The Red C Poll, published in The Sunday Business Post on Sunday May 2nd suggests that support for Labour is now at a higher level than that of Fianna Fail, and suggests that, should a general election be held tomorrow, that Fianna Fail, the party who has won the largest number of votes and Dail seats in all general elections held since the early 1930s, would come in third in terms of popular support levels behind Fine Gael and Labour. On a more positive note for the government parties, the poll estimate Green Party support to be at 6%, a much higher level than the party attained in the 2009 local elections, and should this transpire in an actual general election this would represent the party’s most successful general election in terms of its share of the popular vote. But what do these poll figures mean in terms of the likely number of Dail seats won by the different parties? In weeks leading up to the UK general election, Sky News generated its estimates of the likely number of seats to be won by parties in the UK general election and their figures at some stages were suggesting that Labour could still win the highest number of seats even if the Conservatives share of the first preference vote was higher, while the Liberal Democrats surge in popular support following Nick Clegg’s success in the early leaders’ debate was not predicted to amount to an equivalent gain in terms of House of Commons seats. Obviously the Irish electoral system does not carry the same degree of disproportionality as the British first past the post system does, but nonetheless the proportion of seats won by parties do not measure up exactly to their actual share of the first preference vote, mainly because these first preference votes need to be filtered through the system of Irish electoral constituencies.
In order to address this question I have estimated what the party first preference votes would be in the different constituencies, assuming similar (proportional) change in party vote shares in all constituencies. For instance, Fianna Fail’s share of the vote is estimated to be five-ninths its 2007 share, while Labour’s would be almost two-and-a-half times its vote share in the last election. This of course is a very rough model, and ignores the fact that changing support levels between elections tend to vary geographically and also the impact that territory transfers, brought in by the 2007 Constituency Commission report, would have on vote share (although changing numbers of seats are taken account of). Based on these estimated figures, I proceed to estimate the destination of seats in the different constituencies.
My estimates as to what parties’ shares of the first preference votes would be:
|Cork North Central||18.1%||30.5%||26.8%||4.2%||6.5%||14.0%|
|Cork North West||31.9%||50.4%||12.6%||5.0%||0.0%||0.0%|
|Cork South Central||25.0%||35.0%||22.4%||10.9%||4.5%||2.3%|
|Cork South West||22.9%||42.3%||22.2%||8.4%||4.3%||0.0%|
|Donegal North East||33.1%||32.5%||5.1%||2.1%||18.0%||9.3%|
|Donegal South West||33.4%||33.2%||7.9%||2.3%||21.9%||1.4%|
|Dublin Mid West||19.4%||15.4%||27.4%||14.7%||8.5%||14.7%|
|Dublin North Central||24.5%||31.0%||17.3%||6.7%||3.3%||17.2%|
|Dublin North East||20.8%||26.2%||34.0%||8.1%||10.9%||0.0%|
|Dublin North West||25.2%||11.2%||44.9%||3.3%||12.7%||2.7%|
|Dublin South Central||15.5%||14.7%||42.3%||6.3%||7.4%||13.8%|
|Dublin South East||15.2%||21.5%||37.7%||16.9%||3.9%||4.9%|
|Dublin South West||19.0%||21.2%||41.4%||4.1%||9.2%||5.1%|
My guess-timate as to the destination of seats in all of the constutuencies (note: includes assumption that Fianna Fail are guaranteed a seat in Louth because Seamus Kirk, as Ceann Comhairle, will be automatically returned to the Dail)
|Cork North Central||1||2||1|
|Cork North West||1||2|
|Cork South Central||1||2||1||1|
|Cork South West||1||1||1|
|Donegal North East||1||1||1|
|Donegal South West||1||1||1|
|Dublin Mid West||1||1||1||1|
|Dublin North Central||1||1||1|
|Dublin North East||1||1||1|
|Dublin North West||1||2|
|Dublin South Central||1||1||3|
|Dublin South East||1||2||1|
|Dublin South West||1||1||2|
What is noticeable here is the prediction that, even with a lower share of the national vote, Fianna Fail won win three more seats than Labour would. This is down, to a large degree, to the fact that there are a number of constituencies – particularly in the Border, West and Midlands regions – where Labour would still not be in contention for seats, even if their vote share was to be almost two-and-a-half times that of their 2007 vote share, as is predicted by the Red C poll. By contrast, good vote management by Fianna Fail, in addition to the considerable amount of ‘wasted votes’ by weaker parties in different constituencies (including Labour in constituencies such as Cavan-Monaghan, Clare, Laois-Offaly and Sligo-North Leitrim), would see them winning more seats than their share of the vote would warrant in a number of constituencies. (Although Labour’s recent acquisitions such as Jerry Cowley (Mayo) and John Kelly (Roscommon-South Leitrim) could see the Gilmore Gale blow more strongly in some rural and western constituencies… If the 2007 Labour vote in these constituencies is, instead, taken as the Labour plus Cowley vote in Mayo (5.9%) and the Labour plus Kelly vote in Roscommon-South Leitrim (11.7%), the Red C poll-simulation would estimate that the Labour vote in these constituencies would be 12.8% in Mayo and 26.0% in Roscommon-South Leitrim, resulting in a definite Labour seat in Roscommon-South Leitrim and another potential gain in Mayo and potentially leaving Fianna Fail seatless in both of these constituencies.)
Even with the Green Party share of the vote increasing, a combination of factors (the vicissitudes of boundary change,s a reduction in vote transfers and the improved fortunes of Fine Gael and Labour candidates (taking seats that might have gone to Green Party candidates) would see the closing off of part of the opportunity space that the party was able to capitalise on in 2002 and 2007, and the party would lose seats in Carlow-Kilkenny (although poor Fianna Fail vote management could still see the party hold Mary White’s seat) and Dun Laoghaire, although on these figures they could regain Dan Boyle’s seat in Cork South-Central at the expense of Fianna Fail’s Michael Martin or Michael McGrath. The figures offer mixed fortunes for Sinn Fein – the collapse in Fianna Fail support in the Donegal constituencies could them them make gains there but party would lose its representation in Dublin and Kerry (mainly due to the resurgence in Labour support) leaving it just with four Border constituency TDs. The independents and smaller parties grouping would end up with three TDs; Maureen O’Sullivan (Dublin Central), Michael Lowry (Tipperary South) and Seamus Healy (Tipperary South), although the Healy seat could very easily fall into the hands of Labour. Joe Higgins’ hopes for a return to the Dail could be curtailed by Labour’s popularity in Dublin West (although poor vote management on behalf of Fianna Fail could mean that it would be Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, and not Higgins who would lose out as a result of a Labour gain in Dublin West).
So who would be the main winners and losers in this scenario? The simulation would predict the election of a raft of new Fine Gael and Labour TDs, such as John Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny), Pascal Donohoe (Dublin Central), Fidelma Healy-Eames (Galway West) and Mairead McGuinness (Louth) for Fine Gael, and Ann Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny), Eric Byrne and Rebecca Moynihan (Dublin South Central) and Alex White (Dublin South) for Labour. It also suggests the potential return to the Dail of Senator Dan Boyle for the Green Party, while Sinn Fein could also make gains in Donegal North East (Padraig McLochlainn) and Donegal South West (Pearse Doherty). On the other hand, the simulation suggest that the a number of the present cabinet’s seats would be vulnerable, including Michael Martin (Cork South Central), Pat Carey (Dublin North West) and Brian Lenihan (Dublin West). (If rumours of Mary Harney’s return to Fianna Fail prove to be true, she could prove to be another high-profule casualty in this scenario – even if the 2007 Fianna Fail support level for Dublin Mid-West is taken to include the Harney first preference vote (leaving it at 45.5% for 2007), the simulation suggests that Fianna Fail would get just 24.9% of the vote, meaning that the retention of its two seats would be highly unlikely in ths four-seat constituency and leaving Mary Harney highly vulnerable to the loss of her seat, especially given that John Curran (FF) won nearly twice as many votes as she did in the 2007 contest.) The Green Party could lose the seats of Mary White (Carlow-Kilkenny) and Ciaran Cuffe (Dun Laoghaire), with Martin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick) and Aengus O’Snodaigh (Dublin South Central) being lost to Sinn Fein, leaving it with a Dail representation that would be solely focussed on Border constituencies.
In terms of government formation, this simulaiton would discount the involvement of the smaller parties as potential coalition partners, leaving only three potential government options – Fine Gael/Labour (108 seats), Fianna Fail/Labour (89 seats) or Fianna Fail/Fine Gael (111 seats). If the latter is discounted as a potential government option, this leaves Labour with the choice of being a junior partner in a Fine Gael led-government (where Fine Gael, with three-fifths of the government TDs, would expect the post of Taoiseach and around nine ministerial positions, as against six or seven for Labour) or as a virtually equal partner in a coalition with Fianna Fail (where Labour would expect to get the post of Taoiseach for the first time in its history, either on a rotating or a full-term basis).
Finally, the C.M.A. provisions! It is important totake cognisance of the timing of this poll, taken in the wake of the recent Labour Party party conference and with still just over two years to run in the lifetime of the present Dail (meaning that Fianna Fail still has ample time to claw back lost ground). It is also worth noting that Fianna Fail support would be enhanced by the popularity of local representatives – the likelihood of people voting for individual Fianna Fail candidates (rather than the Fianna Fail party) would probably see support for this party registering at a higher level than polls are predicting – as well as its stronger local organisation network. Labour’s inherent weakness in rural and western parts of the state suggests that increased support for the party must plateau at a certain level – although the party has made sensible moves to address this problem in recent weeks in recruiting high profile independents, such as John Kelly in Roscommon-South Leitrim, to address the problem of the low Labour support bases in these areas. Ultimately, I do not expect Labour to outpoll Fianna Fail come the next general election – should this happen, we are in serious political reallignment territory and facing into the most dramatic change to the Irish political landscape since the founding of the State.
UPDATE BASED ON MAY 30 RED C POLL FIGURES (FF 24%, FG 30%, LB 22%, GP 5%, SF 10%, OTH 9%): Although FF and Labour have swapped rankings, their percentage support levels have not altered as dramatically as those for SF have (up from 6% to 10%). Using the same methodology, the 2% increase in FF support now sees the party picking up (or rather holding) extra seats in Cork South Central, Dublin South East, Laois Offaly and Tipperary North (although the similation now sees them losing their Kerry North seat (seat now falling to SF) and a FF seat in Cavan-Monaghan now becomes vulnerable to prospects of SF picking up a second seat there). FG lose out on three seats (relative to model based on May 2 figures) in Dublin Central, Laois-Offaly and Tipperary North, while Labour are down two seats (Dublin North West and Dublin South Central – both “losses” to SF). Despite the small percentage drop in support involved, the vulnerability of Green Party seats means that the party is now predicted to win just two seats in this updated simulation. By contrast, SF are now predicted to win 9 seats; now picking up seats in this simulation in Dublin Central, Dublin Mid West, Dublin North West, Dublin South Central and Kerry North.
The new simulation predicts that parties’ standings based on the May 30 Red C Poll figures would be as follows: FF 49, FG 62, LB 41, GP 2, SF 9, OTH 3