Presidential Election Appears to be a Sure Thing

Published by: Richard Colwell


A political commentator on a weekday radio breakfast show last week said he was sceptical of opinion polls generally.  The reason for his comment was a poll that had just been published, which showed Sinn Fein on 24% just 1% behind Fianna Fail, and he simply didn’t believe it.  He suggested that if that result happened at a General Election, he would do the show in his boxer shorts.

I am inclined to agree, that the result he was talking about is probably unlikely in any General Election held in the very near future – particularly as the polls are saying different things about the parties’ possible vote share and it has been fluctuating.  However, in contrast the polls for the Presidency are so clear and consistent, that I would be willing to join him in my boxer shorts on his show, if Michael D. Higgins doesn’t win it.

The polls are suggesting that we may see an unprecedented result in any political election seen in Ireland, with the incumbent possibly securing more than two thirds of all the votes at the Presidential Election on Friday.  RED C have now had three polls in a row that suggest Michael D. Higgins will secure somewhere between 67%-70%.  The most recent poll expects that to be closer to 68%.  But given the possible margin of error of a at least + or -3%, if not more like 4-5% in this type of polling, it is very consistent.  It has also been matched pretty closely in the only competitor poll published so far.

If you don’t believe this result is possible, the last time we saw this type of consistent result was for the Abortion Referendum.  For three months in a row our polls predicted that the result of the abortion referendum would be 68%-69% in favour.  We weren’t the only ones to question somewhat if that would truly materialise, but it did.

Barring any major interventions therefore, we would expect a result that sees Michael D Higgins winning this election easily.  Quite possibly on a first count.

Of course, we do need to be aware that by the time fieldwork for this poll had finished, we hadn’t had the first televised debate; and nothing is certain in politics.  A major event could have an impact on the results as they currently stand.  But I would suggest that it would take something that effectively means Michael D. Higgins has to leave the race, to see his lead overturned.  A weak debate for him and good one for another candidate, simply isn’t going to make enough of an impact on that lead.

His lead is across all demographic groups, in particular the youngest age groups, where my college attending son tells me he is something of a cult figure among students!  His lead is also as strong among all regions, and among all the party supporters.  Even including Sinn Fein, where he secures more than half of all their supporters, despite the fact that they have their own candidate in the mix.

You may ask, what about the other candidates?  The reason they are not covered in any great detail is that as yet, they simply don’t feature in polling in any significant way.  Neither do any of them appear to have significant momentum over the last few polls, that would suggest they might improve their position in the final week.  The next highest candidate to Michael D. Higgins remains Sean Gallagher.  But he secures just 12% of the vote, some 56% behind the leader, and having slipped 3% in the past 3-4 weeks.

Next up is Liadh Ní Riada who secures 9% of the vote.  This is something of an improvement on the 7% the SF candidate secured in our first poll in September, but remains 6% behind the share the party secures in a General Election poll conducted on the same survey.

Joan Freeman secures 6% of the vote, up 3% on the last Sunday Business Post poll in mid September, but no change on the poll in-between.  Gavin Duffy secures just 3%, which is half what he secured in our poll in September, and Peter Casey secures 2%, up 1% from his position in the same poll a month ago.

So, I can say with confidence that Michael D. Higgins is nailed on to win this election – and be pretty sure I won’t be doing a radio breakfast show in my boxers as a result.  He is so far ahead, and his competitors are simply not making any gains.  We are far enough away, with two debates in between that the lead could tighten, but I am talking the difference between him winning by 56% and possibly closer to 20-30%.  For him to lose the election to a challenger, he would have to lose around 30% of his support and give it all to the closest challenger. On this basis there is very little chance of him actually losing to a contender, unless he actually stands down.

SBP October 2018 Poll Report – Presidential and General Election