Dail constituency support estimates: Combining 2014 Local Election results and Opinion Poll-generated support estimates

Adrian Kavanagh, 7th August 2015

As you may know, I try to regularly carry out what I term a constituency-level analysis of opinion poll figures, as and when these are released, to try and decipher what these might mean in terms of potential Dail seat levels for the different political parties and groupings. In order to do so, I calculate constituency support estimates for the different parties and groupings, in which the extent of the support changes since the 2011 General Election suggested by a specific opinion poll are applied to all Dail constituencies. There is a logic in this, given that the geography of support associated with different political parties tends to be relatively similar at different election contests. In other words, political parties will tend to usually do especially well in certain regions and less well in others. For instance, Fine Gael support tends to be strongest in rural areas and middle class urban areas, but relatively weak in the more working class areas. At the level of individual constituencies, however, levels of support change can vary noticeably for various reasons (which will be discussed later) and as such – as noted in the poll analyses posts – these Dail constituency support estimates should not be viewed as accurate predictions of party support levels in individual constituencies.

Perhaps the best means of teasing out the extent to which party support levels are changing at the individual constituency level would be to look at the level of change in these constituencies since the 2011 contest as measured in support levels at the recent local election contests (in May 2014). Local election figures are not perfect however. First of all, people often tend to vote differently at local election contests (and at other second-order election contests, such as Dail by-elections and presidential elections) to the way they might vote at a general election contest. Furthermore, the array of candidates at a local election contest is very different to that at a general election contest and this can have a bearing in terms of varying levels of support won by different political parties and groupings at these contests. There is also a number of issues here with the (growing level) of mismatches between local election constituency areas and general election constituency areas. Local election support figures may not pick up the effect that having a strong/popular local TD might have on party support levels at a general election, moreover. But, while acknowledging these issues, it is fair to claim that local election support patterns can often – but not always, as evident in the changing support trends evident between the 2004 City and County Council elections and the 2007 General Election – point towards significant support gains/losses for a party at a subsequent general election. A strong result at a local election in a Dail constituency area may suggest a party/grouping is on the cusp of making a significant gain in that constituency at a subsequent general election. A weak result at a local election in a Dail constituency area may suggest a party/grouping is at risk of suffering significant losses in that constituency at a subsequent general election.

Given the relative weaknesses/strengths associated with using the opinion poll-generated Dail constituency support estimates and local election support figures, in this post I will average out these figures for different political parties/groupings in each of the 40 Dail constituencies. While this may be viewed as a statistical means of teasing out where party/grouping support levels may stand in different constituencies at present, it should be added that there are no high powered statistics involved here. This is merely back of an envelope stuff.

Here I have averaged out the recent Dail constituency support estimates calculated, based on analysis of the June 26th Red C opinion poll, for the different parties/groupings against support levels for these parties/groupings at the May 2014 City and County Council elections. These calculations produce the following support estimates for the different political parties/groupings:

Constituency FG FF LB SF OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny (5) 30% 33% 10% 14% 13%
Cavan-Monaghan (4) 29% 25% 1% 34% 10%
Clare (4) 31% 29% 5% 5% 30%
Cork East (4) 26% 25% 14% 21% 14%
Cork North-Central (4) 20% 20% 9% 24% 27%
Cork North-West (3) 33% 29% 6% 14% 18%
Cork South-Central (4) 26% 29% 7% 17% 21%
Cork South-West (3) 37% 28% 6% 13% 16%
Donegal (5) 15% 23% 3% 31% 27%
Dublin Bay North (5) 17% 16% 10% 18% 39%
Dublin Bay South (4) 22% 11% 14% 13% 41%
Dublin Central (3) 11% 12% 12% 27% 39%
Dublin Mid West (4) 21% 12% 11% 24% 32%
Dublin Fingal (5) 17% 16% 13% 8% 47%
Dublin North-West (3) 13% 13% 13% 33% 29%
Dublin Rathdown (3) 24% 13% 11% 6% 46%
Dublin South Central (4) 11% 10% 14% 26% 39%
Dublin South West (5) 20% 13% 13% 23% 31%
Dublin West (4) 18% 16% 11% 17% 39%
Dun Laoghaire (4) 28% 18% 13% 6% 36%
Galway East (3) 31% 24% 4% 8% 33%
Galway West (5) 21% 22% 6% 9% 42%
Kerry (5) 22% 17% 7% 16% 38%
Kildare North (4) 23% 20% 14% 10% 32%
Kildare South (3) 26% 27% 12% 13% 22%
Laois (3) 29% 32% 6% 19% 14%
Louth (5) 21% 17% 6% 32% 24%
Limerick City (4) 30% 24% 11% 16% 20%
Limerick County (3) 38% 26% 3% 9% 25%
Longford-Westmeath (4) 31% 27% 10% 12% 21%
Mayo (4) 42% 24% 2% 12% 20%
Meath East (3) 27% 25% 7% 16% 25%
Meath West (3) 28% 27% 5% 25% 15%
Offaly (3) 17% 29% 2% 13% 38%
Roscommon-Galway (3) 21% 23% 3% 9% 43%
Sligo-Leitrim (4) 25% 26% 3% 21% 25%
Tipperary (5) 23% 18% 7% 9% 42%
Waterford (4) 26% 17% 8% 17% 32%
Wexford (5) 25% 24% 9% 11% 31%
Wicklow (5) 21% 15% 5% 16% 43%

Constituency size will have a notable bearing on whether a party/candidate can translate support levels into seat gains, or not. Barring unusual vote transfer patterns in later counts (or a very crowded electoral race), a candidate on 12% of the first preference vote, for instance, would have a good chance of winning a seat in a five-seat constituency, an outside chance in a four-seat constituency and few prospects in a three-seat constituency, Matching these support estimates to the size of the quota in the different constituencies (i.e. 25.0% in a three-seater, 20.0% in a four-seater and 16.7% in a five-seater), a list of potentially stronger and weaker constituencies for the political parties and groupings can be suggested, as discussed below.

Fine Gael: In some constituencies, the opinion poll-generated Dail constituency estimates tend to be more favourable for Fine Gael than would be the case with the party’s local election results. For instance, the constituency support estimates would suggest that Fine Gael could win three seats in Mayo, but the local election figures for Fine Gael there would not bode as well. These trends are, hopefully, balanced out somewhat in this analysis. Fine Gael’s strongest constituencies in terms of potential seat wins, based on the combined/average calculations, would appear to be Mayo, where the party would be winning 2.12 quotas, along with Carlow-Kilkenny (1.80 quotas), Clare (1.55 quotas), Longford-Westmeath (1.53 quotas), Limerick County (1.52 quotas), Limerick City (1.51 quotas), Wexford (1.50 quotas), Cavan-Monaghan (1.47 quotas), Cork South-West (1.47 quotas) and Dun Laoghaire (1.39 quotas). By contrast, Fine Gael’s most problematic constituencies, based on these calculations would appear to be Dublin Central (0.42 quotas), Dublin North-West (1.51 quotas), Dublin South-Central (0.57 quotas), Offaly (0.70 quotas), Roscommon-Galway (0.83 quotas) and Donegal (0.90 quotas).

Fianna Fail: The concerns relating to the differences between the opinion poll-generated Dail constituency estimates and local election support figures is also apparent in the case of Fianna Fail, as evident especially in constituencies such as Dublin Bay South and Roscommon-Galway. Again, hopefully the approach taken here will act as a balance between these varying estimates/support levels. Fianna Fail’s strongest constituencies in terms of potential seat wins, based on the combined/average calculations, would appear to be Carlow-Kilkenny, where the party would be winning 1.97 quotas, along with Clare (1.47 quotas), Cork South-Central (1.47 quotas), Wexford (1.42 quotas), Donegal (1.40 quotas),   Longford-Westmeath (1.37 quotas), Galway West (1.33 quotas)  Sligo-Leitrim (1.31 quotas), Laois (1.28 quotas) and Cavan-Monaghan (1.26 quotas). By contrast, Fianna Fail’s most problematic constituencies, based on these calculations would appear to be Dublin Central (0.47 quotas), Dublin South-Central (0.48 quotas), Dublin North-West (0.52 quotas),  Dublin Rathdown (0.53 quotas) and Dublin Bay South (0.54 quotas).

Labour Party: The issues observed with the mismatch of opinion poll-generated support estimates and local election results for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are probably even more evident in the case of Labour. The Dail constituency support estimates, based on opinion poll analyses suggest that the party is more likely to win seats in constituencies such as Dublin South-Central, Dublin South-West, Dublin Mid-West and Cork East, but constituencies such as Carlow-Kilkenny, Dublin Fingal, Dublin Rathdown and especially Dublin Bay South come out as stronger prospects for the party based on the local election support figures. (The different figures tend to be relatively similar in the case of the Kildare North constituency.) The averaging out approach here hopefully will offer a balance between the party’s relative strength at a local level and the potential impact that strong Dail incumbents might have on the party vote. The Labour Party’s strongest constituencies in terms of potential seat wins, based on the combined/average calculations, would appear to be Dublin South-West (0.78 quotas), Dublin Fingal (0.76 quotas), Dublin Bay South (0.72 quotas), Cork East (0.72 quotas), Kildare North (0.70 quotas), Dublin South-Central (0.69 quotas), Dun Laoghaire (0.64 quotas), Carlow-Kilkenny (0.59 quotas), Dublin Bay North (0.58 quotas) and Dublin Mid-West (0.57 quotas). Looking solely at those constituencies in which the party currently holds Dail seats, the party’s most problematic constituencies based on these calculations would appear to be Cork South-West (0.23 quotas), Clare (0.24 quotas), Wicklow (0.27 quotas), Meath East (0.28 quotas), Cork South-Central (0.33 quotas), Galway West (0.34 quotas), Louth (0.37 quotas), Kerry (0.39 quotas) and Waterford (0.40 quotas).

Sinn Fein: Given that the party’s national share of the vote has exceeded their local election vote share by some distance at each of the most recent opinion polls, the party generally tends to fare better in terms of the opinion poll-generated constituency support estimates, by and large. There are some exceptions to this rule, especially given that the party’s geography of support was not as sharply defined in the May 2014 City and County Council elections as it was in the 2011 General Elections. The party’s share of the vote at the local elections would exceed their support figures under the opinion poll-generated constituency support estimates in cases where Sinn Fein fared poorly at the 2011 election, or did not run a candidate, as in the case of the Limerick County constituency, for instance. Having given that proviso, it can be noted that Sinn Fein’s strongest constituencies in terms of potential seat wins, based on the combined/average calculations, would appear to be Louth (1.91 quotas), Donegal (1.85 quotas), Cavan-Monaghan (1.71 quotas), Dublin South-West (1.40 quotas), Dublin South-Central (1.32 quotas), Dublin North-West (1.30 quotas), Cork North-Central (1.22 quotas), Dublin Mid-West (1.19 quotas), Dublin Bay North (1.08 quotas), Dublin Central (1.07 quotas) and Sligo-Leitrim (1.06 quotas). Based on these calculations, the party would appear to be facing the toughest prospect of making seat gains in the constituencies of Dublin Rathdown (0.25 quotas), Clare (0.26 quotas), Dun Laoghaire (0.29 quotas), Galway East (0.30 quotas) and Limerick County (0.34 quotas).

Independents and Others: As noted earlier, the consistent pattern in terms of geographies of support that is evident for the larger political parties does not apply as readily in the case of Independent support patterns (although the smaller parties/alliances that form part of this grouping may have a tendency to regularly do especially well in certain Dail/local election constituencies and/or among certain social groups). Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that there can be significant mismatches between the constituency figures for Independent and Others support levels based on the opinion poll-generated constituency support estimates and the levels for this grouping evident in the local election results. Once these figures are averaged out, it is evident that this grouping would appear to have support levels amounting to quota, or more, in most of the Dail constituencies – in 29 of the 40 Dail constituencies, to be precise. But these support levels, it must be remembered, may – in a number of cases/constituencies be divided between candidates from a number of different parties or groupings (which may be at opposite ends of political/ideological spectrum) with transfers across this grouping not being, hence, as strong as in the case of the larger political parties. In short, support levels for this grouping may not transfer as readily into seat gains as they might for the larger parties, especially in cases where Independents and Others support levels are divided amongst a large number of different candidates and in cases where there is no obviously strong candidate within this grouping. Having noted these concerns,  it can be noted that the strongest constituencies for the Independent and Others grouping in terms of potential seat wins, based on the combined/average calculations, would appear to be Dublin Fingal (2.83 quotas), Wicklow (2.61 quotas), Tipperary (2.54 quotas), Galway West (2.53 quotas), Donegal (2.35 quotas), Kerry (2.27 quotas), Dublin Bay South (2.03 quotas), Dublin West (1.94 quotas), Dublin South-Central (1.93 quotas) and Wexford (1.88 quotas). Based on these calculations, this grouping would appear to be facing the toughest prospect of making seat gains in the constituencies of Cavan-Monaghan (0.49 quotas), Laois (0.56 quotas), Meath West (0.59 quotas), Cork South-West (0.66 quotas) and Cork East (0.69 quotas).

Constituency opinion polls offer another means of teasing out potential support levels in different constituencies, but these have their own limitations, such as a tendency to over-estimate support levels for the better-known incumbent candidates and the problems associated with the lower response rates for these polls. The analysis in this post, in itself, tries to offer a rough picture “statistically” of where the different political parties and groupings may be at this point in time in terms of their potential support level in the different constituencies. But the actual results at the coming general election in the individual constituencies will obviously differ from these for a number of reasons, such as (i) changing support trends, both nationally and locally, between now and the coming general election, (ii) the candidate selection strategy used by a certain party – not surprisingly, if a party runs more/fewer candidates than in a previous election, their potential number of votes (national support trends notwithstanding) will increase/decline, (iii) the candidate selection strategies used by other parties, (iv) the extent/degree of competition faced by candidates in their immediate local areas, (v) the effect of contentious local issues in specific constituencies and (vi) the impact of party organisations and party/candidate voter mobilisation efforts.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in General Election, Local Elections 2014, opinion polls and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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