupings, but most notably the United Left Alliance. Although Fianna Fail tended to poll strongly amongst this group right up until the most recent local and general elections (but the biggest collapse in Fianna Fail support in 2011 was probably most evident amongst this group), Fine Gael has polled poorly and it is the party’s inability to gain traction amongst this class group (as evidenced in the party’s inability to win a seat in Dublin North-West in the 2011 election) that prevents it from attaining a sufficient number of votes/seats to form a single party government at present. Ideological differences are more important here than amongst the rural political class, but voters here are more likely support candidates who are doing the “work on the ground” than would be the case amongst the urban middle class – it is this tendency to also highlight the importance of constituency work that points to potential allignments with the rural political classes and percolates down into certain aspects of voting behaviour. This group is characterised with a low propensity to turn out to vote in elections (although recent analyses point to a significant increase in turnout propensity amongst this group at the 2011 contest), but voters are more likely to turn out to vote in local and general elections than they are to vote in referendum elections (unless a specific vote-mobilisation campaign by a party such as Sinn Fein is at play).
Urban middle class: With the Progressive Democrats no longer in existence and with the declining fortunes of the Green Party and Fianna Fail, Fine Gael is now the dominant party amongst this group although Labour have carved out a particular niche amongst this group too (to some degree occupying the ground enjoyed by the Green Party as the middle class “party of protest” during the 1990s and 2000s). Parties and groupings that are located further to the left of the political spectrum than Labour or the Green Party tend to poll poorly amongst this group and there is an especially decided antipathy towards Sinn Fein – a factor that becomes particularly signigficant given that many leading figures amongst the political commentariat would tend to come from this particular class group. Ideological differences are particularly significant amongst this class group and less stress is placed on political personalities and on the importance of constituency work amongst a group, which wishes to be portrayed as voting on the basis of ideas and policy-differences. This stress on ideology and antipathy towards personality politics is evident in turnout propensity of this group – while this group is associated with high turnout levels for general elections (as national issues are at stake), this group is much more interested in turning out for referendum elections than they are in turning out for local elections, in part also because the impact of county council activities and decisions seem to be less notable in relation to this group than would be the case for the rural and urban working political classes.
So what does this mean for the presidential election? Well, as the Red C’s analysis of the poll figures do not offer a breakdown by class the amount of definite findings that can be drawn out is limited but inferences can be drawn on the basis of regional voting pattern and vote transfer details contained in this report. On that basis, it could be argued that we seeing a particular battle between the main representatives of the different classes, with Sean Gallagher the main candidate amongst the rural political class as against Michael D Higgins (now the leading standard bearer of the urban middle class as the Norris support levels continue to wane – a factor evidenced by the strong transfers from Higgins to Norris) and Martin McGuinness (particularly strong amongst the urban working class). At the moment the election is being won and lost amonst the rural political class voters, with Gallagher’s dominance of this group providing a strong platform to allow him to push for overall victory (although his relative weakness in Dublin at present (at 26% against 41% for Higgins) is the main factor preventing him from entirely cementing a victory); conversely the inability of the Higgins campaign to gain serious traction amongst rural voters could well be the factor that cost him the presidency. The continued importance of this group cannot be under-estimated (although it can occasionally be under-estimated given the relatively few representatives of this groups amongst the leading lights of the political commentariat) and indeed it was this group’s decision to anoint Fine Gael, and not Labour, as the successors to Fianna Fail that ensured Enda Kenny would be elected Taoiseach after the recent general election. I would also hypothesise that this group is more sympathetic towards the campaigns of Gay Mitchell and Dana than the other groups are, but the extent of this sympathy is being eclipsed to a large degree by the Gallagher strength in rural Ireland.
What other light might be shone on the presidential election race if we use this idea of political class? The problems associated with Gay Mitchell’s campaign might be explained by the fact of him being from a decidedly urban working class background (and having represented a very working class Dail constituency, Dublin South-Central for a long period of time), while being the candidate of a party whose main support bases are decidedly drawn from the other two political classes, the rural and urban middle political classes. Could class differences between the candidate and the party’s support bases explain why his campaign has failed to gain signficant traction amongst Fine Gael supporters? The vehemence of the commentary on/campaigns against (and whatever the issues involved, these have associated an unnecessary, and an excessive degree, of bile with this campaign) certain candidates amongst the political commentariat might be rooted also, or exarcerbated by, in the degree to which certain candidates are seen seen as being largely (or almost exclusively identified) with a specific political class – Dana (rural, or more specifically traditional rural), Martin McGuinness (urban working class) and David Norris (urban middle class). The candidates who have been most successful in avoiding similar levels of billous commentary are those candidates whose appeal can straddle across different political classes, as long as one of these class groups involves the urban middle political class that holds a significant degree of weight within the political commentariat , and Michael D. Higgins is probably the best example of this.
The extent to which this political class model might fully account for differences between candidates, and between candidates and commentators, and for the emergence of further such differences across the remainder of the campaign is of course debatable (and one that can only be fully explored and explained by a fully array of tally data for this election and significant amounts of research funding, cough, cough), but I would argue that the fine detail of the Red C poll figures shows that political class differences are having a bearing on voting intentions in this campaign and the influence of this factor appears to be increasing as the campaign progresses and is likely to be especially evident in the actual voting patterns come election day. Could differences between these political classes determine who wins the presidency on October 27th? Probably…