Thursday 27 October 2016

Adrian Kavanagh: Labour is facing a 'perfect storm' at coming election

Adrian Kavanagh

Published 10/10/2015 | 02:30

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Although there has been an improvement in its figures recently, the Labour Party has tended to fall below the 10pc level in most opinion polls.

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Labour's seat level estimates in most of the poll analyses I have carried out in the past few years have been quite stark, highlighting the fact that our PR-STV electoral system is proportional, but only to a limited extent.

The further Labour's support nationally falls below 10pc, the more problems it will face in terms of winning seats as this would leave it facing a 'perfect storm' from the combined effects of boundary changes, electoral geography and changing political competition patterns.

These 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 6pc of the national vote.

The Dáil is being reduced from 166 seats to 158 at the coming General Election, but my analysis of the effects of these boundary changes suggests that Labour will be more adversely affected by these than other parties, such as Fianna Fáil, would be. Had the new boundaries been in place in 2011, Labour would probably have won three or four fewer seats and Fianna Fáil two or three more.

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 as 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 seats. In the case of Labour, the same spiking of support in a small number of stronger constituencies is not evident.

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 it to challenge for seats in only a very small number of its stronger constituencies.

Labour will 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.

In 1987, Labour won 12 seats, even though the party never exceeded the quota in any of the constituencies it contested in that election.

Indeed, Labour won nearly half of its seats in constituencies where it 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 was helped in this instance as its 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 was also able to translate its national support levels into a higher proportion of Dáil seat levels due to Labour candidates being ahead of other left-wing candidates and hence in a position to win transfers.

In the context of low Labour support levels nationally in the upcoming election, however, the trend in a number of constituencies might instead be for Labour Party candidates to poll below candidates from Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats or the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit.

Instead of being in a position to possibly benefit from vote transfers (which themselves are likely to be weaker, in any case, based on the data provided in the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll), in this context Labour candidates would be eliminated before the final count and could potentially provide the transfers to other left-of-centre political groupings.

This same trend might well apply in the case of the vote transfer pact with Fine Gael. If Labour can win 10pc, or more, of the national vote (and if FG remains at current levels), then a number of Labour candidates would be likely to benefit from transfers from lower-placed FG candidates. If Labour, however, was instead to win around 6pc-7pc of the national vote (and if Fine Gael support levels moved in the opposite direction), then the larger party would almost monopolise the advantages from the vote-transfer pact.

Irish Independent

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