Adrian Kavanagh, 18th February 2016
All politics is local, it is claimed. This especially proves to be the case when it comes to Irish elections. For a variety of reason, voters tend to vote for candidates from their local area and most candidates, in turn, will tend to get their highest level of votes/highest vote shares from their home areas, or bailiwicks. By contrast, their share of the vote will tend to decline the further one moves away from their home area, or bailiwick, as akin to a distance decay effect. This has been referred to as the friends and neighbours effect. This trend is even more evident in constituencies that encompass two counties, or parts of two counties (or indeed parts of four counties, as in the case of the new Sligo-Leitrim constituency, which also takes in southern parts of Donegal and western parts of Cavan). In these cases, voters generally tend to vote from candidates from their own county. For instance, in the case of the old Longford-Roscommon constituency it was claimed that votes never swam across the Shannon!
The “Friends and Neighbours” Effect
Political parties are well aware of this friends and neighbours effect and will often made use of this in terms of candidate selection and campaigning/vote management approaches. Parties will ensure, generally, that they are selecting candidates from different parts of a constituency to maximise the local/friends and neighbours vote that each of their candidates can bring in, over and above the natural party vote. As part of vote management strategies, parties may also divide up a constituency between its candidates for campaigning purposes, with each candidate’s area, or bailiwick, of course including their own local area. In order to evenly spread the vote between their candidates and to maximise the number of seats that may be won in a constituency, parties may ask their voters more directly to support certain candidates in specific areas – often by means of ads in local newspapers or by means of posters/letters/election literature. (One facet of this election is that such vote management strategies may also be evident in the case of independent groupings, such as the Independent Alliance in Louth and Longford-Westmeath and the Healy-Raes in Kerry (see Figure 1 below).
This proved to be the case at the last election, even though national issues were generally held to have stronger weighting in that contest – what generally transpired was that votes would vote for local candidates who most closely resembled their take on national issues.
Geography of Candidate Support: Case Study – Longford-Westmeath at the 2011 General Election
This can be evidenced in the maps above (Figures 2(a), 2(b) and 2(c), which detail the geographies of support for the three Fianna Fail candidates in the Longford-Westmeath constituency at the 2011 General Election. Although the party vote was down significantly, all three candidates were still winning fairly significant levels of local support in their home areas – Peter Kelly in Longford, Mary O’Rourke in the Athlone/south Westmeath area and Robert Troy in the Mullingar/north Westmeath area. There had been some speculation ahead of the election that Fianna Fail might run just two candidates here, but the approach of running candidates in each of the main areas within the constituency ensured that the potential party vote (even though in decline) was maximised in those areas. The addition of Troy was key in maintaining the party vote in the north Westmeath area and, indeed, his own immediate home area would prove to be one of the few areas in the state where the Fianna Fail vote actually increased between 2007 and 2011. Had he not ran, the likelihood would have been that the Fianna Fail vote would have collapsed in north Westmeath and Fine Gael councillor, Peter Burke, would have taken the final seat here. Instead, with the assistance of party transfers from his running mates, Troy took this final seat.
How “local” are Irish general election candidates?
Given such trends, it may well be expected that candidates running in Irish general elections (and indeed in other types of elections) will tend to be resident in the constituency that they are contesting. Overall, that tends to be the case, although there have been some notable exceptions in recent years, such as Michael Fitzmaurice in the 2014 Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election (he, of course, now finds himself a resident of the new Roscommon-Galway constituency). Far from it being the case that localism is declining, the tendency for candidates/representatives to be resident in the constituency seems to be stronger today than it was in earlier decades (when high profile politicians, such as John Dillon, often represented constituencies that they did not live in).
So what is the case with the 2016 General Election? A review of the Notice of Poll details for all 40 constituencies and for all 552 selected/declared General Election candidates shows that nearly all of these candidates are resident in the constituencies that they are contesting. In all 528 out of these 552 candidates (95.7%) are living in the constituencies that they are contesting on February 26th, based on the Notice of Poll details. (If the cases of the two candidates who are contesting two constituencies are controlled for, this percentage level increases further to 96.0%.) Such levels tend to be higher in the more rural parts of the state. For instance, 91.7% of Dublin candidates are living in the constituencies that they are contesting, as compared with 95.8% of Leinster candidates, 97.3% of Munster candidates and 99.1% of Connacht-Ulster candidates.
Most of the candidates who are not resident in their general election constituencies are often living very close to these constituencies – sometimes living only a few miles – or sometimes less than a mile! – away from the constituency boundary. Out of the 24 candidates who were not resident in the general election constituencies being contested, at least two-thirds of these are resident in the same county as that constituencies, as in the case of the Cork and Dublin constituencies. Only three candidates (out of 552), or 0.5% of all of the General Election 2016 candidates, were shown to be living in a different county to the one(s) that their general election constituency covers. Further adding to the strength of this local dimension is the fact that a number of the small group of candidates, who not resident in their general election constituencies, would have family links with areas in those constituencies anyway.