On Elections

How people elect parliaments

Polls show gains for Sinn Féin

Polling in advance of the upcoming Irish elections indicate the historic possibility of the progressive nationalist party Sinn Féin becoming the official opposition.

Éire is presently governed by a powerful coalition of centre right party Fine Gael and its junior partner the Labour Party. Polls show a slight easing in Fine Gael’s 2011 election result and a quite significant drop in support for Labour, but still sufficient support for the coalition to remain in government.

Support for the official opposition Fianna Fáil party – historically Eire’s most successful party but brutally ousted in 2011 – has barely recovered from its 19% in 2011.

Sinn Féin, by contrast, has risen in public support from 9% to around 19%. With its support base more concentrated, it may win more seats than Fianna Fail, entitling it to become the official opposition.

2011 was the first Irish election since 1932 when Fianna Fáil did not win the most seats in the Irish lower house, the Dáil Éireann. It’s election result – just 20 seats across 43 electoral divisions – was made worse by it’s support base being fairly evenly spread across the country.

Overall, the polling indicates that the main shift since 2011 is a 10% loss of support from the Labour party, and a roughly equivalent rise in support for Sinn Féin.

The Irish political spectrum is somewhat unusual. The two main parties are generally regarded as slightly right-of-centre; Fine Gael being somewhat further to the right. But neither party would be regarded as strongly right-wing.

The progressive vote in Éire is shared between Labour, Sinn Féin, minor left-wing parties, and to some extent the progressive wing of Fianna Fáil. Independents also do well in Irish elections.

Curiously, Fine Gael and the Labour parties are traditional coalition allies, a connection that emerged during the long years when Fianna Fáil dominated Irish politics.

Labour surged to it’s strongest support ever in 2011 as voters deserted Fianna Fáil. These voters may now be dissatisfied with Labour’s role in the coalition with the right of politics. Their current loss of public support resembles what happened to the UK Liberal Democrats as a result of their 2010-15 coalition with the Conservatives.

Voters turning to Sinn Féin, however, is a historic shift. The party, long associated with the IRA and Ireland’s troubled history, is both nationalistic and progressive, an unusual combination.

The slight rise in Fianna Fáil’s support may see it rise from 20 seats to around 25 (the Dáil is being shrunk by 8 seats overall at this election due to a major review of boundaries).

But Sinn Féin’s rise in support may see it also increase it’s Dáil numbers to around 25 seats, benefiting from a tighter concentration of support in specific constituencies.

Ireland - dvisions - sinn fein support.png

Sinn Féin support by county, 2011 elections

By contrast, the Labour party’s loss of support should see it fall to around 25 seats. That would leave the three major parties other than Fine Gael on almost identical numbers of seats.

With the Fine Gael-Labour coalition almost certain to retain office, the 2016 election’s most significant contest may simply be which party will form the opposition.

If Sinn Féin can claim that role it could result in a significant re-alignment of progressive politics in Éire.

One comment on “Polls show gains for Sinn Féin

  1. Malcolm Baalman
    February 1, 2016

    Interesting speculations. As far as I know no-one has ever needed to contemplate a coalition with Sinn Féin, as they have never before been elected in numbers that could assist government formation. Sinn Féin are really quite a progressive party in their modern incarnation. Since FF were the anti-treaty faction in 1922, and FG emerged from what were the pro-treaty faction, Sinn Féin might have their great-grand-fathers turning in the grave if they went in with Fine Gael – although of course, both the modern major parties actually emerged out of Sinn Féin themselves. It’s a complex and fascinating history.

    A combined left wing alternative government would presumably need to include Fianna Fáil to make up the numbers in the foreseeable future. This begs the question whether FF is technically left wing. It is more very mildly centre-right. But all of that is relative. As in the era when FF was the dominant party, if FG is to be dominant for a while, all others may indeed find common cause.

    Fine Gael’s government is still relatively fresh and hasn’t fundamentally lost popularity. And Fianna Fáil was bundled out of office only recently in a pretty shabby condition.

    I doubt that the 2016 election will see a major realignment. Perhaps the following election?

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This entry was posted on January 29, 2016 by in Éire, Single transferable vote (STV).
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