Geographical perspectives on the May 2015 referendum contests

Adrian Kavanagh, 25th May 2015 

With a national turnout rate of 60.5% – just 9.4% lower than the turnout level for the 2011 General Election – the Marriage Equality referendum was passed with 62.1% of the valid votes, but the Presidential Age referendum failed to be carried, attaining the support of just 26.9% of the valid votes.

Figure 1: Turnout levels at Irish referendum elections, 1937-2015

Figure 1: Turnout levels at Irish referendum elections, 1937-2015

In actual voter number levels, the turnout at this referendum was 1,949,438, making this the referendum contest with the highest ever number of voters since the foundation of the state. In percentage terms (as shown by Figure 1), this marked the highest turnout level for a referendum contest, or set of referendum contests, since the 1995 Divorce Referendum. This follows on two low turnout contests (the 2012 Childrens Referendum and the 2013 Seanad Referendum), which in turn were preceded by the higher turnout EU Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum contest. This suggests strongly that turnout levels at referendum contests are strongly reflective of the issues being voted on – with “moral issues” and European Union contests attracting the higher turnout levels – while turnouts at referendum contests may also be pushed up by having other electoral contests on the same day (as was especially evident with the 1992 referendum elections).

The highest percentage votes shares for the Yes side in the Marriage Equality referendum contest were associated with the more urban constituencies, but the large urban-rural divide evident at other “moral issue” contests, such as the 1995 Divorce Referendum, was not as evident. The share of the vote won by the Yes side in Dublin was 71.0%, which was 7.5% higher than the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the 1995 Divorce Referendum. On average, the Yes share of the vote was higher in the more working class Dublin constituencies (71.4%) than in the rest of Dublin (70.7%). With the other cities included, the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the more urban constituencies came to 68.1%, while the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the other (more rural) was 58.2%. While the urban-rural difference in terms of the vote share won by the Yes side came to just under ten percent, the margin narrowed significantly relative to the 1995 contest, with the share of the vote commanded by the yes side increasing by an average of 14.7% in rural Ireland. The Yes share of the vote was up by 15.4% in Munster (59.3% overall), 14.4% in Connacht-Ulster (54.7% overall) and 13.1% in (the rest of) Leinster (62.0% overall). At the constituency level, the largest percentage share of the vote for the Yes side was the 74.9% share of the vote won in Dublin South-East, with the lowest vote share being recorded, by contrast, in Roscommon-South Leitrim (48.6%).

For the Presidential Candidate Age referendum contest, the share of the vote won by the Yes side in Dublin was 31.6%. With the other cities included, the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the more urban constituencies came to 29.9%, while the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the other (more rural) was 25.1%. The Yes share of the vote was at 24.6% in Munster, 25.1% in Connacht-Ulster and 26.0% in (the rest of) Leinster. At the constituency level, the largest percentage share of the vote for the Yes side was (again) found in Dublin South-East (34.3%), with the lowest vote share being recorded, by contrast, in Kerry South (22.0%).

Reflecting the pattern observed at previous contests, turnout levels at the referenda tended to be higher in the more urban constituencies (62.4%, on average) and especially in Dublin (63.9%), with turnouts tending to be highest in the more middle class Dublin constituencies (65.9%). Turnout levels in rural Ireland averaged out at 59.4%, three percent lower on average than in the more urban constituencies. This contrasts with the general trend in turnout patterns usually observed at general and local election contests, where turnouts tend to be highest in the more rural constituencies. The highest turnout level by constituency at these contests was found in Dublin North-Central (68.9%), just ahead of Wicklow on 68.8%, with high turnout levels also being found in Dublin South (67.9%), Dun Laoghaire (67.1%), Dublin North-East (66.4%) and Dublin North (65.8%). The rural constituency with the highest turnout level was Carlow-Kilkenny (65.4%), with the holding of a by-election on the same day as the referenda undoubtedly having an impact on turnout levels here. Reflecting the trend evident at past contests, the lowest turnout levels were again found in Donegal, with turnout levels of 51.4% in Donegal South-West and 51.6% in Donegal North-East.

When contrasting the turnout levels at the referenda with those for the 2011 General Election, it can be seen that average turnout levels in Dublin tended to be closer to the general election figures than was the case in the more rural constituencies. The average turnout level in Dublin for the May 2015 referendum contests was just 4.3% lower than the average turnout rate in Dublin for General Election 2011. By contrast, in the more rural constituencies the average turnout level at the referenda was 11.2% lower than the average turnout rate for the 2011 General Election.  At the constituency level, the referenda turnout in Dublin South-East was just 2.5% lower than for General Election 2011, but the referenda turnout in Kerry South was as much as 16.7% lower lower than the general election turnout.

 

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in Referendum elections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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