Gallagher poll lead widens in weekend polls while Sinn Fein and Independents gain in terms of party support

Adrian Kavanagh, 25th October 2011

The final series of opinion polls at the weekend saw Sean Gallagher maintain, and even widen somewhat, the lead he established over Michael D. Higgins and the other candidates in the previous weekend’s Sunday Business Post-Red C poll, although the sheer momentum he had built up over the previous few weeks has abated somewhat.

The release of the presidential election polls by Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI, Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes and Sunday Business Post-Red C all underline how dramatically the campaign changed over the previous few weeks, with the list of potential winners being effectively funnelled down from five or six potential winners back at the end of September to just two candidates with realistic ambitions of winning the contest, Higgins and Gallagher. Both these candidates’ support levels have increased over the course of the campaign, but the increase in Gallagher support has been particularly dramatic over the past month and, as with last week’s Red C poll, he has now established a commanding lead over Higgins and the rest of the field. The trends in all three of the weekend’s polls appear remarkably consistent.  The Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI poll estimates support levels for the candidates as follows (comared to the previous such poll on October 6th): Gallagher 40% (+20%), Higgins 25% (+2%), McGuinness 15% (-4%), Norris 8% (-3%), Mitchell 6% (-3%), Scallon 3% (-3%), Davis 3% (-9%). The Sunday Business Post-Red C poll estimates support levels for the candidates as follows (relative to the previous week’s Red C poll): Gallagher 40% (+1%), Higgins 26% (-1%), McGuinness 13% (NC), Norris 10% (+3%), Mitchell 6% (-2%), Scallon 3% (+1%), Davis 2% (-2%).  The Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attituides poll estimates support levels for the candidates as follows (relative to previous such poll on 9th October): Gallagher 38%, Higgins 26%, McGuinness 17%, Mitchell 8%, Norris 6%, Davis 3%, Scallon 2%.

On the basis of these figures, Sean Gallagher will win the presidency, edging out Michael D Higgins on the final count but by a slightly narrower margin (even though the Gallagher first preference lead increases) than that envisaged in the previous post relating to the October 16th Sunday Business Post-Red C poll, as the Red C figures envisage that Higgins will take a somewhat higher share of transfers – and in particular transfers from Martin McGuinness – than the levels envisaged in the previous week’s release of polling data.

As the only poll to provide detailed transfer intention data, 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. 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, so in this analysis a slightly higher turnout estimate (1,765,157) will be used which would put the national turnout level for this election around the 55% mark. Different turnout levels between areas and groups could well also 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, age cohorts and social groups.

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     176,516     182,164     188,222     189,360    
Higgins     458,941     459,647     460,198     521,613     582,208     662,302
McGuinness     229,470     235,825     250,695     251,832     266,981  
Davis      35,303          
Mitchell     105,909     107,675     113,733      
Gallagher     706,063     717,713     732,032     763,877     803,642     873,057
Scallon       52,955      55,073        

Thus this model would conceive that Gallagher would win the contest by a relatively comfortable margin (210,755 votes) over Higgins on the final count. Indeed a further swing of around two and a half percent to him from Higgins/McGuinness could see him elected without needing the elimination of McGuinness and his transfers to ensure victory. As noted above, in terms of first preference votes Gallagher widens his lead over Higgins in this poll (by a margin of 2%), but Higgins’ stronger ability to attract transfers in this particular poll actually means that the gap between the two narrows relative to that for the similar analysis (see below) of the October 16th poll (which would be estimated as 231,921 votes if the same estimated turnout level is used):

  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 
Norris    123,561    123,561    127,268      
Higgins    476,592    479,064    499,822    540,548    609,850    632,831
McGuinness    229,470    232,295    238,226    248,407    255,337  
Davis      70,606      74,137        
Mitchell    141,213    145,802    155,440    173,257    
Gallagher    688,411    695,119    708,463    741,553    777,937    864,752
Scallon      35,303          

Higgins is now estimated to take more of the McGuinness transfers (30%) than Gallagher (26%), whereas the previous week’s poll figures suggested Gallagher would take four times as many McGuinness transfers. This could be a crucial factor if the race between these two candidates narrows over the final few days of the campaign. On the basis of the transfer data provided with this Red C poll, a six per cent swing from Gallagher to Higgins (leaving Gallagher at 34%, Higgins at 32%) could yet see Higgins in the Aras, as Higgins’ stronger ability to attract transfers from especially Norris and McGuinness would see him eat into the Gallagher lead as the counts progress and the transfers of other candidates are distributed (as below):

  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 
Norris     176,516     182,164     188,222     189,360    
Higgins     564,850     565,556     566,107     627,523     688,118     768,212
McGuinness     229,470     235,825     250,695     251,832     266,981  
Davis      35,303          
Mitchell     105,909     107,675     113,733      
Gallagher     600,153     611,803     626,122     657,967     697,733     767,148
Scallon       52,955      55,073        

Controversies surrounding the Gallagher campaign, which emerged in a testy final presidential debate on Monday, may suggest that there may be a late swing away from him to Higgins (in which case a five/six percent swing would make for a very close contest between the two, as suggested above) – on the other hand, a sympathy factor may act to bolster the Galalgher lead and see him comfortably elected as the next president of the Republic of Ireland.   

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 220,605 votes. Higgins and Gallagher obviously would be expected to exceed that level based on these poll figures. In terms of the other candidates, on these figures McGuinness would seem to be strongly placed to take third place in the election and should expect to win a sufficient support level to allow him to reclaim campaign expenses but a low turnout level amongst his support base could see his actual vote fall dangerously close to this threshold. Mary Davis and Dana would currently appear to entertain few hopes of reaching this threshold at any stage during the count before their elimination based on these figures (although it is worth noting that Dana did exceed this 12.5% threshold in 1997, even though the polls leading up to the election consistently suggested that she wouldn’t achieve a sufficient level of support). The stronger placed candidate out of Gay Mitchell and David Norris may entertain some hopes however, although this would require them to claw back some further support over the final week of the campaign. On these figures Norris would be the stronger and would have attained a level of votes and transfers equivalent to 11.9% of the first preference votes when he would be eliminated based on this analysis – so he could entertain some hopes that a slightly higher support level for him in the election could see him at least be in a position to reclaim campaign expenses.     

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

The October 23rd Sunday Business Post-Red C poll puts national support levels for the main political parties and groupings as follows: Fine Gael 31% (down 2% relative to the last such poll in September 2011), Labour 17% (up 1%), Fianna Fail 14% (down 1%), Sinn Fein 16% (up 1%),  Independents, Green Party and Others 22% (up 1%). As such there are only minor variations relative to the previous such poll, with a slight swing away from the government parties (or rather Fine Gael) and the centrist parties/the old “main” parties (Fianna Fail and Fine Gael) toward Sinn Fein and the smaller parties. 

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 67, Labour 28, Fianna Fail 16, Sinn Fein 21, Others 34. 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 66, Labour 35, Fianna Fail 14, Sinn Fein 23, Others 28.

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

  FF FG LB SF OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 24% 36% 15% 16% 9%
Cavan-Monaghan 15% 31% 5% 39% 10%
Clare 19% 39% 14% 0% 29%
Cork East 14% 33% 28% 19% 6%
Cork North Central 12% 22% 22% 23% 21%
Cork North West 22% 45% 13% 13% 7%
Cork South Central 24% 31% 17% 14% 14%
Cork South West 20% 45% 13% 13% 9%
Donegal North East 13% 25% 9% 36% 18%
Donegal South West 15% 14% 4% 45% 21%
Dublin Central 11% 16% 23% 20% 29%
Dublin Mid West 9% 26% 27% 19% 19%
Dublin North 13% 28% 24% 0% 36%
Dublin North Central 11% 33% 20% 9% 28%
Dublin North East 9% 25% 30% 19% 16%
Dublin North West 9% 14% 36% 33% 8%
Dublin South 7% 31% 15% 4% 42%
Dublin South Central 7% 19% 30% 21% 23%
Dublin South East 9% 31% 22% 6% 32%
Dublin South West 8% 23% 31% 27% 10%
Dublin West 13% 24% 26% 10% 27%
Dun Laoghaire 13% 32% 28% 0% 27%
Galway East 15% 37% 12% 10% 26%
Galway West 16% 26% 11% 10% 37%
Kerry North-West Limerick 9% 34% 17% 32% 9%
Kerry South 10% 27% 9% 0% 53%
Kildare North 12% 29% 26% 9% 23%
Kildare South 18% 30% 26% 10% 15%
Laois-Offaly 21% 29% 7% 17% 26%
Limerick City 18% 39% 19% 15% 9%
Limerick    18% 46% 17% 0% 18%
Longford-Westmeath 17% 35% 25% 13% 11%
Louth 12% 25% 16% 33% 14%
Mayo 14% 60% 5% 11% 10%
Meath East 16% 37% 19% 15% 13%
Meath West 15% 39% 12% 28% 6%
Roscommon-South Leitrim 12% 32% 8% 15% 34%
Sligo-North Leitrim 17% 31% 9% 21% 22%
Tipperary North 13% 19% 17% 10% 42%
Tipperary South 10% 28% 9% 7% 45%
Waterford 11% 32% 16% 16% 24%
Wexford 15% 30% 18% 9% 27%
Wicklow 8% 33% 15% 16% 28%
STATE 14% 31% 17% 16% 22%

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       2 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   2
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   1 1 2 1
Mayo 1 4      
Meath East   2 1    
Meath West   2   1  
Roscommon-South Leitrim   1     2
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 16 67 28 21 34

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       2 1
Dublin Central   1 1 1 1
Dublin Mid West   1 2 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 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      2 1    
Longford-Westmeath   2 1 1  
Louth 1 1 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 14 66 35 23 28

Given that there are a number of other potential gains seen to be within Sinn Fein’s grasp (such as Roscommon-South Leitrim, Limerick City, Waterford), in addition to the nine seats gains suggested by the results of this analysis (with Sinn Fein candidates such as Kathleen Funchion, John Brady and Eoin O Broin predicted to take seats), this has to be seen as a very 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 take the gamble of running a high profile candidate in Martin McGuinness (even if he is not in a position to win the contest). The very polarised geography of support for Sinn Fein means that the party can win a significant number of seats with support levels in the low teens, as this translates into sufficiently high support levels to win seats in their stronger constituencies (and very low support levels in their weak constituencies). However, this means that there is a “ceiling” in terms of the potential number of seats they party can win while their support level remains in the 10-20 percent range, as even as support nationally increases they will still be well off the pace in terms of winning seats in their weakest constituencies, such as Dublin South. In a similar vein (although the Labour geography of support would not be as defined, or polarised, as Sinn Fein’s) Labour experienced a similar problem in the 2011 General Election in trying to translate the “Gilmore Gale” surge in party support into seat gains in traditionally weak constituencies such as Mayo, Cavan-Monaghan and the two Donegal constituencies.

While combined support levels for the government parties are seen to fall by 7%  relative to the February 2011 election figures and both parties would be predicted to lose  a number of seats (but particularly Fine Gael), the two parties would still be winning a more than a sufficient number of seats to maintain a comfortable majority in Dail Eireann based on these poll figures. For Fianna Fail, these poll figures suggest that the party is at risk of  being outstripped by Sinn Fein as the main party amongst the opposition groups and the party runs the risk of being marginalised (as it has in terms of main political events at present by the party’s decision not to run a candidate in the presidential election, although this has been significantly tempered by the Gallagher success). With a potential combined total of around seventy seats 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 in the centre or the centre-right of the Irish political spectrum.

Based solely on translating the trends evidenced in this poll into constituency support estimates in Dublin West the by-election contest looks like being extremely close between the Fine Gael candidate, Eithne Loftus, the Socialist Party candidate, Ruth Coppinger, and the Labour candidate, Patrick Nulty. As noted previously, a study of past by-election trends since 198o shows that government party tends tend to fare poorly in by-elections and a growing realisation that voters will vote differently in different types of elections means that Ruth Coppinger might be well placed to win (at least in terms of first preference votes!) what is ultimately boiling down to a three horse race in Dublin West.

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4 thoughts on “Gallagher poll lead widens in weekend polls while Sinn Fein and Independents gain in terms of party support

  1. Assuming Gallagher has not lost his ‘independent’ label overnight, it seems McGuinness’ is the most important elimination that we’ll see.

    The message from Sinn Féin to its voters was pretty clear last night – that they should not touch Gallagher – could be decisive. I suspect this will have an impact but may mean more votes go dead than necessarily move to Higgins. Higgins should do well with Norris and Mitchell’s votes, whereas Dana and Davis will help Gallagher. So it’s all down to McGuinness.

    If the first count is like the last polls Higgins could still catch up. If he’s closed the gap to less than ten points, Higgins should take it (maybe even comfortably).

    In the end the weather could determine this – a lot of rain in the west, and dry in the east would be good for Higgins, and vice versa.

  2. Now that Gallagher has been forced into the open and any pretense of not being a FF candidate is gone, even down to his finger tips, cheque, brown or white envelope attached, it will be interesting to see how the electorate react.

    They fairly well dumped FF on February 25th. They rooted out every single Green party Teachta Dala too, so I would be amazed to see them reverse engines and take on Sean as their new FF mascot in the Park. I think Higgins will get transfers from everywhere including McGuinness as a lot of people voting for McGuiness and Sinn Fein are voting for a SF candidate for the first time and will not be lectured to as to what to do with their 2nd preference. Yes, die hard SF may not give second preferences but I would be surprised if there are too many of them and Higgins will pick up a substantial number of SF transfers.

  3. I happened to look back at the Economic 2011 book the other night to remind myself how wrong all the ‘learned’ contributors were about the year 2011.

    Essentially despite all the polls and data we simply haven’t got the faintest idea what the result will be or why until afterwards and who would have thought last Sunday that we’d know now what we know about Gallagher or that it would be Martin McGuinness who would be the man to provide the information that might just make people stop and think before they vote.

    After all, what are betting odds on how long before a President Gallagher would have his thundering disgrave moment and resign – then what?

  4. Well in the “thundering disgrace” moment, it was Liam Cosgrave and Donegan that were the ones that were viewed as the crooked arrows by most of the electorate.

    Gallagher is viewed as purely responsible and is not fulfilling any duty.

    Irregardless of all that, the shine has gone off his campaign and a very significant no. of people have already moved away from his campaign. He still has the FF gombeen vote and his hardcore support but he was relying on large vol’s of FG/LAB/SF core voters, he is going to loose a lot of their support in 1’s and preferences. I can’t see the man finishing ahead of MDH at this stage, he might even be in 3rd position. If he finished on 15% of firsts I would not be surprised but expect him to be about 28%.

    For a very large no. of people that I have spoken to he has become a new Bertie and there is a lot of disgust with the man.

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