Local Elections 2019: What is the Most Competitive Constituency?

Adrian Kavanagh, 23rd May 2019

Before I get (possibly deserved) flak from people who are fighting tooth and nail for seats in constituencies that are deemed as “less competitive” here, please (i) accept my apologies in advance, (ii) note that this is a simple number crunch, which cannot capture the realities of the ground game in different electoral areas – something that only politicians/voters in those electoral areas will know much about!

What is the most competitive local election constituency in the state, looking ahead to tomorrow’s local election contests? This post will attempt to offer a “rough” estimate of constituency competitiveness and – in order to do so – will involve the creation of an index – the Kavanagh Constituency Competitiveness Factor (KCCF) – which will allow for a potential ranking of electoral areas based on their individual scores.   

There are various ways that the relative competitiveness of a constituency can be measured, as will be discussed in this post.

Number of Candidates: First of all, we could look at the number of candidates. The theory here would be that constituencies with larger number of candidates would be more competitive than those with smaller numbers. Based on this proviso, electoral areas such as Limerick City North (with 21 candidates), North Inner City (also 21 candidates) and Donegal (Town) (19 candidates) would expect to be highly competitive, as would Cork City North West, Cork City South West, Cabra-Glasnevin, Swords and Limerick City West (all with 18 candidates). By contrast, lower levels of competitiveness would expect to be associated with electoral areas with small numbers of candidates contesting these, such as Lismore (5 candidates), along with Ballybay-Clones and Belmullet (both with 6 candidates), in addition to Ennistymon, Mallow, Conamara North, An Daingean, Castleisland and Swinford (all with 7 candidates).

This factor, of course, needs to be tempered by the number of seats in a constituency, or electoral area. A constituency with a large number of candidates may well be deemed to be more competitive than another constituency with the same number of candidates if that constituency has a smaller number of seats attached to it. In a similar vein, a constituency with a small number of candidates may well be deemed to be more competitive than another constituency with the same number of candidates if that constituency has a larger number of seats attached to it. Hence, it is important to look at the number of candidates per seat across the different electoral areas. In this vein, the most competitive electoral area would now appear to be Leixlip (3.33 candidates per seat – 10 candidates in a three-seat constituency), followed by Rush-Lusk (3.20 candidates per seat) and Donegal (Town) (3.17 candidates per seat), as well as Cork City North West, Milford, North Inner City, Palmerstown-Fonthill, Athlone (Westmeath) and Limerick City North (all 3.00 candidates per seat). At the other end of the scale, the least competitive electoral area would be estimated as Ballybay-Clones (1.20 candidates per seat – 6 candidates in a five-seat constituency), just ahead of Howth-Malahide (1.29 candidates per seat), Castlecomer (1.33 candidates per seat) and Mallow (1.40 candidates per seat), as well as Shannon and Killarney (both with 1.43 candidates per seat).

At the local authority level, Cork City (2.65 candidates per seat, on average across the five electoral areas in Cork City) ranks the highest in terms of the number of local election candidates per seat, with Galway City (2.61 candidates per seat) the next highest. At the other end of the scale, the lowest ranked local authority area in terms of the number of local election candidates per seat is Carlow (1.72 candidates per seat), with the next lowest level being associated with Leitrim (1.78 candidates per seat).

Number of Incumbents: Just because there is a large number of candidates in a constituency, this does not necessarily guarantee that this constituency will be an especially competitive one. What if a large number of these candidates are not really competitive and there are only a handful of candidates who are truly in contention for the seats in that constituency? At a distance, however, it can be hard to estimate just how many candidates are truly competitive in a constituency – reflecting the point I made above, only politicians/voters in a given electoral area will know which candidates are really in contention to win seats there. However, it would be fair to expect that most incumbents would expected to be in the running for seats in their different electoral areas (even if they’ve been impacted unfavourably by electoral boundary changes), although co-opted Councillors may not be in as strong a position. On that basis, electoral areas with a big number of incumbents contesting these would be expected to be especially competitive. In this vein, two electoral areas in Louth would be expected to be the most competitive, including Dundalk South and Drogheda Urban, with eight incumbents contesting both of these electoral areas. (One of these constituencies – Drogheda Urban – includes two incumbents who are also contesting the neighbouring Drogheda Rural electoral area.) By contrast, the Ennistymon electoral area, with just one incumbent contesting this, would be expected to be the least competitive constituency, just ahead of Mallow, Kildare (Town), Roscrea-Templemore, Conamara South and Bray East (all with two incumbents contesting these). It should also be argued that non-incumbents, with past experience of holding electoral office, should also be factored in here, including former Dáil deputies, Senators, City and County Councillors, and Town Councillors. When other politicians who have experience of electoral office are now factored in, Castlebar, Donegal (Town) and Dundalk South all emerge as the most competitive, with all of these electoral areas including nine candidates with political experience (candidates who are currently incumbents or who have previously held electoral office).  At the other end of the scale, Ennistymon would remain as the least competitive (just one candidate who is currently an incumbent or who has previously held electoral office), ahead of Kildare (Town) and Mallow and Conamara South (all with two candidates who are currently incumbents or who have previously held electoral office).

Again the number of candidates with current, or past, electoral experience needs to be tempered by the number of seats being contested in the individual electoral areas. In this light, the most competitive electoral area would be Westport, where the ratio of experienced candidates to the number of seats being contested comes in at 1.75, ranking that constituency ahead of Palmerstown-Fonthill (1.60), Donegal (Town) (1.50) and Carrick on Suir (1.40), as well as Bailieborough-Cootehill, Milford, Drogheda Urban and Cork City South East (all with ratios of 1.33 experienced candidates per seat). The “least competitive” electoral area – or rather the “most open” electoral area – would be Ennistymon, where the ratio of experienced candidates to the number of seats being contested comes in at just 0.25, ranking this just below Kildare, Mallow and Conamara South (all with ratios of 0.40 experienced candidates per seat).

At the local authority level, Mayo (1.17 “experienced” candidates per seat, on average across the six electoral areas in Mayo County) ranks the highest in terms of the number of political experience levels, with Cork City (1.10 “experienced” candidates per seat). At the other end of the scale, the lowest ranked local authority area in terms of the number of local election candidates per seat is Cork County (0.75 “experienced” candidates per seat), with the next lowest levels being associated with Wicklow (0.81), Galway County (0.82), Clare (0.82) and Kildare (0.83).

Marginality: The most obvious measure of how competitive a constituency is related to the margin of victory that the last elected candidate in a constituency has over the candidate who lost out on the last count. This, of course, is a figure that we cannot determine at this point in time – we done not have a 100% fully functioning crystal ball, unfortunately.

Kavanagh Constituency Competitiveness Factor (KCCF): This measure seeks to combine the constituency competitiveness factors associated with the number of candidates contesting a given constituency/electoral area and the level of incumbency/political experience associated with that electoral area. First a candidate number score is calculated: this involves simply dividing the number of candidates in a constituency by the number of seats on offer in that constituency and then squaring that number. In terms of the political experience/incumbency factor, each constituency was given a score based on the number of incumbents contesting that electoral area (1.00 times the number of incumbents, but with a reduction of 0.20 in cases where the incumbent was co-opted on to the Council after the 2014 elections). A score for non-incumbent candidates who had previously held electoral office was also factored in here (0.75 times the number of “politically experienced” non-incumbents). These two scores were then added together and divided by the number of seats in that electoral area, with that number then being squared. The scores for the candidate number and political experience/incumbency factors were then added together, with the square root of this number being calculated to produce the Kavanagh Constituency Competitiveness Factor (KCCF).

To put things into context, there is a national average Kavanagh Constituency Competitiveness Factor (KCCF) of 2.32, calculated based on the number of candidates and the number of incumbent/politically experienced candidates in contention across all 166 of the electoral areas in the state. The average KCCF factor for the Dublin electoral areas is 2.45, but there is a slightly higher average KCCF factor of 2.51 across the electoral areas in the other Cities, contrasting with scores of 2.17 for the commuter belt constituencies. In terms of the urban-rural contrasts, there is a higher KCCF score of 2.38 for the more urban electoral areas, contrasting with a score of 2.12 for the more rural constituencies.  

Most Competitive: Based on the KCCF estimates, we find a very close contest between two constituencies in terms of which emerges as the “most competitive” based on this analysis; Donegal (Town), with a KCCF score of 3.55, earns the top ranking here, just narrowly ahead of Palmerstown-Fonthill, which has a KCCF score of 3.54. Other electoral areas ranking highly in terms of this measure include Leixlip (3.48), Rush Lusk (3.40), Cork City North West (3.25) and Milford (3.25), followed by Athlone (Westmeath) (3.16), North Inner City (3.15), Limerick City North (3.13), Westport (3.13) and Drogheda Urban (3.11). In terms of the average scores for local authority areas (Counties or Cities), Cork City ranks the highest, with a KCCF score of 2.89, coming in just ahead of Galway City (2.80), with the next highest ranking local authority areas including Westmeath (2.71), Dublin City (2.58), South Dublin County (2.56) and Donegal (2.55).     

Least Competitive (“Most Open”): At the other end of the scale, Mallow (in County Cork) emerges as the “least competitive” – or rather the “most open” – constituency, with a KCCF score of just 1.51. Coming just ahead of Mallow in the rankings is Castlecomer (Co. Kilkenny), with a KCCF score of 1.55, with the next lowest rankings at the electoral area level being associated with Baltinglass (1.58), Howth-Malahide (1.63), Ballyjamesduff (1.64), Kildare (Town) (1.65), Dundalk-Carlingford (1,70), Graiguecullen-Portarlington (1.72), Shannon (1.74), Ennistymon (1.77), Ballybay-Clones (1.78) and Fermoy (1.78). In terms of the average scores for local authority areas (Counties or Cities), Clare ranks as the lowest (least competitive), with a KCCF score of 2.00, coming in just below Leitrim (2.03), with the next highest ranking local authority areas including Carlow (2.05), Roscommon (2.07), Kilkenny (2.09) and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (2.09).     

Final Health Warning: Again – and realising that there will probably now be days of recounts in Mallow and Castlecomer, while the Donegal (Town) count ends on the Saturday evening (or maybe not!) – please note that this is a very rough estimate of constituency competitiveness, given the nature of the exercise, in which only two factors – candidate numbers, political experience/incumbency levels – are looked at. Ultimately, the main determinant of competitiveness across the different electoral areas is what is happening “on the ground” – something that a model/number crunch like this cannot hope to even try to capture. The best of wishes to all candidates and their teams ahead of tomorrow’s elections, irrespective of whether they are in “very competitive” or “not very competitive” electoral areas, based on these KCCF scores.   

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Geography. Email: adrian.p.kavanagh@mu.ie
This entry was posted in Candidates Local Elections 2019, Local Elections 2019 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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