The new Irish electoral landscape

Published by: Richard Colwell


The overall first preference share figures in todays poll suggest a relatively stable electorate over the past few months. However, the electorate now is very different that seen even two years ago. Despite recent talk of their demise, those supporting Independent candidates (27%), are now the largest grouping of voters in the Irish population; while Sinn Fein garner are the third largest grouping, with support from among 22% of the electorate. A position that is perhaps unthinkable just two years ago.

Overall, Independent candidates/others secure 27% of the vote, when including some of the smaller parties or collaborations. In more detail the poll suggests that 25% would vote directly for Independent candidates, 1% for other parties and 1% for Lucinda Creighton’s new party (as yet without a name). Support for Independents has been relatively steady at this level since October last year, but before that it had been on a relatively consistent upward trend.

The longer term rise of support for Independents is driven by people from very different backgrounds, which is perhaps unsurprising given that the candidates themselves represent a very wide ranging set of beliefs and doctrines. If we look at those voters who now claim support for Independent candidates, they have switched from all parties, but almost half supported the current government at the last election. Over a quarter (26%) voted for Fine Gael at the last election, while 18% voted for Labour.

This would appear to suggest that these voters could be persuaded to switch back. However, it may not be as simple as that. A large chunk of these voters (29%) also voted for Fianna Fail in 2007, so they don’t necessarily have any loyalty to the current government. They are in some ways lost sheep without a home, and this possibly makes a vote for Independent candidates more likely. It is also clear that an “anti-party” rhetoric is gaining traction. To counter this, the idea of voting for highly vocal and high profile independent candidates may be somewhat different, when they go to the polling booth and they potentially don’t even know who there Independent candidate is.

So what about Sinn Fein? They also now appear to be one of the largest parties in the state according to support in the polls. But we seen this before haven’t we? Quite regularly in recent elections Sinn Fein support has done well in between elections, but fallen away as the election approached, and not been matched by real votes cast in polling booths on election day.

In the past support for the party has perhaps been too heavily biased toward those in society who are simply less likely to vote, while a vote for Sinn Fein has to some extent also been seen as something of a protest vote, but without the ability to actually work in government. There are signs however that this forthcoming General Election may be different.
Firstly, there are many voters who have simply lost trust in the established parties. They are voters who originally voted for Fianna Fail, but now will never forgive that party for their role in the collapse in the economy and the austerity that followed as a result; then moved on to the Labour Party in the belief that they would stand up for fairness and equality, but have now also given up on Labour, and now having felt “let down” by both of these parties are turning towards Sinn Fein to fight for their cause. It will be a tough fight for either Labour or Fianna Fail to win these voters back at the next Election.

Secondly, there is evidence of increased acceptance of voting Sinn Fein among a wider proportion of the population generally. Not that long ago the party had those who would give it a first preference vote, but not many supporters outside of this. Now when we analyse second preference vote behaviour, there is a further 13% of voters who wouldn’t give Sinn Fein a first preference at this stage, but would be prepared to give them their second preference vote. Driving overall first or second preference vote support penetration to over a third (34%) of all voters in Ireland. Strikingly similar to Fine Gael who can only muster 35% penetration of support across both first and second preference vote intentions, despite have a higher first preference only vote at the last election. Sinn Fein takes a whopping 18% second preference from those giving their first preference to Fianna Fail, and 25% of those giving their first preference in Independent candidates – bit even around 1 in 10 Fine Gael voters would give Sinn Fein their second preference.

Finally, there is the fact that those claiming they plan to vote for Sinn Fein, no longer appear to be quite as flaky as they used to. The demographic breakdown of supporters for the party is far more closely aligned to the population than it used to be, with less dependence on the more fickle younger voters who were less likely to turn out to vote, and far more voters from different backgrounds and persuasions. As a result the parties supporters claimed likelihood to vote is now at similar levels to their competitors.

We may yet still see a small fall away in support for the party as we approach the next election, but I do not expect the days of the party getting half the support in the actual election that they received in the polls prior to it, will materialize again.

Download full report below:
SBP February 2015 Poll Report Web