Post by Kevin Cunningham
PhD Candidate in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin
The Millward Brown/Independent poll conducted between the 13th and 25th of September suggested a 64 per cent to 36 per cent margin in favour of abolition. The Red C/Sunday Business Post poll conducted between the 9th and 11th of September indicated a 59% to 41% margin. The night before the election, Paddy Power offered 1/10 on a Yes vote compared to a 5 to 1 for a No vote.
The error in these polls was a consequence of insufficiently accounting for the likelihood of an individual to turn out. Although polling firms follow well-recognised guidelines, the guidelines are not necessarily equipped for elections where less than half of the electorate are likely to turn out. Red C, for example, asked respondents to rate from 1 to 10 the likelihood that they will vote. They discard only those who rated their likelihood as being between 1 and 3. This is eminently sensible for a General Election, however by including people who rated themselves as having a 4 out of 10 or 5 out of 10 chance of voting the poll includes large numbers of people with too low a likelihood of voting. It would appear that those more likely to vote were those in the ‘No’ camp.
With this in mind, some proponents of the ‘Yes’ campaign have complained that a lower turnout may have been to blame for the result. The suggestion is that a higher turnout would have produced a different result. Indeed, it certainly seems that people less likely to vote favoured abolition and perhaps if forced to, would have voted for the motion.
However, it is far from certain that an increase in turnout would have affected the result in this way. Extensive research indicates that an elector’s propensity to vote is driven by the extent to which they are informed about the underlying issue. All things being equal, informed individuals are more likely to vote than uninformed ones. Thus, apart from the relative importance of the issue, increases in turnout are driven by more extensive information campaigns which would perhaps only serve to increase turnout without really having any effect on the relative proportions in the result. In this way, given what we know about the composition of non-voters compared to voters, it would appear that if mobilized to vote, a significant proportion of non-voters would be likely to change their allegiance from a ‘Yes’ (as indicated in polls) to a ‘No’ vote (as indicated by the actual election).