Love’s Labour Not Entirely Lost?: Constituency-level analysis of the Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes poll (17th August 2014)

Adrian Kavanagh, 16th August 2014 

The latest in the series of Behaviour & Attitudes polls has brought good news for the Labour Party after a long period of dismal results in previous such opinion polls. The Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes poll of August 16th 2014, estimates party support levels as follows (and relative to the previous Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes poll): Fine Gael 24% (down 2%), Sinn Fein 19% (down 2%), Fianna Fail 18% (down 1%), Labour Party 14% (up 7%), Green Party 2% (NC), Independents and Others 20% (down 2%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fail 31, Fine Gael 46, Sinn Fein 28, Labour Party 21, Green Party 1, Independents and Others 31.

This poll marks a break with the litany of bad news stories for the Labour Party evidenced in polls over the past two years, although it might be too early to decipher whether the party has regained a significant chunk of its lost support due to a “Burton Bounce” and also whether such gains can be sustained up to the next general election. These figures offer grim tidings for Fine Gael, a party that would appear to have lost roughly one third of the support levels it enjoyed at the 2011 General Election based on these poll levels. Fianna Fail too would be disenchanted with these poll figures, with these leaving the party on a share of the national vote that would not be dramatically higher than that which the party won in 2011, which is somewhat at odds with the party’s relatively strong performance in the May local elections. The fractured political landscape (in particular relating to the likely level of Government seat losses) and the favourable impact of the boundary changes associated with the 2012 Constituency Commission report means that Fianna Fail would achieve notably more success in translating these support levels into Dail seat numbers than they had at the 2011 contest. This poll marks some more good news for Sinn Fein after that party’s electoral successes on May 23rd, and would leave them well placed to make massive seat gains at the next general election, if these party support levels were replicated at that. The Independents and Others; a grouping that too would be well poised to make massive seat gains should these support levels be replicated at the next general election. However, this grouping is a rather broad one and hence would not be as successful in translating support levels into a similar proportion of seat numbers as would be the case for one of the larger political parties.  In turn, this could allow Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail win higher proportions of seats than their support levels would suggest, as indeed happened on May 23rd with Fianna Fail in the local elections and Fine Gael in the European elections.

Constituency support estimates for different parties and groupings form the basis of the general approach taken with this analysis, which seeks to ask the following question in relation to different opinion poll results – what do these poll figures mean in terms of the likely number of Dail seats won by the different parties and groupings? Although the Irish electoral system is classified as a proportional electoral system, the proportion of seats won by parties will not measure up exactly to their actual share of the first preference votes, mainly because geography has an impact here – these first preference votes need to be filtered through the system of Irish electoral constituencies (and the different numbers of seats that are apportioned to these). In order to address this question, I estimate what the party first preference votes would be in the different constituencies, assuming similar (proportional) changes in party vote shares in all constituencies to those that are being suggested by a particular opinion poll. This of course is a very rough model and it  cannot take appropriate account of the fact that changing support levels between elections tend to vary geographically, while it also fails to take account of the local particularities of the different regions in cases where no regional figures are produced in association with different national opinion polls meaning that there is no scope to carry out separate regional analyses based on these poll figures. Thus constituency support estimates for different parties/groupings will be over-estimated in some constituencies and under-estimated in others, but the expectation would be that the overall national seat figures figures estimated will be relatively close to the true level, given that over-estimates in certain constituencies will be offset by under-estimates in others. Based on these estimated constituency support figures, I proceed to estimate the destination of seats in the different constituencies. The constituency level analysis involves the assigning seat levels to different parties and political groupings on the basis of constituency support estimates and simply using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats, while also taking account of the factors of vote transfers and vote splitting/management (based on vote transfer/management patterns observed in the February 2011 election). Due to unusually high/low support levels for some parties or political groupings in certain constituencies in the previous election, the model may throw up occasional constituency predictions that are unlikely to pan out in a “real election”, but of course the estimates here cannot be seen as highly accurate estimates of support levels at the constituency level as in a “real election” party support changes will vary significantly across constituency given uneven geographical shifts in support levels. But the point to remember here is that the ultimate aim of this model is to get an overall, national-level, estimate of seat numbers and these are based, as noted earlier, on the proviso that an over-prediction in one constituency may be offset by an under-prediction in another constituency.  

Based on such an analysis and using the new constituency units (as defined in the 2012 Constituency Commission report), these analyses estimates what party seat levels would be, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election. For a variety of reasons (including the impact of high levels of undecided voters in a specific poll), the actual result of an election may vary from the figures suggested by an opinion poll, even if the poll is carried out relatively close to election day, or on election day itself as in the case of exit polls, but the likelihood of such variation is not something that can be factored into this model. I have made some further corrections to the base support figures for the different parties for this analysis to take better account of the impacts on support of the 2012 Constituency Commission report boundary changes with especial reference to the Dublin constituencies. For instance, these figures better reflect the weaker positions of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in Dublin Central after the moving out of the Ashtown area to Dublin West and the Botanic/Drumcondra area to Dublin North West, but also their stronger positions in Dublin West and Dublin North West. Fine Gael are assigned an extra seat in Dun Laoghaire on the basis that the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett, will be automatically returned at the next general election (unless he decides to retire from politics before this) and this constituency will effectively be rendered a three-seat contest at the next general election. (Changes in constituency boundaries as outlined in the 2012 Constituency Commisison report have been factored in to this analysis. An overview of the political impacts of these changes on the elections commentary site suggests that Fianna Fail would seem to be the party most likely to be positively effected by the redrawing of the constituency boundaries, with the Labour Party being the party likely to be the most adversely effected by these changes.)

Note that the approach used in this analysis is different to those of the constituency level analyses of the 2011-13 in that it now takes account of defections/changing party affiliations for people who were candidates in the 2011 General Election, as will be outlined in greater detail later in this post (and as such the seat estimates for this, and later posts, cannot be directly compared with those for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 analyses of post-General Election 2011 opinion polls). In cases where a General Election 2011 candidate has definitely left a party (or the independents ranks) to join another party or to become an independent, a portion of their 2011 will be taken away from the constituency base figures for their former party/grouping and added to those of their new party/grouping. The approach taken in the run up to the 2011 General Election was to assign all of the votes won by that candidate to their new grouping, but the actual 2011 results showed that this was an over-estimation of the likely impact  of such changes. For instance the Labour Party constituency estimates for Mayo and Roscommon-South Leitrim following the moves of Jerry Cowley and John Kelly into the Labour Party ranks were well in excess of the actual votes won by that party in those constituencies. In this approach, half of the votes won by a candidate in the 2011 contest will be assigned to their new party/grouping while the rest of the votes will remain assigned to their old party/grouping. Where a constituency boundary change is involved, meaning that part(s) of a candidate’s old constituency is now moved into another constituency/other constituencies, the base figures for all these constituencies will be recalculated to take account of this. For instance, the impact of Peter Mathews leaving the Fine Gael ranks means that the Fine Gael and Non Party base figures are altered in Dublin Rathdown, but also in the Dublin South-West and Dun Laoghaire constituencies. Note that this approach will not take account of candidates who have lost the party whip but who may ultimately return to the party at a later date or who have been temporarily suspended from their party, as in the cases of Brain Walsh (Fine Gael, Galway West) or Peadar Toibin (Sinn Fein, Meath West). This approach also takes account of those candidates who did not win Dail seats at the 2011 contest, including people like Fidelma Healy-Eames (Galway West), Eddie Fitzpatrick (Offaly), Jenny McHugh (Meath West) and Tom Fortune (Wicklow). In the wake of Patrick Nulty’s resignation, the correction made in Dublin West to the Labour and Independent/Non Party bases figures has now been reversed there.

The constituency support estimates based on the Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes poll (17th August 2014), when using the new constituency units (as to be used at the next general election), are as follows:

Constituency FF FG LB SF GP OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 30% 29% 13% 18% 4% 5%
Cavan-Monaghan 18% 24% 4% 45% 1% 9%
Clare 24% 30% 12% 7% 3% 25%
Cork East 19% 27% 25% 22% 2% 5%
Cork North Central 16% 18% 19% 26% 2% 19%
Cork North West 28% 37% 12% 15% 2% 5%
Cork South Central 31% 24% 15% 16% 4% 11%
Cork South West 27% 37% 12% 15% 3% 6%
Donegal 17% 15% 5% 45% 1% 18%
Dublin Central 15% 13% 20% 23% 3% 26%
Dublin Mid West 12% 22% 24% 22% 5% 15%
Dublin Fingal 16% 20% 20% 5% 12% 26%
Dublin Bay North 12% 19% 17% 16% 2% 34%
Dublin North West 11% 10% 19% 36% 1% 23%
Dublin Rathdown 9% 20% 13% 5% 11% 43%
Dublin South Central 9% 14% 26% 26% 2% 21%
Dublin Bay South 6% 18% 18% 15% 8% 35%
Dublin South West 11% 20% 24% 23% 4% 19%
Dublin West 18% 20% 23% 12% 2% 26%
Dun Laoghaire 16% 26% 23% 4% 6% 24%
Galway East 23% 32% 8% 10% 1% 26%
Galway West 20% 21% 9% 11% 2% 37%
Kerry County 12% 23% 12% 20% 1% 32%
Kildare North 16% 25% 24% 11% 3% 22%
Kildare South 24% 25% 23% 12% 0% 16%
Laois 31% 26% 10% 26% 0% 7%
Offaly 26% 19% 3% 12% 0% 40%
Limerick City 24% 32% 17% 15% 0% 12%
Limerick 23% 41% 13% 8% 0% 14%
Longford-Westmeath 22% 28% 19% 15% 0% 16%
Louth 15% 20% 13% 37% 0% 14%
Mayo 20% 50% 4% 14% 0% 11%
Meath East 22% 30% 17% 18% 0% 13%
Meath West 25% 31% 5% 32% 0% 6%
Roscommon-Galway 14% 21% 8% 10% 0% 47%
Sligo-Leitrim 22% 23% 6% 30% 0% 18%
Tipperary 15% 20% 12% 10% 0% 44%
Waterford 15% 27% 15% 19% 0% 25%
Wexford 20% 25% 16% 11% 0% 28%
Wicklow 11% 22% 11% 18% 0% 39%

Based on these constituency estimates and using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats in a constituency, the party seat levels are estimated as follows:

Constituency FF FG LB SF GP OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 2 2 0 1 0 0
Cavan-Monaghan 1 1 0 2 0 0
Clare 1 2 0 0 0 1
Cork East 1 1 1 1 0 0
Cork North Central 0 1 1 1 0 1
Cork North West 1 2 0 0 0 0
Cork South Central 2 1 0 1 0 0
Cork South West 1 2 0 0 0 0
Donegal 1 0 0 3 0 1
Dublin Central 1 0 1 1 0 1
Dublin Mid West 0 1 1 1 0 1
Dublin Fingal 1 1 1 0 1 1
Dublin Bay North 0 1 1 1 0 2
Dublin North West 0 0 1 1 0 1
Dublin Rathdown 0 1 0 0 0 2
Dublin South Central 0 1 1 1 0 1
Dublin Bay South 0 1 1 0 0 2
Dublin South West 0 1 2 1 0 1
Dublin West 1 1 1 0 0 1
Dun Laoghaire 0 2 1 0 0 1
Galway East 1 1 0 0 0 1
Galway West 1 1 0 0 0 3
Kerry County 0 1 1 1 0 2
Kildare North 1 1 1 0 0 1
Kildare South 1 1 1 0 0 0
Laois 1 1 0 1 0 0
Offaly 1 0 0 0 0 2
Limerick City 1 2 1 0 0 0
Limerick 1 2 0 0 0 0
Longford-Westmeath 1 1 1 0 0 1
Louth 1 1 0 2 0 1
Mayo 1 3 0 0 0 0
Meath East 1 1 0 1 0 0
Meath West 1 1 0 1 0 0
Roscommon-Galway 0 1 0 0 0 2
Sligo-Leitrim 1 1 0 1 0 1
Tipperary 1 1 0 0 0 3
Waterford 1 1 0 1 0 1
Wexford 1 1 1 0 0 2
Wicklow 0 1 0 1 0 3
STATE 30 45 19 24 1 40

These estimates also need to take account of the candidate and competition trends unique to the different constituency. Amending the model to account for seats that may be won or lost on the basis of estimates here being based on support levels derived due to a large/small number of candidates contesting the election in 2011 (as in the large number of independent candidates competing in constituencies such as Wicklow or Laois-Offaly in 2011) or one candidate polling especially well in that election (e.g. the Shane Ross vote in Dublin South/Mick Wallace vote in Wexford) in a manner that would not amount to an extra seat for another member of the same party/grouping. Vote transfer patterns and vote management issues (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) also need to be accounted for. Taking these concerns into account, the amended seat allocations across the constituencies would look more like this:

Constituency FF FG LB SF GP OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 2 1 1 1 0 0
Cavan-Monaghan 1 1 0 2 0 0
Clare 1 2 0 0 0 1
Cork East 1 1 1 1 0 0
Cork North Central 1 1 1 1 0 0
Cork North West 1 2 0 0 0 0
Cork South Central 2 1 0 1 0 0
Cork South West 1 2 0 0 0 0
Donegal 1 1 0 2 0 1
Dublin Central 0 0 1 1 0 1
Dublin Mid West 1 1 1 1 0 0
Dublin Fingal 1 1 1 0 1 1
Dublin Bay North 0 1 1 1 0 2
Dublin North West 0 0 1 1 0 1
Dublin Rathdown 0 1 0 0 0 2
Dublin South Central 0 1 1 1 0 1
Dublin Bay South 0 1 1 0 0 2
Dublin South West 0 1 2 2 0 0
Dublin West 1 1 1 0 0 1
Dun Laoghaire 0 2 1 0 0 1
Galway East 1 1 0 0 0 1
Galway West 1 1 0 1 0 2
Kerry County 0 1 1 1 0 2
Kildare North 1 1 1 0 0 1
Kildare South 1 1 1 0 0 0
Laois 1 1 0 1 0 0
Offaly 1 1 0 0 0 1
Limerick City 1 1 1 1 0 0
Limerick 1 2 0 0 0 0
Longford-Westmeath 1 1 1 1 0 0
Louth 1 1 1 2 0 0
Mayo 1 3 0 0 0 0
Meath East 1 1 0 1 0 0
Meath West 1 1 0 1 0 0
Roscommon-Galway 0 1 0 0 0 2
Sligo-Leitrim 1 1 0 2 0 0
Tipperary 1 1 0 0 0 3
Waterford 1 1 0 1 0 1
Wexford 1 2 1 0 0 1
Wicklow 0 1 0 1 0 3
STATE 31 46 21 28 1 31
% Seats 19.6 29.1 13.3 17.7 0.6 19.6

Based on these seat estimates, a Fine Gael-Labour (combined seat level of 67 seats) would fall short of the number of seats required to form a government (79 seats) while a potential Sinn Fein-Fianna Fail alliance (combined seat level of 59 seats) would fall even shorter of this 79 seat target.  A Fine Gael and Sinn Fein pairing would have an insufficient number of seats (combined seat level of 74 seats) to command a majority in Dail Eireann, but such an alliance looks to be unlikely in the present political climate in any course. Based on these numbers, a potential Fianna Fail-Fine Gael coalition government would also be incapable of mustering enough seats to form a two-party coalition without needing the support of a number of other Dail deputies (with a combined seat level of 77 seats), although it would be hard not to see such an alliance failing to win support from two or more deputies from the Independents and Others ranks. The reason why two-party coalitions would appear to be difficult prospects could of course be attributed to yet another very strong showing (in support and seat estimates terms) for the different groupings associated with the Independent and Others grouping. Thus, in such a political contest, no government would be possible without the support of a number of deputies from the Independents and Others grouping.

On these seat estimates, the next Dail could look something like this:

Carlow-Kilkenny: John McGuinness FF, Jennifer Murnane O’Connor FF, John Paul Phelan FG, Ann Phelan LAB, John Cassin SF

Cavan-Monaghan: Brendan Smith FF, Heather Humphries FG, Caoimghin O Caolan SF, Kathryn Reilly SF

Clare: Timmy Dooley FF, Pat Breen FG, Joe Carey FG,  James Breen IND

Cork East: Aaron O’Sullivan FF, David Stanton FG, Sean Sherlock LAB, Sandra McLellan SF

Cork North Central: Billy Kelleher FF, Dara Murphy FG, Kathleen Lynch LAB, Jonathan O’Brien SF

Cork North West: Michael Moynihan FF, Michael Creed FG, Aine Collins FG

Cork South Central: Micheal Martin FF, Michael McGrath FF, Simon Coveney FG, Chris O’Leary SF

Cork South West: Christopher O’Sullivan FF, Jim Daly FG, Noel Harrington FG

Donegal: Charlie McConalogue FF, Joe McHugh FG, Pearse Doherty SF, Padraig MacLochlainn SF, Thomas Pringle IND

Dublin Central: Joe Costello LAB, Mary Lou McDonald SF, Maureen O’Sullivan IND

Dublin Mid West: Trevor Gilligan FF, Frances Fitzgerald FG, Joanna Tuffy LAB, Eoin O’Broin SF

Dublin Fingal: Darragh O’Brien FF, James Reilly FG, Brendan Ryan LAB, David Healy GP, Clare Daly UL

Dublin Bay North: Richard Bruton FG, Aodhan O’Riordan LAB, Larry O’Toole SF, Finian McGrath IND, Tommy Broughan IND

Dublin North West: John Lyons LAB, Dessie Ellis SF, Roisin Shortall IND

Dublin Rathdown: Olivia Mitchell FG, Shane Ross IND, Seamus O’Neill IND

Dublin South Central: Catherine Byrne FG, Eric Byrne LAB, Aengus O Snodaigh SF, Joan Collins UL

Dublin Bay South: Eoghan Murphy FG, Kevin Humphries LAB, Lucinda Creighton IND, Mannix Flynn IND

Dublin South West: Cait Keane FG, Pat Rabbitte LAB, Eamonn Maloney LAB, Sean Crowe SF, Maire Devine SF

Dublin West: David McGuinness FF, Leo Varadkar FG, Joan Burton LAB, Ruth Coppinger SP

Dun Laoghaire: Mary Hanafin FF, Sean Barrett FG, Mary Mitchell O’Connor FG, Richard Boyd Barrett PBP

Galway East: Michael Kitt FF, Paul Connaughton FG, Sean Canney IND

Galway West: Eamonn O Cuiv FF, Brian Walsh FG, Trevor O Clochartaigh SF, Noel Grealish IND, Catherine Connolly IND

Kerry: Norma Foley FF, Jimmy Deenihan FG, Martin Ferris SF, Michael Healy Rae IND, Tom Fleming IND

Kildare North: Daragh Fitzpatrick FF, Bernard Durkin FG, Emmet Stagg LAB, Catherine Murphy IND

Kildare South: Sean O Fearghaill FF, Martin Heydon FG, Jack Wall LAB

Laois: Sean Fleming FF, Charlie Flanagan FG, Brian Stanley SF

Offaly: Barry Cowen FF, Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy FG, John Foley IND

Limerick City: Willie O’Dea FF, Michael Noonan FG, Jan O’Sullivan LAB, Maurice Quinlivan SF

Limerick: Niall Collins FF, Dan Neville FG, Patrick O’Donovan FG

Longford-Westmeath: Robert Troy FF, James Bannon FG, Willie Penrose LAB, Paul Hogan SF

Louth: Peter Savage FF, Fergus O’Dowd FG, Ged Nash LAB, Gerry Adams SF, Imelda Munster SF

Mayo: Dara Calleary FF, Enda Kenny FG, Michael Ring FG, Michelle Mulherin FG

Meath East: Thomas Byrne FF, Regina Doherty FG, Darren O’Rourke SF

Meath West: Vera Kelly FF, Damien English FG, Peadar Toibin SF

Roscommon-Galway: Frank Feighan FG, Denis Naughten IND, Tim Broderick IND

Sligo-Leitrim: Eamon Scanlon FF, John Perry FG, Michael Colreavy SF, Damian Brady SF

Tipperary: Michael Smith FF, Tom Hayes FG, Michael Lowry IND, Mattie McGrath IND, Seamus Healy WUAG

Waterford: Adam Wyse FF, John Deasy FG, David Cullinane SF, John Halligan IND

Wexford: John Browne FF, Liam Twomey FG, Paul Kehoe FG, Brendan Howlin LAB, Mick Wallace IND

Wicklow: Andrew Doyle FG, John Brady SF, Stephen Donnelly IND, Billy Timmins IND, Tommy Cullen IND

NB: This is by no means a scientific list! The inclusion, or non-inclusion, of people on this list by no means indicates that I think they would be the ones to take a party seat/nomination at the next general election – I am merely including some of the “likelier suspects” based on recent elections.  Sitting TDs (and the strongest of these, in 2011 General Election first preference vote terms) tend to be favoured when compiling this list. Where a TD has formally announced that they will not be contesting the next general election, they will not be included on this list, e.g. Joe Higgins (SP, Dublin West). In cases where there is no sitting TD, City/County Councillors and/or Senators (or recent local/general election candidates) will tend to be included here (and I will “try” to alternate between potential candidates up to a point in time when parties have actually finalised their candidate selections for specific constituencies). In short, where’s there’s no sitting TD or obvious candidate (i.e. someone who narrowly missed out on a seat in 2011 and followed this up with a strong performance in the May 2014 elections or election to the Seanad) I assign the “party” or “independent” seat by picking from the ranks of “likely suspects” based on most recent local election/general election results and “try” to alternate between these in different posts…


About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Geography. Email:
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1 Response to Love’s Labour Not Entirely Lost?: Constituency-level analysis of the Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes poll (17th August 2014)

  1. Pingback: Mixed fortunes for the government parties: Constituency-level analysis of the Sunday Independent-Millward Brown opinion poll (21st September 2014) | Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses

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