Adrian Kavanagh, 30th May 2016
Following on earlier posts, which tried to identify potential target constituencies for the Labour Party and for Fine Gael at the next general election based on an analysis of the 2016 General Election constituency figures, this post will involve a similar analysis for Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein candidates were runners-up in 6 of the 40 constituencies at the 2016 election, while other party candidates also came very close to winning seats in some other constituencies. But how large – or how narrow – was the margin between success and defeat in the constituencies that Sinn Fein candidates missed out on seats by?
It is worth noting that some of the seats that Sinn Fein hold at the moment remain highly marginal and a drop in its national support level at the next general election contest would probably mean that a number of seat losses would 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 to the independent ranks), this could see Sinn Fein 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 could offer a strong basis for Sinn Fein to “blood” – or further “blood” – new election candidates, as the 2014 elections already did in the case of that party, as well as number of other Opposition parties and groupings (and, indeed, some Fine Gael candidates, such as Noel Rock (Dublin North-West)). The successful Seanad election campaigns for some potential Sinn Fein general election candidates may also give a boost to the party’s chances in some of these marginal constituencies. 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 the case that boundary changes in a subsequent Constituency Commission report could work in favour of/against the chances of Sinn Fein candidates at the next general election (assuming a new set of election boundaries are passed into law before the next election takes place).
These preliminaries having been 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 Sinn Fein 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 Sinn Fein 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, or more, Sinn Fein candidates missed out on seat in a constituency – as in the case of Donegal – I simply focus on the stronger of these candidates.) In cases where the Sinn Fein candidate was eliminated at an earlier count (before the last count), the number of votes the Sinn Fein 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 Sinn Fein candidate was eliminated, then the votes of the next lowest of the successful candidates are considered 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 the unsuccessful Sinn Fein 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 claimed that Sinn Fein’s target constituencies would be as follows: (Note that the percentage figures referred to here are percentages of the total valid poll for that constituency.)
- Wexford – 0.07% gain required (Mythen stood on 13.5% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Donegal – 0.3% gain required (MacLochlainn stood on 13.5% of the TVP when she was eliminated on the final count)
- Longford-Westmeath – 1.2% gain required (Hogan stood on 14.2% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Galway West – 1.6% gain required (O Clochartaigh stood on 12.6% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Dublin Bay South – 1.9% gain required (Andrews stood on 13.1% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Cavan-Monaghan – 2.1% gain required (Reilly stood on 11.7% of the TVP when she was eliminated )
- Dublin West – 2.2% gain required (Donnelly stood on 16.9% of the TVP when she was eliminated on the final count)
- Meath East – 2.6% gain required (O’Rourke stood on 20.7% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Mayo– 2.6% gain required (Conway-Walsh stood on 12.3% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Tipperary – 3.0% gain required (Morris stood on 8.0% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Sligo-Leitrim – 3.3% gain required (MacManus stood on 11.4% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Clare – 3.4% gain required (Moran stood on 9.8% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Dublin Rathdown – 4.2% gain required (Nic Cormaic stood on 7.5% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Dublin South-West – 4.3% gain required (Holland stood on 4.2% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Kildare South – 5.1% gain required (Ryan stood on 14.9% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count) If Kildare South is effectively a two-seat constituency at the next general election, however, because Sean O Fearghail is automatically elected due to holding the Ceann Comhairle position, then the extent of the gain in support levels that would be required here to translate into a Sinn Fein gain would increase quite significantly.
- Dublin South-Central – 5.1% gain required (Devine stood on 8.6% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Dublin North-West – 5.3% gain required (Carney Boud stood on 9.0% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Kildare North – 5.4% gain required (Cronin stood on 9.2% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Dublin Bay North – 5.4% gain required (MacDonncha stood on 5.2% of the TVP when he was eliminated on the final count)
- Dublin Mid-West – 8.0% gain required (O’Broin’s surplus – following his election on the first count – was equivalent to 2.7% of the TVP)
- Cork South-West – 8.2% gain required (McCarthy stood on 9.8% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Cork North-West – 8.3% gain required (Dennehy stood on 9.1% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Wicklow – 10.7% gain required (Brady’s surplus – following his election on the second count – was equivalent to 0.5% of the TVP)
- Limerick – 11.5% gain required (Browne stood on 8.5% of the TVP when he was eliminated)
- Dun Laoghaire – 11.5% gain required (O’Brien stood on 5.4% of the TVP when he was eliminated) Dun Laoghaire was effectively a 3-seat constituency at the February 2016 as Sean Barrett was automatically re-elected due to holding the position of Ceann Comhairle. It should revert back to being effectively a 4-seat constituency at the next general election, assuming that boundary changes do not result in a change in seat number allocations. The figures quoted here do take account of this.
- Galway East – 13.1% gain required (Roche stood on 7.0% of the TVP when she was eliminated)
- Roscommon-Galway – 13.7% gain required (Kerrane stood on 8.4% of the TVP when she was eliminated
- Cork North-Central – 18.6% gain required (Gould stood on 8.7% of the TVP when he was eliminated (but his running mate, O’Brien, was not elected at this point in the count also))
Here it can be seen that there are a number of constituencies where a relatively small swing to Sinn Fein could see the party regain their lost seat in Donegal, as well as making a number of gains involving other constituencies. For instance, if the party was to gain 5%, or less, in the fourteen highest ranked constituencies here, the analysis suggests that Sinn Fein could be well placed to make gains in those constituencies. On the other hand, the analysis shows that Sinn Fein face more notable challenges in other constituencies in terms of potentially challenging for seat gains in these constituencies at a future general election. It is, however, worth noting that the extent of the gains – or indeed losses – made by a party, such as Sinn Fein, can vary notably between constituencies. For instance, Sinn Fein did not contest the old Dublin North constituency in 2007, meaning that an analysis such as this could not have pinpointed the new Dublin Fingal constituency as a potential Sinn Fein gain. But, of course, Sinn Fein did go on to gain a seat in this constituency at the February 2016 election. So party support levels in specific constituencies can grow at notably higher levels than those in the rest of the state, although the main Sinn Fein support gains in 2016 were focused on areas where the party had already made a notable breakthrough in at the 2014 Local Elections.
Constituency size is also a factor here. Even though Sinn Fein candidates may have stood at higher levels of support on their elimination in some three-seat or four-seat constituencies, the analysis suggests that Sinn Fein 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.