Adrian Kavanagh, 30th May 2015
Tomorrow sees the latest in monthly series of Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion polls. Both of the two government parties – having lost some ground in last month’s poll – gain some significant ground in this poll, while there is a notable drop in support for the Independents and Others grouping. This Sunday Business Post-Red C poll estimates party support levels as follows (and relative to the previous such Sunday Business Post-Red C poll): Fine Gael 28% (up 3%), Independents and Others 22% (down 4%), Sinn Fein 21% (down 1%), Fianna Fail 19% (NC), Labour Party 10% (up 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 34, Fine Gael 52, Sinn Fein 32, Labour Party 12, Independents and Others 28.
Support levels for the Independents and Others grouping still remains higher than what it stood at for the 2011 General Election, even though their support level has fallen by a further four percentage points in this Red C poll. It is worth noting that seat levels for the Independents grouping can be notably harder to glean than would be the case for the larger political parties. First of all, opinion polls usually measure support for Independents and Others and not just Independent candidates. A number of smaller parties and alliances, including Renua Ireland, the Anti-Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party and People Before Profit Alliance – as well as the Green Party in the case of some opinion polls – are included within this very large and diverse grouping. The nature of this grouping means that support levels do not usually translate as neatly into seat gains as would be the case with parties such as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Vote transfer levels across this grouping will generally not prove to be as strong as the extent of intra-party vote transfer levels enjoyed by the larger political parties, who in turn often enjoy a “seat bonus” at most general election contests. Votes for Independents located in the centre-right of the political spectrum (such as the Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael “gene pool” independents or people such as Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly) are probably more likely to be transferred to the two main parties (or else be shaped by local candidate factors) than they are to go to left-leaning independent candidates. In a similar vein, Renua Ireland and the centre-right independents are probably less likely to draw large numbers of vote transfers from left-wing independents than candidates from Sinn Féin, the People Before Profit Alliance or Socialist Party are. Furthermore, votes won by the Independents and Others grouping tend to be shared across a larger number of candidates than would be the case with the larger political parties, with a significant number of these candidates also having little or no chance of winning seats. For instance, candidates from the Independents and Others grouping won 20.4% of the vote in Laois-Offaly at the 2011 General Election, but, with this constituency being contested by eleven candidates from this grouping, none of these went on to win a seat here. (By contrast, Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley won a seat there with 10.8% of the vote.) At this year’s local elections, 583 independent candidates and 139 candidates from the “Others” (smaller parties/alliances) grouping combined to win 26.6% of the national vote, emerging as the largest political grouping in terms of vote share. But, with this vote being divided up between a much larger number of candidates than Fine Gael (468) and especially Fianna Fáil (415), this grouping accounted for a smaller number of Council seats (225) than the number won by Fianna Fáil (267) or Fine Gael (235).
The main issue when it comes to sustaining current support levels for the Independents and Others grouping into the next general election relates to how the electorate tends to become increasingly focused on the composition of the next government in the months leading up to this contest. The precedent in recent electoral contests shows that significant changes in public opinion can occur in the months leading up to a general election. In the past, such changing support trends have often seen this grouping becoming increasingly marginalised, or “squeezed out”, the closer one gets to polling day, especially when election contests are perceived to be close, as was the case with the 2007 General Election. However, the Independents and Others grouping includes a number of alliances or groupings that could possibly command five, or more, seats in Dáil Eireann after the next election. Such alliances/groupings could be in a position to play a significant role within the next government. Falling into this category on the left of the political spectrum would be the Socialist Party/Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit Alliance, as well as the Independents Network grouping. By contrast, Renua Ireland would also be well placed to challenge for similarly high seat levels, while another key player here, of course, will be the proposed new alliance of independents, involving Shane Ross, John Halligan, Michael Fitzmaurice, Finian McGrath and others. If these groupings can portray themselves as groupings that could be potentially strong actors within the next government, then they are less like to get “squeezed out” in the run up to the next election when decisions as regards government formation weigh heavier on political choice.
Looking at Renua Ireland, in particular, on these figures (again, allowing for the different provisos involved with the Independents and Others grouping, as noted above) the new party would seem to be very well placed to win seats in Dublin Bay South (Lucinda Creighton), Offaly (John Leahy) and Wicklow (Billy Timmins) and would be strongly placed to challenge for seats in Dublin Bay North (Terence Flanagan) and Dublin South-West (Ronan McMahon), as well as Cork East (Paul Bradford).
Sinn Féin support levels still remain well in excess of the levels won at the 2011 General Election and they would be (in this analysis) still be gaining a significant number of seats. A major concern for Sinn Fein focuses on the need to maintain their relatively high support levels in the remaining months up to the next general election. But the party also faces concerns that Sinn Fein support levels measured in opinion polls does not convert neatly into similar support levels in actual electoral contests, as evidenced in the City and County Council elections of May 2014 where the national average support level for Sinn Fein was a few percent lower than that registered in opinion polls around the time of those contests. The remaining evidence of transfer toxicity also poses concerns for Sinn Fein and the fact that Sinn Fein candidates can struggle to win vote transfers off candidates from other political groupings could prove costly in tight electoral contests, as evidenced in the Dublin West and Dublin South-West by-elections of 2014. That said, if Sinn Fein were to win 21% nationally in the next general election, quite a number of their potential gains would probably be in a position where they would not be requiring transfers in order to win seats, as suggested in this analysis. As Sinn Fein did not contest some constituencies in 2011 (e.g. Clare, Dublin North, Dun Laoghaire, Kerry South, Limerick (County)), the estimates for these constituencies are undoubtedly under-estimated here. Indeed the results in these areas in the May local elections suggest Sinn Fein are probably in a much stronger position in these areas than would be suggested by the results of this analysis.
Fianna Fáil support levels in this poll are slightly higher than the level of support won by that party at the 2011 General Election. But, as most electoral contests held since 2011 have shown, Fianna Fail have tended to perform better in actual elections than they have been performing in opinion polls. They did of course recently win the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election of 22nd May 2015 – although the party was better placed to win this contest than would have been the case with the six previous by-elections held during the lifetime of the current Dail. Furthermore, the Fianna Fail performance in the 2014 Local Elections exceeded expectations based on the opinion polls leading up to that contest (and indeed the exit poll taken on the day of that contest). Could it be the case that voters are more inclined to support Fianna Fail candidates than they are to support Fianna Fail, the party? In any case, despite the party’s disappointing poll standings, this analysis suggests that Fianna Fail would be well placed to make a number of gains at the next election (even with the overall reduction of Dail seat numbers from 166 to 158), with the increasingly fractured political landscape and the declining fortunes of Fine Gael and Labour creating an opportunity space for Fianna Fail seat gains (or, rather, regains).
This latest Red C poll marks one of the few times that Labour Party support levels had reached, or exceeded, the vital 10% support level in an opinion poll since the Sunday Business Post-Red C poll of 1st May 2014. Given the party’s geography of support, but also given the increased level of opposition the party faces on the left of the political spectrum from Sinn Fein, the People Before Profit Alliance, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and other left-wing groupings/independent candidates, Labour will struggle to convert votes into seats if their national support levels fall below this 10% level, as evidenced in this analysis and as discussed in greater detail in the concluding section to this post. But should the party’s national support level reach into the double figures then they stand poised to win a solid enough level of Dail seats – maybe even enough, should they gain some further percentage points in support levels between now and the general election, to put them in a position to help keep the current coalition government in power, even if it as a minority administration.
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. Vote transfer patterns of course cannot be accounted for in the constituency support estimate figures, but I do try to control for these somewhat in my set of amended seat allocations.
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 adriankavanaghelections.org 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 Early 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 Brian 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 David McGuinness (Dublin West), Fidelma Healy-Eames (Galway West), Eddie Fitzpatrick (Offaly), Jenny McHugh (Meath West) and Tom Fortune (Wicklow). In the wake of Patrick Nulty’s resignation from the Dáil, the correction made in Dublin West to the Labour and Independent/Non Party bases figures has now been reversed there. In the case of David McGuinness, his 2011 vote is undoubtedly a significant under-estimate of his potential vote (given that he was an obvious sweeper candidate for the late Brian Lenihan) while his by-election performances would probably over-estimate where his support levels would stand if accompanied by a running mate, such as Jack Chambers. An estimate lying midway between these two extremes has been applied (with some degree of caution!) in this analysis.
The constituency support estimates based on the Sunday Business Post-Red C poll (30th May 2015), when using the new constituency units (as to be used at the next general election), are as follows:
|Cork North Central||17%||22%||14%||29%||19%|
|Cork North West||29%||41%||8%||16%||6%|
|Cork South Central||32%||28%||10%||17%||12%|
|Cork South West||27%||41%||8%||16%||7%|
|Dublin Mid West||14%||26%||17%||25%||18%|
|Dublin Bay North||13%||22%||13%||18%||33%|
|Dublin North West||12%||12%||14%||40%||22%|
|Dublin South Central||10%||18%||20%||30%||22%|
|Dublin Bay South||7%||22%||14%||17%||40%|
|Dublin South West||12%||24%||18%||27%||20%|
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:
|Cork North Central||1||1||0||1||1|
|Cork North West||1||2||0||0||0|
|Cork South Central||2||1||0||1||0|
|Cork South West||1||2||0||0||0|
|Dublin Mid West||0||1||1||1||1|
|Dublin Bay North||1||1||0||1||2|
|Dublin North West||0||0||0||2||1|
|Dublin South Central||0||1||1||1||1|
|Dublin Bay South||0||1||0||1||2|
|Dublin South West||0||1||1||2||1|
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:
|Cork North Central||1||1||1||1||0|
|Cork North West||1||2||0||0||0|
|Cork South Central||2||1||0||1||0|
|Cork South West||1||2||0||0||0|
|Dublin Mid West||1||1||1||1||0|
|Dublin Bay North||1||1||1||1||1|
|Dublin North West||0||0||0||2||1|
|Dublin South Central||0||1||1||1||1|
|Dublin Bay South||0||1||1||1||1|
|Dublin South West||0||1||1||2||1|
There are, of course, quite a number of constituencies where – on the basis of the constituency estimates calculated – the final seat, or final seats, would be very close to call. In the case of Dublin West – especially in the wake of the David McGuinness defection – the final two seats here look like being a toss up between Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Labour and the Independents and Others grouping (with Fine Gael and the Anti-Austerity Alliance probably looking well placed to take the first two seats there).
Based on these seat estimates, a Fine Gael-Labour (combined seat level of 64 seats) would be a good distance short of the number of seats required to form a government (79 seats). However, it is worth noting that an agreed transfer pact between these parties could well ensure that their combined seat levels would be some degree in excess of this 57-seat level – especially if the support levels for Opposition parties and candidates in different constituencies proved to be especially fractured across a number of different parties and independent candidates. A potential Sinn Fein-Fianna Fail alliance (combined seat level of 66 seats) would also be some distance short this 79-seat target. A Fine Gael and Sinn Fein pairing would, on these estimates, be well capable of mustering enough seats to form a government (combined seat level of 84 seats), but such an alliance looks highly unlikely in the present political climate. A potential Fine Gael-Fianna Fail alliance would amount to the only other two-party alliance capable of mustering just enough seats to form a two-party coalition government without needing the support of other Dail deputies (with a combined seat level of 86 seats). Two-party coalitions are proving to be difficult to form in this analysis (as with most of the poll analyses engaged in since Summer 2o14) due to the very strong support levels for the Independents and Others grouping that is evident in this poll.
Given the dramatically improved support levels for Sinn Fein relative to the 2011 General Election, as especially evident in this analysis, the seat estimates based on these constituency-level analyses suggest a significant improvement in that party’s seat levels relative to those won by the party at the 2011 contest (especially given that the fact that the eight fewer seats in the next Dail has been factored into this analysis), effectively pointing to significant gains on the part of the main Dail Opposition parties since 2011. It is worth noting that, on the basis of this analysis, Sinn Fein would also be competing strongly for other seats in constituencies such as Mayo, Kildare North and Kildare South. While Fianna Fail support levels in this poll are seen to be at the same level as their 2011 support levels, the favourable changes made (in their perspective) in the 2012 Constituency Commssion report, in addition to the impact of the loss of support for the government parties, means that they would be winning ten, or more, extra seats if these support levels were to be replicated at the next general election.
The same very applies very much to the Independents and Others grouping, but it is worth noting that, as opposed to the parties, the Independents and Others grouping is a very broad church and includes a range of parties, groups and individuals with very different ideological perspectives, including the Socialist Party and the People Before Profit alliance as well as left-leaning independents, but also politicians located in the centre-right of the political spectrum, including a significant number of Fianna Fail/Fine Gael-gene pool independents and people such as Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly. Looking at the constituencies where this grouping is predicted to win seats in this model, it can be seen that left-leaning parties and independents would take at least 16 of the 28 seats being assigned to this grouping with this Sunday Business Post-Red C poll.