Adrian Kavanagh, 20th May 2016
Following the appointment of Brendan Howlin as the new leader of the Labour Party earlier on this day, this might be an appropriate point to consider the constituencies that Labour may be specifically targeting with a view to gaining, or rather regaining, seats at the next general election – whenever that may be! Admittedly the most recent opinion polls have not made for pleasant reading for Labour and there are many commentators who do not see a way back to the party. But it is worth noting that exactly five years ago other commentators were claiming that Fianna Fail and the Green Party were both “finished”, yet both parties subsequently recovered over the following years to make gains at the 2014 Local Elections and, of course, the February 2016 General Election. In light of this, this post will try to tease out where the party might be most likely to make gains at the next general election, based on a study of the constituency voting figures at the 2016 election.
It is also worth remembering that most of the seats Labour hold at the moment remain highly marginal and the party cannot afford any further drop in its national support level at the next general election contest, otherwise further seat losses will ensue. If some of the party’s current group of TDs decide to step down ahead of a future general election contest (or defect to another party or the independent ranks), this could see Labour losing out on a seat in the relevant constituency, even if the party’s national support levels remain as they are, or improve slightly. On the other hand, should the new government remain in power for longer than a three-year term in office, the 2019 Local Elections should offer a strong basis for the party to rebuild from, as the 2014 elections did in the cases of Fianna Fail and the Green Party, but also other Opposition parties and groupings, such as Sinn Fein, the Anti Austerity Alliance and the People Before Profit Alliance. With provisional population figures likely to be released in the coming weeks following Census 2016, a new Constituency Commission will soon be established – it might well be possible that boundary changes in a subsequent Constituency Commission report could act to favour Labour, almost in similar vein to the way in which the 2012 report was probably partly responsible for a number of Labour seats losses in February 2016.
These preliminaries concluded, it now time to try and identify the party’s potential target constituencies, based on an analysis of election count figures for the 2016 General Election. In this analysis, I estimate what percentage of the vote in a constituency that Labour need to gain in order to gain a seat in that constituency. In doing so, in most cases I calculate the gap that existed between the unsuccessful Labour candidate and the lowest placed of the successful candidates and then calculate this as a percentage of the total valid poll for that constituency. (Where two Labour candidates contested a constituency, I simply focus on the stronger of these candidates.) In cases where the Labour candidate was eliminated at an earlier count (before the last count), the number of votes the Labour candidate held on their elimination is related to the number of votes that the lowest placed of the successful candidates held on that particular count. However, if this candidate also had a running mate left in the race at the point in time that the Labour candidate was eliminated, then the votes of the next lowest of the successful candidates is used instead (unless this was in excess of the combined number of votes held by the lowest successful candidate and her/his running mate). I also estimate the percentage of the total valid poll that was held by a Labour candidate on the final count, or on the count that they were eliminated on if they did not survive until the final count.
So, having made these preliminary clarifications, based on this analysis it can be that Labour’s target constituencies would be (note the percentage figures noted here are percentages of the total valid poll):
- Louth – 0.6% gain required (Nash stood on 13.0% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Dublin Bay South – 0.8% gain required (Humphreys stood on 15.7% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Dublin Bay North – 1.2% gain required (O Riordain stood on 14.0% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Clare – 1.9% gain required (McNamara stood on 12.0% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Dublin North-West – 3.1% gain required (Lyons stood on 11.6% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Kildare South – 3.7% gain required (Wall stood on 18.7% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count). If this constituency becomes effectively a 2-seater at the next election becuase O Fearghail is automatically elected in his role as Ceann Comhairle (and because the constituency does not gain a seat in the next set of boundary amendments) this margin would be pushed out to a required 14.0% gain.)
- Dublin South-West – 3.8% gain required (Kearns stood on 6.2% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Kildare North – 3.9% gain required (Stagg stood on 11.8% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Cork North-Central – 4.0% gain required (Lynch stood on 14.6% of the TVP when she was eliminated on the final count)
- Galway West – 4.2% gain required (Nolan stood on 5.9% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Dublin Rathdown – 4.5% gain required (White stood on 10.8% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Dublin South-Central – 4.9% gain required (Byrne stood on 10.6% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Dun Laoghaire – 5.2% gain required (Smyth stood on 12.1% of the TVP when she was eliminated) The figures referred here are based on the proviso that this constituency reverts back to being effectively a 4-seat constituency at the next general election now that Sean Barrett is no longer Ceann Comhairle. The margin here is that which existed between Carrie Smyth and Mary Hanafin on the penultimate count, given that Mary Hanafin would have filled the final/fourth seat here in February 2016 if four seats (not three) had been contested in that election contest.
- Wicklow – 5.7% gain required (Ferris stood on 5.9% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Sligo-Leitrim – 6.4% gain required (O’Keeffe stood on 3.5% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Carlow-Kilkenny – 7.7% gain required (Phelan stood on 8.0% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Kerry – 8.2% gain required (Spring stood on 6.8% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Dublin Mid-West – 8.9% gain required (Tuffy stood on 5.8% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Dublin Central – 9.0% gain required (Costello stood on 9.9% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Cork South-West – 9.1% gain required (McCarthy stood on 7.9% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Cork South-Central – 10.2% gain required (Lynch stood on 4.8% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Galway East – 10.4% gain required (Higgins stood on 12.1% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Meath East – 10.6% gain required (Hannigan stood on 7.5% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Waterford – 13.3% gain required (Conway stood on 7.5% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Laois – 15.9% gain required (Whelan stood on 8.7% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Roscommon-Galway – 18.0% gain required (Kelly stood on 3.2% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Meath West – 21.6% gain required (McElhinney stood on 3.2% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
Here it can be seen that there are a number of constituencies where a relatively small swing to Labour could see the party regain their lost seats. For instance, if the party was to gain 5%, or less, in the twelve highest ranked constituencies here, the analysis suggests that Labour could be well placed to make gains in those constituencies. On the other hand, the analysis also points out that Labour face more notable challenges in other constituencies in terms of potentially challenging for seat gains at a future general election. Constituency size is also a facto here. Even though Labour candidates may have stood at higher levels of support on their elimination in some three-seat or four-seat constituencies, the analysis suggests that Labour candidates in the five-seat constituencies stand at somewhat of an advantage to the other candidates as the percentage share of vote required to make the quota in these constituencies is lower than that for three-seat or four-seat constituencies.