A Geography of Voting at the 2018 Presidential Election

Adrian Kavanagh, 30th October 2018

There is always a “geography” to electoral support and turnout patterns and this was very much the case with the 2018 Presidential Election. This contest saw a number of records being set in terms of voting patterns at a presidential election; the lowest ever voter turnout level (43.9%), the highest ever number of first preference votes won by a candidate (but not the highest ever vote share) and the lowest ever number of first preference votes (and lowest vote share) won by a candidate. 

Voter Turnout: Turnout levels at Irish presidential elections tend to be lower than those for general election turnouts. The geography of voter turnout patterns can, however, vary from contest to contest, as does the overall national average turnout level.

As discussed in greater detail in a previous post, there were notable urban-rural turnout variations evident at the last two contests, although turnout levels were, on average, higher in rural areas at the 1997 election and higher in urban areas at the 2011 contest. The 1997 election had marked the lowest ever national turnout level at a presidential election contest, before the 2018 contest took place.

The national turnout level at the 2018 presidential election came in at just under forty four percent (43.9%) and proved to be the lowest ever turnout level recorded at presidential election, with only three constituencies recording turnout levels higher than fifty percent (see Table 1). Only two constituencies – the two Donegal constituencies – had turnout levels lower than fifty percent at the 2011 election. Turnout levels in the more rural constituencies (average level of 48.5%) tended to higher than those in the more urban constituencies (average level of 42.6%) at this election. The average turnout level in Dublin (42.0%) fell below the national average, with higher turnout levels in the more middle class constituencies (average level of 44.3%) than in the more working class constituencies (average level of 39.7%). At the regional level, turnout levels were highest in Munster (average level of 46.0%), followed by Connacht (45.9%), (rest of) Leinster (44.0%), Dublin (42.0%) and Ulster (37.3%). Hence, the lowest turnout levels tended to be focused on the more working class areas of Dublin, as well as the Ulster counties.

Highest Turnout Levels Lowest Turnout Levels
1. Wicklow (50.7%) 1. Dublin Central (31.8%)
2. Clare (50.4%) 2. Donegal (33.7%)
3. Cork North-West (50.3%) 3. Dublin Bay South (36.7%)
4. Roscommon-Galway (49.3%) 4. Dublin North-West (38.1%)
5. Dublin Rathdown* (48.5%) 5. Dublin South-Central (38.1%)

Table 1: Constituencies with the highest and lowest turnout levels at the 2018 Presidential Election

* Two other constituencies – Galway East and Cork South-West – also recorded turnout levels of 48.5%, but Dublin Rathdown’s turnout level was marginally higher when two figures of decimal places were used.

 

Higgins support: Michael D. Higgins won 822,566 first preference votes in the 2018 election, with a gap of (relatively) close to half a million votes existing between him and his closest rival, Peter Casey.  Higgins won just under fifty six percent of the first preference votes (55.8%), but his share of the vote varied quite notably across the forty Dáil constituencies that were being contested at this election. While he won over seventy percent of the vote

While he again polled strongly in his home constituency of Galway West (62.4%), this was not his strongest constituency in 2018, as had been the case in 2011. Michael D. Higgins tended to poll stronger in the more urban parts of the state, but especially Dublin, and he especially polled well in the more middle class Dublin constituencies. Dublin constituencies accounted for eight of his ten strongest constituency performances at this election (see Table 2), with Wicklow (which admittedly falls within the Dublin commuter belt) and Galway West being the only constituencies outside of Dublin to figure in this list. Higgins came fairly close to winning two thirds of all the valid votes cast in the urban constituencies (Dublin, other cities, Dublin commuter belt) – winning 61.3% of the first preference votes across these constituencies (Table 2). He did not fare as well in the more rural constituencies, where his share of the vote came in just under the fifty percent level on average (49.9%).

His highest support levels, regionally, were recorded in Dublin (average support level of 65.0%), where he came close to winning two-thirds of all the valid votes cast in that region. His lowest support levels tended to come in the Ulster constituencies, where he won just over forty percent of the valid votes (41.1%) – in this region, Casey (25.8%) did relatively well, while Sean Gallagher (13.5%) and Liadh Ní Riada (11.2%) both performed significantly better here than in other parts of the state.

 

Highest Higgins support levels Lowest Higgins support levels
1. Dublin Bay South (71.5%) 1. Donegal (38.1%)
2. Dún Laoghaire (70.2%) 2. Cavan-Monaghan (44.3%)
3. Dublin Rathdown (68.7%) 3. Roscommon-Galway (45.1%)
4. Dublin Central (51.1%) 4. Tipperary (45.5%)
5. Limerick City (49.3%) 5. Offaly (47.0%)

Table 2: Constituencies with the highest and lowest support levels for Michael D. Higgins at the 2018 Presidential Election

 

Casey support: Having polled at levels of one or two percent in opinion polls only days before the presidential election vote took place, Peter Casey ended up winning close to three hundred and fifty thousand first preference votes (342,727 votes), or 23.3% of the valid votes, at the 2018 Presidential Election. and he managed to win over one quarter of the first preference votes in thirteen of the forty constituencies being contested in this election.  By contrast, he won less than fifteen percent of the first preference votes in five of the constituencies, namely those identified in Table 3 below. His support pattern at this election was almost the exact opposite of the Higgins geography of support. He fared poorly  in Dublin and Dublin constituencies accounted for eight of his weakest performances at the 2018 election, with the other two constituencies to figure in this list being the Dublin commuter belt constituencies of Louth and Wicklow. Casey accounted for just over fifteen percent of all the first preference votes cast in Dublin (15.4%).

By contrast, he polled strongly in the more rural constituencies. While he won only 18.3% of the first preference votes, on average, in the more urban constituencies, Casey won well over one quarter of all the first preference votes (28.6%) in the more rural constituencies. Casey’s strongest regions tended to be Higgins’ weakest regions – the Midlands region, where Casey won 31.1% of the votes and Higgins won 48.0%, followed by Connacht (29.0%) and Munster (26.6%). While his share of the vote in Ulster (25.8%) was higher than his national vote share average, he did fare better in a number of Western and Midlands constituencies than he did in his home constituency of Donegal (see Table 3).

Highest Casey support levels Lowest Casey support levels
1. Tipperary (36.8%) 1. Dublin Central (11.2%)
2. Roscommon-Galway (34.5%) 2. Dublin Bay South (11.8%)
3. Limerick County (34.2%) 3. Dún Laoghaire (13.1%)
4. Galway East (33.3%) 4. Dublin South-Central (13.8%)
5. Donegal (32.8%) 5. Dublin Rathdown (13.9%)

Table 3: Constituencies with the highest and lowest support levels for Peter Casey at the 2018 Presidential Election

 

Gallagher support: Sean Gallagher won 94,514 first preference votes at the 2018 General Election, or 6.4% of the valid votes cast nationally in this election. This marked a significantly lower number of votes than the number won by him at the 2011 election, where he won over half a million first preference votes. While he never threatened to again reach those heights at any stage during the 2018 campaign, a contrast with trends in opinion polls carried out a few days before the actual election would suggest that he lost votes to Peter Casey in the more rural constituencies in the final week of the campaign. His best performances, again, came in the areas where he did best in at the 2011 election, but his share of the vote was well down on his 2011 performance even in those areas.

Highest Gallagher support levels Lowest Gallagher support levels
1. Cavan-Monaghan (17.9%) 1. Dublin Central (3.5%)
2. Cork North-West (9.3%) 2. Galway West (3.8%)
3. Donegal (9.3%) 3. Dublin Bay South (3.8%)
4. Offaly (9.0%) 4. Dublin South-Central (4.0%)
5. Sligo-Leitrim (8.9%) 5. Galway East (4.1%)

Table 4: Constituencies with the highest and lowest support levels for Sean Gallagher at the 2018 Presidential Election

 

Ní Riada support: Winning 93,987 first preference votes, the overall share of the first preference votes won by Liadh Ní Riada (6.4%) fell well below the 13.7% vote share won by Martin McGuinness at the 2011 election, as well as the share of the vote won by Sinn Féin at the 2016 General Election (13.8%). That being said, her geography of support tended to be similar to the typical Sinn Féin geography of support at a general/local elections, as her strongest performances tended to come in the Border and working class urban constituencies (Table 5). (Her strongest performance came in Mary Lou McDonald’s Dublin Central constituency.) Indeed, her pattern of support in this election was very similar to the Sinn Féin geography of support in 2011, as McGuinness’ strongest constituencies in that election also figured among her strongest constituencies at the 2018 contest. However, she only succeeded in winning more than ten percent of the first preference votes in three of these constituencies.

Winning 6.0% of the votes case in Dublin, she fared slightly worse in the more urban constituencies (average support level of 6.2%) than she did in the more rural (average support level of 6.5%).

Highest Ní Riada support levels Lowest Ní Riada support levels
1. Dublin Central (11.6%) 1. Galway East (3.1%)
2. Donegal (11.4%) 2. Dún Laoghaire (3.6%)
3. Cavan-Monaghan (11.0%) 3. Dublin Rathdown (3.6%)
4. Louth (9.3%) 4. Kildare North (4.0%)
5. Cork North-Central (8.9%) 5. Dublin Bay South (4.2%)

Table 5: Constituencies with the highest and lowest support levels for Liadh Ní Riada at the 2018 Presidential Election

 

Freeman support: Joan Freeman won 87,908 first preference votes, or 6.0% of the valid votes cast nationally, coming relatively close to finishing in third place in the overall contest given that her vote tally was relatively similar to the Gallagher and Ni Riada vote levels. In keeping with a “friends and neighbours” voting trend, Joan Freeman’s strongest vote share was recorded in her home constituency of Dublin Mid-West, with her next best performances coming in the neighbouring constituencies of Dublin South-Central, Kildare North and Dublin West.

Winning 6.9% of the votes case in Dublin, she fared slightly better in the more urban constituencies (average support level of 6.3%) than she did in the more rural (average support level of 5.6%).

Highest Freeman support levels Lowest Freeman support levels
1. Dublin Mid-West (9.4%) 1. Galway East (4.6%)
2. Dublin South-Central (7.4%) 2. Wexford (4.7%)
3. Kildare North (7.3%) 3. Clare (4.8%)
4. Dublin West (7.3%) 4. Tipperary (5.0%)
5. Dublin Rathdown (6.9%) 5. Dublin Bay South (5.1%)

Table 6: Constituencies with the highest and lowest support levels for Joan Freeman at the 2018 Presidential Election

 

Duffy support: Gavin Duffy won 32,198 first preference votes, or 2.2% of the valid votes cast nationally. This was the lowest ever number of votes – and the smallest vote share – won by a candidate at an Irish presidential election. In keeping with a “friends and neighbours” voting trend, the strongest Duffy vote shares were recorded in constituencies located around his home base in Meath.

Winning 2.0% of the votes case in Dublin, he fared slightly better in the more urban constituencies (average support level of 2.3%) than he did in the more rural (average support level of 2.1%).

Highest Duffy support levels Lowest Duffy support levels
1. Louth (4.7%) 1. Dublin Central (1.3%)
2. Meath East (3.9%) 2. Galway West (1.4%)
3. Meath West (3.4%) 3. Clare (1.5%)
4. Cavan Monaghan (2.6%) 4. Galway East (1.5%)
5. Laois (2.6%) 5. Cork North-Central (1.6%)

Table 7: Constituencies with the highest and lowest support levels for Gavin Duffy at the 2018 Presidential Election

 

 

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Geography. Email: adrian.p.kavanagh@mu.ie
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