Swings and round-up-the-counts: Constituency marginality in 2011 General Election

Adrian Kavanagh, 10th March 2011

While not involving the raft of close contests that marked General Election 2002, there were still sufficient close calls and marathon counts to whet the appetite in this year’s election, with the following table ranking constituencies in terms of the number of votes separating the last two candidates on the final count. Note in the case of Limerick City, there were three candidates still left on the final count, including the successful candidate’s Labour running mate, meaning that the swing required of Sinn Fein to take the seat from Labour in the next general election must be viewed as being larger than the difference between the successful and (strongest of the) unsuccessful candidate(s) on this count.

  Marginality  %swing Winner Loser Count 
Galway West 17 0.01% FG IND 13
Wicklow 112 0.1% IND SF 19
Cork North Central 282 0.3% FG FG 11
Cavan-Monaghan 521 0.4% FG SF 9
Dublin Mid West 552 0.6% FG SF 9
Cork South West 599 0.7% LB FF 6
Wexford 636 0.4% FG FG 7
Sligo-North Leitrim 646 0.7% SF FF 9
Cork East 649 0.6% SF FF 7
Limerick 705 0.8% FF LB 4
Dublin Central 844 1.2% SF FF 8
Kerry South 917 1.0% IND FG 6
Louth 935 0.7% FG FF 13
Waterford 973 0.9% IND FF 11
Kildare South 997 1.3% FF IND 7
Dublin North 1,092 1.1% FG FF 7
Cork North West 1,114 1.2% FG LB 6
Meath West 1,128 1.4% FG LB 5
Dublin South East 1,228 1.8% LB FF 10
Galway East 1,278 1.1% LB FG 9
Longford-Westmeath 1,304 1.1% FF FG 8
Donegal South West 1,341 1.5% IND FF 5
Dun Laoghaire 1,374 1.2% ULA FF 11
Dublin South 1,448 1.0% FG FF 8
Clare 1,501 1.3% FF IND 12
Dublin South Central 1,558 1.5% SF FF 13
Donegal North East 1,757 2.3% FF LB 9
Kildare North 1,800 1.8% FG FF 5
Laois-Offaly 1,825 1.2% FF LB 13
Carlow-Kilkenny 1,876 1.3% FG FF 13
Cork South Central 1,896 1.5% FF SF 12
Dublin West 1,960 2.3% FF LB 5
Meath East 1,970 2.3% FG FF 4
Tipperary South 2,030 2.5% IND FG 5
Dublin North West 2,035 3.1% LB FG 7
Tipperary North 2,624 2.7% LB FF 3
Dublin North East 2,746 3.3% LB SF 9
Kerry North-West Limerick 3,372 3.7% SF FG 7
Dublin South West 3,524 3.8% LB FG 8
Limerick City 3,762 4.4% LB SF 7
Dublin North Central 4,626 6.0% IND FG 7
Mayo 4,732 3.2% FG IND 8
Roscommon-South Leitrim 5,088 5.4% FG FF 6
Limerick City 7,053 8.2% LB SF 7

In all, the destination of the final seats in all 43 constituencies were decided by fewer than 75,000 votes (71,374 votes) and a swing of 1.6%, on average, from the last successful candidate to the unsuccessful candidate who made it to the final count would have seen these seats change hands – and change hands between different political parties in all but two cases (Cork North Central and Wexford where effectively two Fine Gael candidates were in contention for the final seat). Fine Gael got a distinct advantage here, as Fine Gael candidates beat candidates from other parties for the final seat in 13 constituencies, with Fine Gael losing out on the final seat to other parties/independents in 7 constituencies. The most unlucky party was Fianna Fail – Fianna Fail candidates beat candidates from other parties for the final seat in 8 constituencies but lost out on the final seat to other parties/independents in 17 constituencies. Levels of success for the other parties in these marginal contests were relatively similar – Labour candidates won 8 and lost 7 of these marginal contests, independent/ULA candidates won 7 and lost 4, and Sinn Fein candidates won 5 and lost 6.

There was also a gendered dimension, with ten counts involving a male and female candidate fighting it out for the last seat – in seven of these cases the male candidate won while the female candidate won in three of these cases.

In a number of constituencies the closest or most marginal contest actually took place on an earlier count and not the final count, where the gap between an ultimately successful candidate and an eliminated candidate was narrower than the gap between the final two candidates on the final count, as in the Boyd Barrett v Bacik case (Dun Laoghaire) noted by Eoin O’Malley in the comments below.

  Marginality % Swing Winner Loser
Cork North Central 63 0.1% FG LB
Galway East 134 0.1% LB LB
Dun Laoghaire 147 0.1% ULA LB
Cork South West 456 0.5% FG FG
Cork East 499 0.4% SF LB
Laois-Offaly 563 0.4% FF FF
Clare 633 0.5% FF FF
Kildare South 664 0.9% FF FF
Longford-Westmeath 792 0.7% FF FF
Dublin North East 972 1.2% LB FF
Dublin North 1,059 1.1% FG GP
Kildare North 1,218 1.2% FG LB
Tipperary South 1,465 1.8% IND FF
Dublin North Central 2,802 3.6% IND FF

What is notable here is the greater preponderence of Fianna Fail candidates in the losing column, as well as the appearance of a Green Party candidate (Trevor Sargent in Dublin North) for the first time in the narrow losers column. Another close contest not noted here is the 39-vote gap that separated Fine Gael candidates, Sean Kyne and Fidelma Healy-Eames on Count 8 in Galway West, as this was actually a larger margin that the gap between Kyne and Catherine Connolly on the final count there. When these contests are factored in, the total amount of votes that dictated the final seats in all 43 of the state’s general election constituencies falls to 60,738, meaning that an average swing of 1.4% would have seen the final seat change hands in the constituencies.

Including the marginal contests noted above, the ranking of constituencies now reads as follows:

  Marginality %swing Winner Loser
Galway West 17 0.01% FG IND
Cork North Central 63 0.1% FG LB
Wicklow 112 0.1% IND SF
Galway East 134 0.1% LB LB
Dun Laoghaire 147 0.1% ULA LB
Cork South West 456 0.5% FG FG
Cork East 499 0.4% SF LB
Cavan-Monaghan 521 0.4% FG SF
Dublin Mid West 552 0.6% FG SF
Laois-Offaly 563 0.4% FF FF
Clare 633 0.5% FF FF
Wexford 636 0.4% FG FG
Sligo-North Leitrim 646 0.7% SF FF
Kildare South 664 0.9% FF FF
Limerick 705 0.8% FF LB
Longford-Westmeath 792 0.7% FF FF
Dublin Central 844 1.2% SF FF
Kerry South 917 1.0% IND FG
Louth 935 0.7% FG FF
Dublin North East 972 1.2% LB FF
Waterford 973 0.9% IND FF
Dublin North 1,059 1.1% FG GP
Cork North West 1,114 1.2% FG LB
Meath West 1,128 1.4% FG LB
Kildare North 1,218 1.2% FG LB
Dublin South East 1,228 1.8% LB FF
Donegal South West 1,341 1.5% IND FF
Dublin South 1,448 1.0% FG FF
Tipperary South 1,465 1.8% IND FF
Dublin South Central 1,558 1.5% SF FF
Donegal North East 1,757 2.3% FF LB
Carlow-Kilkenny 1,876 1.3% FG FF
Cork South Central 1,896 1.5% FF SF
Dublin West 1,960 2.3% FF LB
Meath East 1,970 2.3% FG FF
Dublin North West 2,035 3.1% LB FG
Tipperary North 2,624 2.7% LB FF
Dublin North Central 2,802 3.6% IND FF
Kerry North-West Limerick 3,372 3.7% SF FG
Dublin South West 3,524 3.8% LB FG
Limerick City 3,762 4.4% LB SF
Mayo 4,732 3.2% FG IND
Roscommon-South Leitrim 5,088 5.4% FG FF
STATE 60,738 1.4%    

There were 361 different election counts across the 43 different constituencies, amounting to an average of 8.4 counts per constituency. The constituency with the least number of counts was Tipperary North (just 3 counts) while the number of counts in Wicklow (with its 24 candidates) amounted to 19, the largest number in this general election.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in Constituency information, Election data, Marginality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Swings and round-up-the-counts: Constituency marginality in 2011 General Election

  1. Is marginality really best measured by looking at the difference between the winning and losing candidate at the last count? Dún Laoghaire was marginal not between ULA and FF, but between Labour and ULA. 200 or so votes would have changed the seat destination.

    It’s not easy to come up with a way of measuring marginality in PR-STV elections, but perhaps the distance between the 3rd candidate and the 4th candidate (in a three seat contest (and 4th and 5th in a four-seater etc.) as a percentage of the quota in first preference votes? Would this work? I’d need to try it out with some examples.

    • Yes that is a good point – in some constituencies like Dun Laoghaire (Boyd Barrett v Bacik) and Galway East (Keaveney v Higgins) the crucial, and indeed closest, contests in terms of determining who won the final seat were determined in earlier counts. This is a point I intend to make when I add to this post in the next few days, but for now am just focusing on the differences between candidates on the final count, which is probably the fairest means of comparison when looking across constituencies. Looking at first preference vote positions doesn’t work as well as it fails to account for the fact that certain parties/candidates will be more transfer attractive and a narrow gap between certain candidates on Count 1 can widen quickly as the counts progress.

    • I think I will try and do a more serious reworking on this in line with your comments Eoin, where marginality is now measured as the difference between candidates on the count where the gap between a successful candidate and the candidate being eliminated on that count was at its narrowest – this would allow for consideration of cases such as Bacik v Boyd Barrett (Dun Laoghaire) and Keaveney v Higgins (Galway East) but wouldn’t allow for cases such as Quinn v Moloney (Laois-Offaly) given that the surviving candidate on that count did not go on to win the seat.

  2. I’d be inclined not to look at the raw number of votes. While percentage of votes is useful, the best way to standardise this for constituency size is to take it as a % of the quota. Donegal SW doesn’t show up a particularly marginal, yet it will be a key target in the next election for FF.
    (Here is one place where FF might have taken a seat had it only one candidate – though you might, rightly argue that you need to take geography into account in a constituency like this, and so Coughlan’s votes would not necessarily have travelled.)

    If we care about marginality because we want to predict where a party can challenge at the next election – i.e. which constituencies are most competitive, we need to think in terms of the quota and the party vote.

    • The % swing value, which is provided in the table, is the figure people should be looking at here in terms of assessing relative marginality – I probably should have ordered constituencies in terms of % swing rather than raw votes, but there is an instructive point to be made in terms of just how few (raw) votes can determine who wins and loses seats in constituencies.

      A bit off this topic but: If FF had run just one candidate in Donegal South West they would have run just Mary Coughlan; in which case FF would have still faced the issue of the loss of support in her southern Donegal base (probably even greater loss as she would be be trying to canvass the entire constituency instead of focusing on her base and could probably have lost more votes here as a result) but, without a local candidate from the Glenties area, the FF vote would have collapsed in the northern part – Doherty’s surplus would have been greater and hence the transfer to Pringle, and Coughlan (without party transfers to help her out) would have been thousands of votes off the pace behind Pringle on the final count. The two candidate strategy in Donegal South West at least gave FF a fighting chance of holding one seat.

  3. Pingback: Sunday Business Post-Red C poll 10 April; Kenny-a believe it? « politicalreform.ie

  4. Brian Woods says:

    Twelve (eventually elected) candidates got from 0.6 quotas of FP, down to 0.358! – for Keaveney [GE]. Humphreys [Dub SE] and Halligan [Waterford] had ‘interesting’ counts also. Kenny [Dub NE] did a bit of climbing as well, though Lab had combined quota of 1.37 or so.

    Dun Laoghaire: DG- NW. Two FF candidates, ranked sequentially in FP, just below the ‘frame’. None elected! Aylward + Murnane in Carlow-Kilkenny? Andrews [Dub-SE] ?

    Some ‘hairy stuff’.

    Brian W

  5. Pingback: Fianna Fail’s target constituencies for the next general election | Irish General Election 2011 Facts and Figures

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