Wednesday 18 September 2019

Nothing can be taken for granted as referendum poll shows narrow gap

Campaign to persuade undecided voters holds the key to Eighth Amendment verdict, writes Paul Moran

Marchers calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment (Niall Carson/PA)
Marchers calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment (Niall Carson/PA)

Paul Moran

This latest Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll, conducted over 12 days up to and including last Monday, will certainly focus the minds on both sides of the Eighth Amendment debate. It will serve as a clarion call to all, as it illustrates that with three more weeks to go, there is still plenty of hard graft to be done, and nothing can be taken for granted.

The Repeal side, for so long in the ascendency, may be somewhat alarmed to see that the gap between both sides is relatively narrow.

Traditionally, polls on plebiscites are reported on by those decided in their intentions - excluding the don't knows. By this measure, the Yes side leads by 57:43. However, for this referendum, this is at best simplistic, and arguably quite dangerous.

Looking at the overall electorate, 45pc are in favour of repeal versus 34pc against. That leaves a hardly insignificant 22pc of the pot left to play for (18pc undecided and 4pc refusing to say).

The undecided, and the turnout, will dictate the final score of this referendum, although at this juncture, it still looks certain that the amendment will be carried.

Focusing first on these floating voters, there is a school of thought that in referenda, those that are unsure tend to opt for the status quo. This well may be the case in terms of more complex, legislative votes (think Lisbon or Nice before it), but this time it is different. It would seem that many are genuinely unsure of what the best action should be (this also is evident among those that have made their decision).

In addition, we have to assume that there is a "Shy Tory" effect for some - they may well have made up their mind, but for their own reasons, are not prepared to disclose it. For these reasons alone, there is still plenty of fire left in this campaign.

One of the more pressing issues seems to be the proposal of unrestricted access to abortion to up 12 weeks. There have been some shifts in opinion since we last asked the question in February. Combined, those stating that the proposal is about right/does not go far enough, has risen to 53pc (previously being 48pc). But this still leaves a combined 47pc either having reservations or undecided - from a statistical point of view, this is classic margin of error territory.

Those most likely to feel that this proposal goes too far tend to be older (55-plus), more rural, and supporters of Fianna Fail. In contrast, those aged 25-34 and Dubliners are most in favour. A slim majority of females of traditional child bearing age (18-44) feel that the proposal is about right (51pc).

Looking at the headline figure in more detail, there are some striking, if not altogether unsurprising, trends. There is a stark generational divide in terms of those who are in favour of repeal. More than half (56pc) of those under 35 are in favour of the amendment, versus just one in three of those aged 55-plus. Of course, the implication here in not so much in terms of voting intent, but rather propensity to vote.

Traditionally, turnout on the day is higher among certain cohorts, namely older, more affluent and rural voters. Turnout will be critical. We saw in the same-sex marriage referendum, held nearly three years to the day from this referendum, that the youth vote was galvanised to vote on the day. One suspects it will be no different this time out. A more interesting finding is the stark east/west divide. Dublin and the Eastern seaboard has traditionally been considered more liberal, and this poll reinforces that view. Fifty one per cent of Dubliners, and 46pc of Leinster residents are in favour of repeal, versus 41pc and 37pc of Munster and Conn/Ulster residents respectively. In some respect this east/west divide is symptomatic of rural depopulation.

Among supporters of the various parties, the standout figure is that of Fianna Fail supporters. They mirror the flux that is so apparent within the parliamentary party. While supporters of all other main parties toe the party line, and are in favour of repeal, Fianna Fail supporters are divided - 39pc are in favour, versus 41pc against.

On the face of it, all things point to a Yes vote. However, the final three weeks will still be critical. It is by no means certain that even those who have made up their minds are steadfast in their view - one in six overall (17pc) has the potential to waver. Some 14pc either have some reservations/doubts (16pc of Yes voters vs 11pc of No voters) and a further 3pc are not certain at all (2pc vs 4pc respectively).

Effective communications over the next three weeks will be key for both sides, in order to attract the endorsement of a somewhat dubious electorate.

Paul Moran is an associate director at Kantar Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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