Adrian Kavanagh, 13th December 2012
This post can be viewed as a follow on from the previous two posts, which studied the geography of voter turnout for the 2012 Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum at a sub-constituency level for the Dublin City constituencies, as well as the national turnout geography (at a constituency level) for the more recent 2012 Childrens Referendum.
As noted in the previous post, one of my main research interests (and the one I focused on for my PhD researches) focuses on the geography of voter turnout and especially on voter turnout levels at the micro-level involving studies of turnout data for very small areas/at a sub-constituency level where these are available. Constituency level turnout analysis/maps do point towards interesting trends but the usefulness of such figuress is limited by small numbers problems arising with these (forty-three general, or Dail, election constituencies at presenting, falling to forty following the next general election). The most striking turnout geographies also occur usually at the sub-constituency level and significant variations in turnout levels often exist within a single constituency. Studies of such geographies/trends can offer a deeper understanding of what factors are shaping/influencing turnout propensity and can add to/complement individual level studies of turnout behaviour engaged in by those in the field of political science.
In this post I am going to look at turnout in the six Dublin City constituencies at the electoral division level for the November 2012 Children’s Referendum. This study is based on my own geographical analysis of the excellent turnout by polling box figures that the Dublin City Returning Officer has made available from their own website, involving the calculation of electoral division level turnout figures based on these and the mapping of these figures (as was illustrated in Figure 1 above).
The map of voter turnout (Figure 1) for this election shows a similar geography to that of other previous electoral contests, as can be evidenced with reference to the recent post on Dublin City voter turnout levels at the electoral contests held during 2011. and indeed the previous post which focused on turnout levels for the Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum. The area with the most notable concentration of low turnout electoral divisions is once again the Dublin Inner City, as was the case for the Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum and was the case with all the electoral contests held during the Celtic Tiger and post-Celtic Tiger eras, namely the late 1990s and 2000s. The Dublin Inner City has proven to be THE low voter turnout area nationally, as well as within the Dublin region, at all electoral contests held over the last decade and a half. This is because high levels of the different factors associated with low turnout propensity tend to be found in the inner city area, such as rented housing, residential mobility, social deprivation, single people and younger mobile populations. The level of non-voting behaviour in the inner city suggested by this map is inflated somewhat by the fact that it was not possible to exclude those on the register who could not vote in this election (i.e. all those who are not Irish citizens) from the polling box electorate figures. But previous analyses in which this has been possible to do so (i.e. exclude ineligible voters) shows that while the recalculated turnout levels would be some percentage points higher, there would still be strong and consistent evidence of a sink of low voter turnout levels focusing around the inner city areas. As part of my PhD researches, I did focus particularly on low inner city turnout levels and part of this work (done to support the political mobilisation efforts of community groups in the South West Inner City and other similar areas) was published as Unequal Participation, Unequal Influence by the South West Inner City Network in 2012.
The other low turnout areas highlighted in Figure 1, as with other previous studies of turnout in the Dublin City area, include the working class areas of Ballymun and Cherry Orchard, as well as Darndale and the Northern Fringe area in the north-eastern region of the map and the Rathmines flatland areas. (The Phoenix Park area (Phoenix Park electoral division) also emerges as a low turnout area.) By contrast, the higher turnout areas tend to be mainly middle class and settled (i.e. high levels of residential stability) areas, including Raheny, Sutton, Clontarf, Drumcondra and Glasnevin areas in the northern part of this area, as well as the areas around Terenure and Templeogue in the southern part of the map.
The linking between relative levels of affluence and turnout propensity is underpinned by a comparison between the turnout map and the above map showing a division of Dublin into different social areas, based on the calculation of relative levels of affluence drawn from a factor analysis by Adrian Kavanagh of affluence/deprivation related variables drawn from the 2011 Census. This is a rather different/simpler way of analysing/representing different levels of affluence/deprivation within an area to the 2011 Pobal HP Deprivation Index, which is discussed in more detail in this post on the Ireland After NAMA website. Figure 2 above divides the Dublin City constituencies into five different social areas. Rank 1 areas prove to be the most affluent 20% of electoral divisions within the Dublin City constituencies and the Rank 2 areas are the next 20% most affluent electoral divisions, with the Rank 5 areas including the 20% least affluent (or most deprived) electoral divisions arising from this analysis. A quick comparison of the two maps (Figures 1 and 2) suggests a strong link between social well-being and turnout propensity for this electoral contest (and the same can be applied to previous electoral contests) with Rank 1 areas tending to be associated with higher turnout propensity and Rank 5 areas with lower turnout levels. This linkage is made even clearer in Figure 3, which shows average turnout levels by social area for three of the most recent referendum election contests, namely the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, 2012 Fiscal Stability Treaty and 2012 Childrens referendum votes, as seen below.
Figure 3 shows that the more affluent areas constistently tend to have the higher average turnout levels for each of the different referendum contests (as well as pointing towards the signficantly lower turnout levels in the Childrens Referendum as compared with the two previous referendum contests), with turnout propensity decreasing in line with reduced affluence levels. On average, the analysis suggests that voter turnout levels in the most affluent parts of the City (the “Rank 1” areas) tended to be constistently ten percentage points higher than turnouts in the least affluent (or more socially deprived) parts of the study area (the “Rank 5” electoral divisions). It is worth noting also that this study is focused on averages and the gap in turnout levels between individual higher turnout middle class areas and lower turnout working class areas can prove to be even higher, as is indeed illustrated by the turnout map (Figure 1) above.
While this finding is specific to referendum contests, the previous post and indeed a number of the other voter turnout themed posts have all pointed towards the existence of class-based turnout patterns in the Dublin area and indeed have stressed the serious problem of very low turnouts in the Dublin Inner City area (and indeed in the inner cities of the other Irish cities). Given the strong focus on political reform in recent years, the issue of area-specific low voter turnout levels should be a major focus of such political reform efforts as lower participation levels amongst certain social groups and in certain areas does diminish the representativeness of our political system. But this is an issue that the political elite and the political chattering classes have tended to ignore, as well as the media given the limited coverage of such concerns. Given the marginalised nature of the areas and groups concerned in relation to the problem of low turnout levels, it is perhaps not hard to understand why. The strong likelihood is that such striking geographical differences in voter turnout levels will remain part and parcel of Irish politics over the coming years, and with such unequal levels of participation so too will unequal levels of influence remain a characteristic of the Irish political system.