Census 2016 Definitive Population by Area Figures: What these mean for the 2017 Constituency Commission review

Adrian Kavanagh, 6th April 2017

The final/definitive population by area Census 2016 figures were published earlier today (at 11 am), showing a population level within the state of 4,761,865, marking a notable increase (of 173,613 – 3.8%) on the 4,588,252 population level recorded for the 2011 Census. (The provisional figures published back in July 2016 only under-estimated this national population figure by 3,889 people – these estimates were only out by 0.08%.)  This now leaves an average population of 30,138.4 per Dail Deputy across the State (for the current 158-Dail seat context).

Given that the Constitution explicitly states that the population per TD ratio nationally (this does not apply to individual constituencies) must not exceed 30,000 (or indeed fall below 20,000), this means that the smallest number of Dail deputies, which can be envisaged in the upcoming Constituency Commission review of/report on Dail constituency boundaries, is 159, which is a higher number that the current membership (158 TDs) of Dail Eireann. As a result, the extent of the boundary changes that will be required is probably more extensive than would have been envisaged prior to the publication of the preliminary Census 2016 population figures back in July 2016. Continue reading

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“Heading towards a Three-Party System?”: Constituency-level analysis of the Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI opinion poll (2nd March 2017) and other March/April/May polls

Adrian Kavanagh, 2nd March 2017

After a series of poor figures across opinion polls in the earlier months of 2017, this morning’s Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI poll brings better news for Fine Gael – offering the party its highest support level across most of the recent polls and leaving it standing just one percentage point behind Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail’s support level here is in line with that party’s strong showing across most of the polls carried out in the first few weeks of 2017, as is Sinn Fein’s – given that the Irish Times/Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll was published on 8th December 2016, the four percentage points gain for that party in this poll can be seen to reflect trends in other polls across the past few weeks/months. As it stands, the three largest parties command a combined support level of 78% in this opinion poll (roughly fifteen percent higher than the combined support level for these parties in the February 2016 election), while support for Labour, a number of the smaller parties/groupings and independent candidates has declined relative to the support levels at the last general election. Could it be that the Irish party system is becoming less fragmented, with support levels starting to harden around the three largest parties???

The 2nd March Irish Times/Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll estimates party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 29% (down 1% relative to the previous Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll), Fine Gael 28% (up 1%), Sinn Fein 21% (up 4%), Independents and Others 18% (down 2%) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 3%, Social Democrats 1%, Green Party 3%, Independents 10% Labour Party 4% (down 2%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows:  Fianna Fail 54, Fine Gael 54, Sinn Fein 34, Labour Party 1, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 3, Social Democrats 1, Green Party 2, Independents 6.   Continue reading

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Happy New Year for Fianna Fail?: Constituency-level analysis of the Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll (29th January 2017) and other early 2017 polls

Adrian Kavanagh 2nd February 2017 – with other updates during February 2017

As noted in a previous post, a series of polls in the Autumn/early Winter had pointed to a drop in support levels for Fianna Fail relative to that party’s high support levels in polls during the Summer of 2016. However, December’s Ipsos-MRBI poll and last weekend’s Sunday Business Post-Red C poll both saw significant gains in support for Fianna Fail and pushes that party ahead of Fine Gael again in terms of overall support levels, even though there is a one percentage point increase in support levels for Fine Gael. Sinn Fein – after a relatively disappointing general election – had made some notable gains in the most recent polls, but support levels for this party fall by two percentage points in this latest poll.

The 29th January 2017 Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll estimates party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 27% (up 3% relative to the previous Red C opinion poll), Fine Gael 24% (down 1%), Independents and Others 30% (NC) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 4%, Social Democrats 4%, Green Party 4%, Renua 1%, Independents 14%, Independent Alliance 3% – Sinn Fein 14% (down 2%), Labour Party 5% (NC). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows:  Fianna Fail 56, Fine Gael 45, Sinn Fein 24, Labour Party 1, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 5, Social Democrats 4, Green Party 4, Independents 21.  

Other Recent Polls: A number of other opinion polls were carried out in the weeks prior to, as well as the weeks following, the Sunday Business Post-Red C poll. Analyses of these are not covered in detail on this website, but the seat-estimate figures drawn from a constituency-level analysis of these polls will be reported below:

  • The 26th February Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll estimated party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 26% (down 1% relative to the previous Red C opinion poll, which is discussed in greater detail in this post), Fine Gael 24% (NC),  Sinn Fein 19% (up 5%), Independents and Others 27% (down 3%) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 6%, Social Democrats 3%, Green Party 4%, Renua 1%, Independent Alliance 3%, Other Independents 10% – Labour Party 4% (down 1%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fail 50, Fine Gael 44, Sinn Fein 34, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 7, Social Democrats 3,Green Party 2, Independents 18.
  • The 19th February Sunday Independent-Millward Brown opinion poll estimated party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 33% (up 6% relative to the previous Millward Brown opinion poll), Fine Gael 25% (down 4%),  Sinn Fein 20% (NC), Independents and Others 16% (NC) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 3%, Social Democrats 2%, Green Party 2%, Renua <1%, Independent Alliance 5%, Other Independents 4% – Labour Party 6% (down 2%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fail 65, Fine Gael 45, Sinn Fein 34, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 2, Labour Party 2, Social Democrats 2, Independents 8.
  • The 12th February Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll estimated party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 32% (up 3% relative to the previous Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll), Fine Gael 21% (down 2%), Independents and Others 21% (down 7%) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 3%, Social Democrats 2%, Green Party 2%, Renua <1%, Independent Alliance 5%, Other Independents 8% – Sinn Fein 19% (up 2%), Labour Party 6% (up 1%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fail 64, Fine Gael 38, Sinn Fein 31, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 2, Labour Party 2, Social Democrats 2, Independents 19.
  • The 22nd January Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll estimated party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 29% (up 1% relative to the previous Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll), Fine Gael 23% (down 3%), Independents and Others 28% (up 7%) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 5%, Social Democrats 1%, Green Party 3%, Renua <1%, Independent Alliance 3%, Other Independents 15% – Sinn Fein 17% (down 2%), Labour Party 5% (NC). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fail 59, Fine Gael 40, Sinn Fein 27, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 7, Green Party 2, Labour Party 1, Independents 21.

Independents and Others: Support levels for independents (whether as part of the Independent Alliance or as part of other alliances such as the Independents4Change grouping, or as “non-aligned” independents) still accounts for a significant proportion of voter choices in these polls. Support for independents has fallen by a few percentage points relative to the February 26th election. Support levels for the Independents and Others grouping in a number of polls during the Summer of 2016 were seen to be much lower than they were at the February 26th election. Support levels had recovered for this grouping had recovered somewhat in a number of polls during October and November, but this poll sees a four percentage point drop in support levels for Independents and Others.

In the lead up to the February election, seat levels for the Independents and Others grouping were notably harder to glean than was the case for the larger political parties, given that this is a very large and diverse grouping. The results of the general election showed that, in some cases, increased support levels for a smaller party were simply absorbed by the larger number of candidates running with party/grouping, meaning that increased support levels did not translate into increased seat numbers – as evidenced in the support/seat level figures for the Social Democrats in that election. These trends could also be evidenced when the 2002 and 2007 Sinn Fein vote and seats levels were compared. It was impossible to apply the model in the case of the smaller parties/groupings ahead of the 2016 General Election, as many of these smaller parties and groupings did not exist in 2011 or had contested only a relatively small number of constituencies. But, with a good number of these parties having contested a number of constituencies in the 2016 election, it is now possible to treat them as separate entities in this model (although figures can not be gleaned for constituencies that these parties did not contest on February 26th, as in the case of the Social Democrats in more than twenty Dail constituencies).  

The nature of the Independents and Others grouping means that support levels do not usually translate as neatly into seat gains as would be the case with parties such as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Vote transfer levels across this grouping will generally not prove to be as strong as the extent of intra-party vote transfer levels enjoyed by the larger political parties, who in turn often enjoy a “seat bonus” at most general election contests. Against that, candidates from the Independents and Others grouping may be more likely to attract transfers from political parties than would be the case with candidates from other political parties, as indeed proved the case in certain circumstances (most notably Maureen O’Sullivan in Dublin Central) at the 2016 election. And, of course, the better that candidates from this grouping fare in different constituencies, the more likely they are to attract vote transfers given that they will be placed higher up in the order of first preference vote levels and hence well placed to last longer/until the end of the election count.

Fianna Fail surge: When compared with the February election results and particularly the trend evidenced in polls carried out in the months leading up to that election, the polls published in December 2016 and January 2017 all amount to another set of very good opinion polls for Fianna Fail; although party support levels are not as high as they stood at in the Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll of 7th July, which had represented the best poll figures for that party since the Spring of 2008; a point in time when Fianna Fail were still the strongest party in the state by some considerable distance.

An increase in Fianna Fail support levels of around seven percentage points between the 2011 and 2016 elections translated into a more notable increase in seat levels for that party, although the reasons for this have been discussed in earlier poll analyses (including the impact of the 2012 Constituency Commission report). It has to be expected that an even larger increase in Fianna Fail support levels than that evidenced at the February election would translate into very significant seat gains for that party at a future general elections, especially as they would now be expected to gain due to the relatively large seat bonus that the largest party usually gets at Irish general elections; the proportional element of the Irish electoral system notwithstanding. The final seat estimates for Fianna Fail here may veer on the conservative side of the scale somewhat, although the party is still seen to be enjoying a significant seat bonus in both of these poll analyses, mainly due to the need to assume that vote management patterns would remain the same as at 2016 to ensure that there is a consistency in approach across the first few post-General Election poll analyses. (I have now relaxed the assumption that parties would run the same number of candidates as in February, mainly due to the realisation that a party such as Fianna Fail is likely to be running extra candidates in a number of constituencies (e.g. Limerick, Limerick City, Cork North-Central, Laois, Meath East) arising from their observations of party support trends at that election.) With the vote management assumption being further relaxed somewhat, Fianna Fail are well placed to win a seat level in the mid-to-high 50s range on the support patterns evident in this poll.

The problem for Labour: Like the canary in the coal mine, the constituency level poll analyses consistently warned in the years leading up to the 2016 General Election that low levels of Labour support nationally would translate into very low seat levels for that party. Given the Labour Party’s geography of support, but also given the increased level of opposition the party faces on the left of the political spectrum from Sinn Fein, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and other left-wing groupings/independent candidates, it was argued that Labour would struggle to convert votes into seats if their national support levels fall below the 10% level, as indeed proved to be the case with the February 26th election. If the party’s support levels nationally were to even lower than the 6.6% level won in the general election, then the party would be losing even more seats – especially given the narrow margins that Labour candidates won seats by (such as Willie Penrose) in that election. On the 5% support level evident in this poll, Labour would need a lot of luck to end up winning more than a handful of seats at a general election contest – on the figures in this analysis the party would really only be competitive in a small number of constituencies and – if vote transfers patterns did not favour them – there could be a not-entirely impossible scenario emerging in which that party did not win any seats on these poll numbers. The problems faced by the party are further exacerbated in this series of polls by Fianna Fail’s strong showing, meaning that seats current held by Labour in constituencies, such as Limerick City and Longford-Westmeath, or potential Labour gains, such as Dublin Bay North, would likely fall to Fianna Fail instead. However, on the other hand, Labour could edge out another seat or two (in constituencies such as Cork East, Dublin Fingal, Dublin West, Limerick City and Tipperary) if problems were to exist with the vote management approaches of other political parties or groupings, as indeed happened in a number of constituencies at the February 2016 contest, or if the party vote was to hold up especially well in a small number of constituencies.

How this model works: Constituency support estimates for different parties and groupings form the basis of the general approach taken with this analysis. This seeks to ask the following question in relation to different opinion poll results – what do these poll figures mean in terms of the likely number of Dail seats that could be won by the different parties and groupings on those national support levels? Although the Irish electoral system is classified as a proportional electoral system, the proportion of seats won by parties will not measure up exactly to their actual share of the first preference votes, mainly because geography has a very significant impact here. First preference votes need to be filtered through the system of Irish electoral constituencies (and the different numbers of seats that are apportioned to these). In order to address this question, I estimate what the party first preference votes would be in the different constituencies, assuming similar (proportional) changes in party vote shares in all constituencies to those that are being suggested by a particular opinion poll. This of course is a very rough model and it cannot take appropriate account of the fact that changing support levels between elections tend to vary geographically, while it also fails to take account of the local particularities of the different regions in cases where no regional figures are produced in association with different national opinion polls meaning that there is no scope to carry out separate regional analyses based on these poll figures.

Thus constituency support estimates for different parties/groupings will be over-estimated in some constituencies and under-estimated in others, but the expectation would be that the overall national seat figures figures estimated will be relatively close to the true level, given that over-estimates in certain constituencies will be offset by under-estimates in others. Based on these estimated constituency support figures, I proceed to estimate the destination of seats in the different constituencies. The constituency level analysis involves the assigning seat levels to different parties and political groupings on the basis of constituency support estimates and simply using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats, while also taking account of the factors of vote transfers and vote splitting/management (based on vote transfer/management patterns observed in the February 2016 election). Due to unusually high/low support levels for some parties or political groupings in certain constituencies in the previous election, the model may throw up occasional constituency predictions that are unlikely to pan out in a “real election”, but of course the estimates here cannot be seen as highly accurate estimates of support levels at the constituency level as in a “real election” party support changes will vary significantly across constituency given uneven geographical shifts in support levels.

The model has been amended to take account of instances where general election candidates have changed their political party/political grouping, as with the case of Stephen Donnelly’s (Wicklow) defection from Social Democrats and his joining of the Fianna Fail party (today!). In this instance, part (i.e. 50%)  of that candidate’s February 2016 support level is transferred from the old party’s tally to the new party/political grouping when carrying out analyses with this model, with the remainder being allocated to/remaining with that candidate’s old political party/political grouping.

The point to remember here is that the ultimate aim of this model is to get an overall, national-level, estimate of seat numbers and these are based, as noted earlier, on the proviso that an over-prediction in one constituency may be offset by an under-prediction in another constituency. This model does not aim, or expect, to produce 100% accurate party support and seat level predictions for each of the 40 constituencies. These analyses simply estimate what party seat levels would be, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election. For a variety of reasons (including the impact of high levels of undecided voters in a specific poll), the actual result of an election contest may vary from the figures suggested by an opinion poll, even if the poll is carried out relatively close to election day, or on election day itself as in the case of exit polls, but the likelihood of such variation is not something that can be factored into this model. Vote transfer patterns of course cannot be accounted for in the constituency support estimate figures, but I do try to control for these somewhat in my set of amended seat allocations.

Constituency Support Estimates (Sunday Business Post-Red C poll): The constituency support estimates based on the Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll (29th January 2017) are as follows:

Constituency FF FG LB SF IND
Carlow-Kilkenny 44% 26% 5% 12% 2%
Cavan-Monaghan 32% 29% 0% 27% 8%
Clare 34% 24% 6% 7% 24%
Cork East 28% 28% 10% 11% 10%
Cork North Central 30% 17% 5% 20% 6%
Cork North West 38% 30% 0% 7% 19%
Cork South Central 45% 24% 3% 12% 7%
Cork South West 22% 31% 5% 9% 31%
Donegal 33% 14% 0% 27% 24%
Dublin Central 11% 12% 7% 24% 24%
Dublin Mid West 17% 24% 4% 22% 11%
Dublin Fingal 26% 19% 8% 9% 26%
Dublin Bay North 17% 19% 6% 12% 25%
Dublin North West 12% 10% 5% 24% 4%
Dublin Rathdown 11% 29% 8% 7% 29%
Dublin South Central 14% 13% 6% 23% 20%
Dublin Bay South 13% 28% 8% 10% 5%
Dublin South West 16% 21% 5% 15% 18%
Dublin West 19% 21% 12% 15% 10%
Dun Laoghaire 21% 34% 7% 5% 5%
Galway East 30% 29% 8% 7% 24%
Galway West 26% 22% 4% 9% 25%
Kerry County 18% 21% 5% 12% 41%
Kildare North 28% 20% 6% 6% 3%
Kildare South 40% 29% 9% 12% 6%
Laois 38% 30% 5% 21% 0%
Offaly 41% 15% 0% 11% 26%
Limerick City 30% 26% 8% 12% 2%
Limerick 29% 34% 0% 7% 18%
Longford-Westmeath 31% 23% 7% 10% 26%
Louth 21% 19% 7% 30% 11%
Mayo 31% 49% 0% 10% 7%
Meath East 28% 32% 4% 14% 12%
Meath West 30% 30% 2% 24% 8%
Roscommon-Galway 22% 14% 2% 7% 51%
Sligo-Leitrim 35% 26% 2% 18% 13%
Tipperary 27% 15% 8% 8% 40%
Waterford 22% 27% 3% 19% 18%
Wexford 30% 22% 11% 10% 19%
Wicklow 26% 26% 3% 16% 5%

Note: “OTH” here refers to the total support/seat levels estimated for the smaller parties – as the published version of an earlier post showed, it gets “messy” if there are too many columns in the tables here!

Seat Estimates: Based on these constituency estimates and using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats in a constituency, the party seat levels are estimated as follows:

Constituency FF FG LB SF IND OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 3 2 0 0 0 0
Cavan-Monaghan 2 1 0 1 0 0
Clare 2 1 0 0 1 0
Cork East 2 2 0 0 0 0
Cork North Central 1 1 0 1 0 1
Cork North West 1 1 0 0 1 0
Cork South Central 3 1 0 0 0 0
Cork South West 1 1 0 0 1 0
Donegal 2 1 0 1 1 0
Dublin Central 0 0 0 1 1 1
Dublin Mid West 1 2 0 1 0 0
Dublin Fingal 2 1 0 0 2 0
Dublin Bay North 1 1 0 1 2 0
Dublin North West 0 0 0 1 0 2
Dublin Rathdown 0 1 0 0 1 1
Dublin South Central 1 1 0 0 1 0
Dublin Bay South 1 2 0 1 0 1
Dublin South West 1 1 0 1 1 1
Dublin West 1 1 0 1 0 1
Dun Laoghaire 1 2 0 0 0 1
Galway East 1 1 0 0 1 0
Galway West 2 1 0 0 2 0
Kerry County 1 1 0 0 3 0
Kildare North 1 1 0 0 0 2
Kildare South 2 1 0 0 0 0
Laois 1 1 0 1 0 0
Offaly 2 0 0 0 1 0
Limerick City 2 2 0 0 0 0
Limerick 1 1 0 0 1 0
Longford-Westmeath 2 1 0 0 1 0
Louth 1 1 0 2 1 0
Mayo 2 2 0 0 0 0
Meath East 1 2 0 0 0 0
Meath West 1 1 0 1 0 0
Roscommon-Galway 1 0 0 0 2 0
Sligo-Leitrim 2 1 0 1 0 0
Tipperary 2 1 0 0 2 0
Waterford 1 1 0 1 1 0
Wexford 2 1 1 0 1 0
Wicklow 2 1 0 1 0 1
STATE 56 44 1 17 28 12

Amended Seat Estimates: The seat estimates also need to take account of the candidate and competition trends unique to the different constituency. Amending the model to account for seats that may be won or lost on the basis of estimates here being based on support levels derived due to a large/small number of candidates contesting the election. The vote transfer/management patterns evidenced in the February 26th contest are also being factored in to a certain degree. The assumption that political party vote management patterns will remain consistent/similar to those of February 26th does result in some conservative seat estimates in the case of parties that experience notable increase in support levels, , but it is important to maintain a consistency in approach across all of these post-General Election 2016 poll analyses. I have now relaxed the assumption that candidate selection approaches (i.e. the number of candidates selected) would remain the same for the February 26th contest. It would be more than fair to assume, for instance, that Fianna Fail will run more than one candidate in constituencies such as Laois, Limerick City, Cork North-Central and Meath East and Sinn Fein will run more than one candidate in Dublin Mid-West, on the basis of the support trends/patterns that were evident in such constituencies at the February 2016 election, but also on the basis of the party’s stronger support levels in recent opinion polls. However, the model, of course, cannot take account of constituencies that were not contested by certain political parties/groupings.) Taking these concerns into account, the amended seat allocations across the constituencies would look more like this:

Constituency FF FG LB SF IND OTH
Carlow-Kilkenny 3 1 0 1 0 0
Cavan-Monaghan 2 1 0 1 0 0
Clare 2 1 0 0 1 0
Cork East 1 2 0 1 0 0
Cork North Central 1 1 0 1 0 1
Cork North West 2 1 0 0 0 0
Cork South Central 2 1 0 1 0 0
Cork South West 1 1 0 0 1 0
Donegal 2 1 0 1 1 0
Dublin Central 0 1 0 1 0 1
Dublin Mid West 1 1 0 1 0 1
Dublin Fingal 2 1 0 1 1 0
Dublin Bay North 1 1 0 1 2 0
Dublin North West 1 0 0 1 0 1
Dublin Rathdown 0 1 0 0 1 1
Dublin South Central 1 1 0 1 1 0
Dublin Bay South 1 2 0 0 0 1
Dublin South West 1 1 0 1 1 1
Dublin West 1 1 0 1 0 1
Dun Laoghaire 1 2 0 0 0 1
Galway East 1 1 0 0 1 0
Galway West 2 1 0 0 2 0
Kerry County 1 1 0 1 2 0
Kildare North 2 1 0 0 0 1
Kildare South 2 1 0 0 0 0
Laois 1 1 0 1 0 0
Offaly 2 0 0 1 0 0
Limerick City 2 1 0 1 0 0
Limerick 1 2 0 0 0 0
Longford-Westmeath 2 1 0 0 1 0
Louth 1 2 0 2 0 0
Mayo 2 2 0 0 0 0
Meath East 1 2 0 0 0 0
Meath West 1 1 0 1 0 0
Roscommon-Galway 1 0 0 0 2 0
Sligo-Leitrim 2 1 0 1 0 0
Tipperary 2 1 0 0 2 0
Waterford 1 1 0 1 1 0
Wexford 2 1 1 0 1 0
Wicklow 1 2 0 1 0 1
STATE 56 45 1 24 21 11
% Seats 35.4 28.5 0.6 15.2 13.3 7.0

Fianna Fail, in particular, and Fine Gael obviously are both gaining from a larger party seat bonus in the most recent series of polls analysis. As noted above, some of the seats estimates here may veer on the conservative side. If either of the two larger parties were to manage the party vote more effectively in some constituencies than they did back in February, then the likelihood is that the support patterns evident in this opinion poll would translate into a higher number of seats for either of these parties. It is worth noting also that these figures show the three larger parties accounting for over eighty percent of the seats being allocated by this model. This almost parallels the dominance of the Irish political landscape (in terms of seat levels, especially) by the old two-and-a-half party system of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, allowing for the fact that the Independents and Others grouping is notably stronger in the present political climate than would have been the case in previous decades.

Potential Governments?: On the basis of the seat-estimate numbers in this poll analysis, there are two potential two-party coalitions involving Fianna Fail and either Sinn Fein or Fine Gael. A Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition would have 101 seats in a 158-seat Dail, comfortably exceeding the 79-seats that these parties would have to attain in order to command a working majority in the Dail (assuming that the Ceann Comhairle could be appointed from any of the other parties or groupings.)  A Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition would have 80 seats in a 158-seat Dail, which would allow these parties a working majority in the Dail – and a slightly more comfortable majority if the Ceann Comhairle could be appointed from any of the other parties or groupings. Fine Gael-Sinn Fein would have 69 seats in a 158-seat Dail. On the basis of the precedent set after the February 2016 General Election, it would also be possible to conceive of a minority government, probably led by Fianna Fail, involving a number of deputies from the independents and smaller parties groupings, but this would require an arrangement to be made with one of the other two larger parties in order for this scenario to be viable.

Why are Labour likely to win less seats than in 1987 on a low national support level?: The seat level estimates in all of the recent poll analyses for the Labour Party have been stark and the estimate in this poll is especially stark (highlighting the fact that the PR-STV system is proportional, but only to a limited extent). Previous analyses have, moreover, suggested that, especially given the increased competition on the Left from Sinn Fein, other smaller left of centre parties and left-leaning independents, that it will be a struggle for Labour to win seats in most, if not all, constituencies if the party’s national support levels fall below the ten percent level, as has been shown in similar analyses of most recent polls. The further the party falls below this ten percent level, the more problems Labour faces in terms of winning seats. Labour would be in serious trouble if their national support levels fall below ten percent as the party is also facing a “perfect storm” from electoral geography and changed competition levels.  These factors include the reduction in Dail seat numbers (from 166 to 158) and other changes made to general election boundaries by the 2012 Constituency Commission (which militated against Labour while seeming to advantage other parties, but notably Fianna Fail) as well as the increased competition the party now faces on the Left from Sinn Fein, other smaller left-wing parties and left-of-centre independents, as well as from Fianna Fail. When Labour support levels fell to similarly low levels in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, the party was in a position to be helped (as in the 1997, 2002 and 2007 General Elections) by transfers from lower placed candidates from the smaller left-wing parties. But on these constituency-estimate figures outlined in these analyses Labour Party candidates would find themselves polling below candidates from Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, the Workers and Unemployed Action Group or the People Before Profit Alliance, or left-leaning independents, in a number of constituencies. Instead of being in a position to possibly benefit from vote transfers (which themselves would be likely to dry up in any case), the Labour candidates would now in a number of cases be eliminated before the final count and would be providing the transfers to see candidates from other left-of-centre political groupings over the line. (If we look at the 1987 case study – we see Labour won 6.5% of the vote in the 1987 General Election and won 12 seats, but it is also worth noting that they did not contest nine constituencies in that election, whereas their 7% national vote is being distributed across all forty constituencies in this analysis, as with the most recent general elections in which Labour has contested all constituencies. In two of the twelve constituencies in 1987 where Labour won seats – Dublin South-Central, Dublin South-West, Galway West and Wexford – vote transfers were crucial in ensuring Labour won these these seats – i.e. Labour candidates were outside the seat positions on the first count but overtook candidates with higher first preference votes as counts progressed due to transfers from other candidates.

Constituency FPV Total Poll Quota % FPV Lab/quota
Carlow-Kilkenny          7,358          57,485          9,581 12.80 0.77
Cork South-Central          4,862          56,259          9,377 8.64 0.52
Dublin South-Central          4,701          51,692          8,616 9.09 0.55
Dublin South-East          3,480          38,270          7,655 9.09 0.45
Dublin South-West          5,065          41,454          8,291 12.22 0.61
Dun Laoghaire          6,484          55,702          9,284 11.64 0.70
Galway West          3,878          52,762          8,794 7.35 0.44
Kerry North          6,739          34,764          8,692 19.38 0.78
Kildare          7,567          53,705          8,951 14.09 0.85
Louth          6,205          46,809          9,362 13.26 0.66
Wexford          5,086          52,922          8,821 9.61 0.58
Wicklow          7,754          46,003          9,201 16.86 0.84

Voting statistics for constituencies in which Labour won seats at the 1987 General Election. The table above shows that there was no constituency in 1987 in which a Labour candidate exceeded the quota and indeed successful Labour candidates, Ruairi Quinn and Michael D. Higgins won seats in their constituencies despite winning less than half of the quota in their first preference votes. In addition, Dick Spring came within a handful of votes of losing his seat in Kerry North.)

The Labour Party has tended to fall below the ten percent level in most opinion polls over the past few years, as is especially evident in this Ispsos-MRBI opinion poll. Labour seat level estimates in most of the poll analyses I have carried out in the years leading up to the recent general election were quite stark, highlighting the fact that our PR-STV electoral system is proportional but only to a limited extent. The party’s seat levels in the actual election generally tended to support the analysis offered by this model. The further Labour Party support nationally falls below the ten percent level, the more difficulties it will face in terms of winning seats. This proved to be the case in February 2016 as Labour was left to face a “perfect storm” from the combined effects of boundary changes, electoral geography and changing political competition patterns.  These factors explain why Labour faces greater challenges in translating lower levels of national support into seat numbers than it did back in 1987 when the party won 12 seats with just over six percent of the national vote.

  • The size of the Dáil was reduced from 166 seats to 158 at the recent general election, but my analysis of the effects of these boundary changes suggested that Labour will be more adversely effected by these than other parties, such as Fianna Fáil in particular, would be. Had the new boundaries been in place in 2011, it is estimated that Labour would probably have won three or four fewer seats, while Fianna Fáil may have won two or three more seats!
  • While there is a distinct geography to Labour Party support levels over and above the more “catch-all” trends traditionally associated with Fianna Fáil and (to a lesser degree) Fine Gael, there is not the same concentration of support into a small number of constituencies that one has observed in past contests with smaller parties such as the Green Party (especially in the 2002 and 2007 contests) and potentially parties such Renua Ireland, the Social Democrats and the Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit in the upcoming election. In the latter cases, lower support levels nationally often translate into much larger support levels in a small number of stronger constituencies, allowing these to pick up a number of Dáil seats. In the case of Labour, the same spiking of support in a small number of stronger constituencies is not evident. As evidenced at the 2016 contest, a small share of the vote nationally (especially if Labour contests all, or most of, the Dáil constituencies) would translate into a sufficient level of support to allow them to challenge for seats in only a very small number of their stronger constituencies. (Labour were also not be helped by the level of defections and retirements amongst its cohort of TDs, especially given that these involve many of the party’s stronger constituencies at the 2011 contest. This was perhaps most evident in the party’s failure to win seats in some of its strongest constituencies in 2011, namely Dublin South-West, Dublin South-Central and Dublin North-West.)
  • In 1987, Labour won 12 seats even though the party never exceeded the quota in any of the constituencies being contested by the party in that election (and it is worth remembering that Labour did not contest every constituency in 1987). Indeed, Labour won nearly half of their seats in constituencies where they had won little more than half a quota in terms of first preference votes – or even less than half a quota in the case of the Galway West and Dublin South-East constituencies. Labour were helped in this instance as their candidates were in a position to pick up vote transfers from lower-placed left-wing candidates, as well as lower-placed Fine Gael candidates (arising from that party’s drop in support in 1987 and also some instances of poor vote management). In 2002 and 2007 Labour were also able to translate their national support levels into a higher proportion of Dáil seat levels due to Labour candidates being ahead of candidates from other left-wing groupings and hence in a position to win transfers from these. In the context of low Labour support levels nationally in the 2016 election, however, the trend in a number of constituencies was instead for Labour Party candidates to be polling below candidates from Sinn Fein, the Social Democrats or the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, or left-leaning independents. Instead of being in a position to possibly benefit from left-wing vote transfers (which themselves were weaker in any case, as was predicted earlier in data provided in a Sunday Independent-Millward Brown poll in the summer of 2015), in this context Labour candidates were eliminated before the final count in many constituencies and potentially providing the transfers to ensure the election of candidates from other left-of-centre political groupings (or Fine Gael candidates). In previous elections, Labour might still have been able to translate lower support levels into seats in constituencies such as Dublin Bay-South, Dublin Bay-North, Clare and Dublin Rathdown, but this proved not to be the case in the 2016 contest. Ironically, with the party now out of government, they may find that their ability to win vote transfers improves again over time, along the lines of the trends that were observed for the Green Party at the recent general election.

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Commentary on Public Submissions to the 2017 Constituency Commission

In July 2016, immediately following after the publication of provisional population by area figures by the Central Statistics Office for the 2016 Census, a new Constituency Commission was set in place to begin the process of redrawing European and general election constituency boundaries in light of the changes in population between 2011 and 2016 as revealed in these figures. The previous (2012) Commission had reduced the number of TDs down from 166 to 158, but population increase across the state between 2011 and 2016 means that the smallest number of TDs that the Constitution (should be at least one TD for every 30,000 people) will allow is now 159. (The new Commission can choose to go for either 159 or 160 Dail seats.) As with the 2011-12 review, the process of reviewing Dail and European constituency boundaries commenced much earlier for this Commission than for those between 1980 and 2007. Between 1980 and 2007, the process started after the publication of the final, or definitive, population by area census figures by the CSO (usually published a year after a Census was held). Following the ruling on the McGrath/Murphy High Court case in 2007, the Commission must now commence the process of redrawing Dail and European election constituency boundaries after provisional census figures are published although they cannot publish the final report until after the final or definitive population by area census figures have been published. Given that there tends to be little difference between provisional and final census figures for large areas such as constituencies, very few final tweaks may be needed should a draft version of the final report be available ahead of the publication of the final census figures and the published report is likely to be available some weeks after these figures are released.

In total, 418 public submissions were made to the 2017 Constituency Commission before the closing date for submissions (10th January 2017). This is well down on the 533 submissions that were made to the 2012 Constituency Commission (21.6% reduction), but still compares highly favourably with the 335 submissions made in the case of the 2007 Constituency Commission and the 99 submissions made in the case of the 2004 Constituency Commission. Continue reading

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The Geography of the 2016 USA Presidential Election: Analysing the Republican Party vote

Adrian Kavanagh, 6th-10th January 2017 

This article will offer a geographical perspective on the election results at the 2016 USA Presidential election. I have purposely held off on writing this article for the past few weeks, as election results still needed to be finalised in many US states a number of weeks after the election took place on 8th November 2016.

usa_presidentialelection2016

Figure 1: States won by Trump (red) and Clinton (blue) at the 2016 Presidential Election contest. Maine is shaded in purple, because Trump won one electoral college vote there (Congressional District 2), even though Clinton won that state. Alaska (won by Trump) and Hawaii (won by Clinton) are not included here.

This article will focus on the “where” of the recent electoral contest – what states saw the biggest increase/decrease in support for the different parties/candidates, as well as how these trends relate to overall regional trends within the USA over the past few decades, as well as the degree to which the number of voters increased/decreased across the different US states. In order to keep this post relatively focused/concise, most of this account will focus on teasing out the Republican Party support patterns at this election, but also within the context of the trends evident at other recent presidential election contests.

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Festive joy for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael: Constituency-level analysis of Irish Times-Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll (8th December 2016)

Adrian Kavanagh, 8th December 2016

After a series of polls in the Autumn/early Winter had pointed to a drop in support levels for Fianna Fail relative to that party’s high support levels in polls during the Summer, this morning’s Ipsos-MRBI poll sees significant gains in support for Fianna Fail and pushes that party ahead of Fine Gael again in terms of overall support levels, even though there is a one percentage point increase in support levels for Fine Gael. Sinn Fein – after a relatively disappointing general election – had made some notable gains in the most recent polls, but support levels for this party fall by two percentage points in this latest poll.

The 8th December Irish Times/Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll estimates party support levels as follows: Fianna Fail 30% (up 4% relative to the previous Ipsos-MRBI opinion poll), Fine Gael 27% (up 1%), Independents and Others 20% (down 4%) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 3%, Social Democrats 2%, Green Party 3%, Independents 11%, Others 2% – Sinn Fein 17% (down 2%), Labour Party 6% (up 1%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows:  Fianna Fail 55, Fine Gael 49, Sinn Fein 27, Labour Party 3, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 3, Social Democrats 2, Green Party 1, Independents 18.  

Other Recent Polls: A number of other opinion polls were carried out in the weeks prior to, as well as the weeks following, the Sunday Business Post-Red C poll. Analyses of these are not covered in detail on this website, but the seat-estimate figures drawn from a constituency-level analysis of these polls will be reported below: Continue reading

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Back to the Feb-ture?: Constituency-level analysis of Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll (27th November 2016)

Adrian Kavanagh, 28th November 2016

The November 2016 Red C opinion polls shows little in the way of changes in support levels since the previous Red C poll in October. The main change here sees Sinn Fein gaining a further three percentage points in terms of their support levels, while support levels for the Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit fall back by four percentage points, following on an exceptionally strong showing for that political grouping in the October 2016 Red C poll.  Support levels for Fianna Fail fall back by two percentage points, leaving Fine Gael once again positioned as the most popular party in the state (albeit by the narrowest of margins), based on these poll support levels.  As it is, the support levels in this poll mirrors the results of the February 26th election to a remarkable degree, save for the fact that Sinn Fein and Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit are faring slightly better and the Labour Party is faring slightly worse. It is almost as if the shifts in support levels that occurred over the past eight months never happened! The 27th November Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll estimates party support levels as follows: Independents and Others 29% (down 3%) – including Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 5%, Social Democrats 4%, Green Party 3%, Renua 1%, Independent Alliance 4%, Other Independents 12% – Fine Gael 25% (NC), Fianna Fail 24% (down 2%), Sinn Fein 16% (up 3%), Labour Party 5% (down 2%). My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fail 47, Fine Gael 49, Sinn Fein 28, Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit 7, Labour Party 1, Green Party 2, Social Democrats 4, Independents 20.  
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