by Frank Schnittger
Mon Feb 28th, 2011 at 09:10:00 AM EST
The Irish General Election is over bar the counting in the three large 5 seater constituencies of Galway West, Laois/Offaly and Wicklow where recounts have been ordered because candidates are separated by a mere handful of votes. Depending on the number of further recounts requested, it could take another couple of days before these results are finalised. These constituencies are devilishly difficult to call (more anon) but my best guess of the final outcome is as follows:
Update [2011-3-1 4:43:54 by Frank Schnittger]: All counts have now been completed although there is a recount in Galway west because Catherine Connolly a former Labour member running as an independent candidate lost by 17 votes out of over 60,000 cast. Many of those votes determining the outcome could have been 10th. or more preferences! As it happens, I got all my last three constituency predictions right, but as I said above, these things can be devilishly difficult to call. Independent Stephen Donnelly defeated John Brady (Sinn Fein) by 100 votes in Wicklow. As it happens, Stephen met with my mother-in-law's active retirement group a few days ago where he received a very positive reception. Given the way these active retirees network and vote, that one meeting may have made the difference! [End Update]
So what are the main conclusions we can draw from the results table above?
The Fianna Fail vote has imploded from 42 to 17%, and its seat numbers have fallen even more dramatically from 77 to 20. This greater fall in seat numbers was for three main reasons:
- Fianna Fail has lost the slight seat bonus which larger parties typically get from the Irish Single Transferable Vote multi seat constituency system.
- This has been an "anybody but Fianna Fail" election and even Sinn Fein (traditionally the most transfer toxic party) has gotten a higher proportion of lower preference votes which typically determine the final distribution of seats in a constituency.
- Fianna Fail split its first preference vote between too many candidates who then did not transfer to the remaining FF candidate in sufficient numbers on elimination. This is because many of those who did vote for an FF candidate did so on a purely personal or local loyalty basis, and then didn't give their second and third preferences to other FF candidates on the ballot. When their favoured candidate was eliminated, that vote was then lost to FF, and either became non-transferable or transferred to another party/candidate.
Fine Gael did well despite getting slightly less first preferences than indicated by the last opinion and exit polls. Many have interpreted that slight decline as a sign that some of its potential supporters were unsure about the prospect of a single party Fine Gael Government which was being very much hyped by the Independent group of newspapers. It got an enormous seat bonus for precisely the opposite reasons to what exacerbated FF's decline: It was by far the largest party, got the largest number of lower preference votes, and managed that vote very effectively by having precisely the right number of candidates in most constituencies and who transferred well to each other on elimination (or their surplus on election).
I will illustrate these points with respect to a specific constituency in a later diary, but for now suffice to note that Fine Gale managed to get roughly the same number of seats with 36% of the first preference vote as Fianna Fail did with 42% in 2007. To put it another way - Fine Gael got almost four times as many seats as Fianna Fail with only twice their number of first preference votes. "Vote management" doesn't get much better than this.
Labour almost doubled its vote and seats and also did well on the transfer of lower preference votes. Sinn Fein more than tripled its seats on a mere 3% increase in votes because it lost its transfer toxicity to Fianna Fail and also reached a critical mass of support in many constituencies. The Greens, conversely, lost the critical mass required to retain a seat although a couple of their more prominent candidates almost managed to buck the national trend.
The results were broadly consistent with the opinion polls and the exit poll issued in the days and weeks coming up to the election.
Comparing the results with my prediction of last Tuesday yields the following comparison:
The predictions are quite accurate but underestimated the degree to which Fianna Fail would damage its seat return through an inability to attract lower preference votes and running too many candidates. Sinn Fein's improved ability to attract lower preference votes meant that it dramatically improved its return of seats.
Independents also did remarkably well and their 19 seats include 5 for the hard left United Left Alliance which previously had no seats. The preponderance of left wing and ex-Fianna Fail members amongst the independents may have been a significant factor in persuading Enda Kenny, Leader of Fine Gael, to pursue the option of a Fine Gael Labour coalition as opposed to a minority Fine Gael Government with independent support.
As I wrote in my last diary, 75 seats was the absolute minimum that might make such an option feasible but it would hardly represent the stable option that many voters voted for. The exit poll, in particular, showed the Fine Gael Labour option to be the most preferred option for the next Government. Some Labour leaders have shown an awareness that leading the opposition would be in the party's on best interest but claim to be determined to join a coalition government "in the National Interest".
It is remarkable the degree to which Labour leaders are prepared to subjugate their party's best interests to the national interest and I doubt the nation will reward them for it at the next election. Of course any suggestion that labour leaders are motivated by the "Mercs and Perks" of office would be entirely scurrilous.
For those interested in following the remaining counts or looking at how the transfer patterns worked out in each constituency, this RTE site gives an excellent presentation of the detailed counts. My summary table of constituency results (including my prediction for the three remaining constituencies to be declared) is below.
Sinn Fein may pick up another seat in Wicklow (at the expense of independents or Labour) and Labour is still in with a chance of a seat in Laois Offaly, probably at the expense of Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein.