April 2021 Projections and Model Update

Seat totals

Sinn Féin 57
Fine Gael 57
Fianna Fáil 27
Independents 10
Social Democrats 5
PBP/Solidarity 2
Green Party 1
Aontú 1
Labour 0

Changes since March

Sinn Féin -5
Fine Gael -4
Fianna Fáil +6
Independents +5
Social Democrats -1
PBP/Solidarity nc
Green Party nc
Aontú +1
Labour -2

Big changes this month – and I know it seems immediately like some of them are out of line with the polling trend. And you’d be correct if you thought that! I’ve made a number of adjustments to the model and methodology over the last few weeks, so that has had an impact as well as this month’s poll. I won’t bore people with the full details, but here’s a summary of the changes and improvements made. They are quite substantial and I think are an important step to improving the modelling.

  • Candidate numbers have been better optimised – the model now correctly assumes a “rational” number of candidates for each party. This will change, of course, once we see how many candidates are being run in each constituency, but for now it assumes good electoral strategy on everyone’s behalf
  • Vote split between multiple candidates now better calculated with more historical data; there are still a lot of assumptions here owing to a lack of past data for SF in particular, and 3rd cadndiates in general, but it’s more realistic than previous assumptions
  • Model now does a better job of dividing votes of high-profile INDs who are unlikely to run again (eg Shane Ross), based on historical transfer patterns from those candidates
  • Better allocation of FPV and transfers between multiple high-profile Independents in the same constituencies
  • Fixed formula issue that was undercalculating the swing to FG in Dublin by c.20%
  • Data from lead-in to 2020 election used to adjust for systemic over/under polling of small parties and Independents in certain regions
  • Reciprocity approach to transfers was giving extremely odd results; changed to using regional or, if not an option, national averages. This also has weaknesses so this may change in future
  • All transfer tables manually rebuilt to reflect this, corrected a small number of errors in the process
  • Galway West and Tipperary given their own special sheets and expanded transfer modelling to address problems being caused by having two Independent TDs, and, in Galway West’s case, the modelling throwing up completely unrealistic numbers for the SDs

With that out of the way, let’s look at the map and get started on the analysis, which will include, let me see [checks notes] oh my god so many constituencies. This will be a long post.

Before moving on to the constituencies, a few things worth noting. Firstly, Fine Gael’s numbers in Dublin are incredible. Correcting the swing netted them 3 TDs across the capital, and also flagged to me that their swing here is bigger than the huge SF swing in Munster I’ve been going on about so much recently. Sinn Féin were rightly viewed as having dominated Dublin in the 2020 GE with 28.4% FPV; Fine Gael’s RPA in Dublin is currently 32.6%. While this is a drop from the end of last year – they were just under 36% in November – it’s still an enormous figure, and mostly attributable to eating Fianna Fáil and Green support.

Given SF’s stagnation in Dublin polling since the GE, if they can’t close the gap to FG here, their path to leading a government becomes a lot more difficult. The slight decline in FG numbers is positive for them, but they need to get their own support moving upwards at some point. This becomes stark when put in relative terms: In Dublin, FG’s polling is over 60% better than their GE 20 performance. SF’s is down by a small amount – 3%.

Speaking of Dublin, this week’s Red C poll showed PBP at 2% there. While an individual poll is just that, it is reflective of a wider issue. Now, while PBP are generally under-polled in Dublin (and the model now corrects for this!) this kind of number is still concerning. In GE 20, PBP got 6.5% FPV in Dublin, versus an RPA of 4.9%. Their Dublin RPA is currently at 3.3%, and while the under-poll indicates that they will beat this number, they are now at a stage where things are starting to look very, very difficult for a number of their incumbent TDs, and they truly may end up at the mercy of Sinn Féin’s candidate strategy. On the plus side at least, the model update looks a lot better for Bríd Smith, so that’s something at least.

Short note here, because of the recalculations around candidate strategy, FF gained a bunch of seats, but their polling is really awful at the moment; if that continues for much longer I would expect a number of these to melt away. There seems in particular to have been a lot of movement away from them in Connacht-Ulster, mostly helping Independent candidates.

Last thing before the constituencies – the elephant in the room. Labour on no seats despite largely static, maybe even marginally positive, polling looks a bit wrong. And it might be! Dublin Bay North in particular will warrant closer investigation for the next update, as Aodhán Ó Ríordáin smashed Labour’s general trend in Dublin in 2020. The party went down 33.7% citywide, but Ó Ríordáin increased his FPV by close to 50%. They are also certainly close in Tipperary and Cork East (and to a lesser extent Wexford, Dublin Fingal and Kildare South, if the CC retires).

Given the methodology updates and the new polling, there’s quite a number of constituencies where the model projects changes from March:

(Clicking on the linked name for each constituency should jump to the relevant section of this page)

FG +1

LAB -1

As mentioned above, I have some doubts about this one, so it may change in the near future, but let’s look at what we have. Cian O’Callaghan (SD) is still likely to poll behind Labour and FF, and overtake both on transfers. The big movement is due to the correction to swing made for Fine Gael, who are now in a position that Richard Bruton is likely to have a very substantial surplus.

This should be enough to drag even a weak second FG candidate over the line – and I don’t think FG could lumber him with a weaker running mate than they did last time out. That said, we are still looking at a very close race between the SDs, the second FG candidate, Labour and FF for the last two seats. I wouldn’t rule any of them out at this point. DBN continues to be a volatile constituency and I imagine it will be featuring regularly in these updates for the foreseeable future.

GP +1

FG -1

Given that the model changes generally favoured FG, this is an interesting one. Basically, FG do have sufficient raw FPV to win three seats here, but better modelling of how that FPV will be split creates a more realistic outcome – two seats. Three isn’t impossible by any means, but FG will need to improve their already extremely high polling in Dublin by a point or two for that to become more likely.

The beneficiary of this is Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who still has a comfortable enough advantage over FF’s Jim O’Callaghan. Regardless, at least one of those two incumbents is going to lose out if the numbers stay as they are. Given that FF’s struggles in Dublin are pretty much as bad as the Greens’, O’Callaghan will need a significant boost to hold on. Indeed, right now it’s more likely that a third FG candidate overtakes both of them than it is for O’Callaghan to overhaul Ryan.

FG +1

GP -1

Corrected modelling of the FG vote explains this to a large extent, but there’s more than just this going on. This is a much more politically diverse constituency than, for example, DBS above. The decline in the GP’s support has a very real impact here. Joe O’Brien certainly isn’t done for, and how the breakdown of Labour transfers goes will be really significant here. That said with polling showing a consistent downward tick for his party’s support in Dublin, O’Brien holding this seat looks more and more challenging. It’s worth noting that it’s not simply a case of Green Party vs a second FG candidate; a second Sinn Féin candidate wouldn’t be clear of that fight either – there are two seats in play rather than just one.

FG +1

IND -1

It seems the Paul Gogarty (IND) meme dream has come to an end here, but there’s a lot going on. SF and FG both look comfortable enough to win two seats, but there’s going to be a whole chunk of other votes tied up between Gogarty, Gino Kenny (PBP) and whoever FF run. Between Eoin Ó Broin and Mark Ward, SF could run up a pretty handy surplus here too – there’s honestly an argument that they should consider a third candidate – which could help Kenny, though the model is placing his FPV in seriously difficult territory.

However, FG are strongly poised here, now the swing is corrected for, to take the final seat. The party is clearly invested in promoting incumbent Emer Higgins’ public profile (while this is a sensible move given the dearth of young female TDs, the results of this effort have been decidedly mixed) and Cllr Vicki Casserly put up a very respectable showing in 2020. A couple of additional percentage points of FPV would likely have seen her elected, and current polling gives FG more than enough to make up the gap. It’s also worth noting that DMW saw an extremely impressive piece of vote management from FG that election – a 56/44 vote split between two candidates – if they can replicate this, FG look even more comfortable for that second seat.

PBP +1

SF -1

It’s not all doom and gloom for PBP in Dublin, in spite of the serious polling difficulties mentioned earlier on. Remodelling DSC, specifically giving SF a much more realistic split of the vote between three candidates, puts Bríd Smith firmly back in pole position for the fourth seat. SF could still manage three, of course, as their raw FPV remains very solid here, but it would require an extremely delicate vote managing act that will be very difficult to pull off.

If SF can’t pull this off, it’s not clear that there’s anyone else who could compete with Smith – the GP and FF vote here is floundering, Labour and the SDs are non-factors even with decent candidates like they ran in 2020, and FG are nowhere near competing for a second seat. The only potential wild card is Joan Collins (R2C). Because R2C is electorally a one-woman show, they don’t get polled separately, so projections for her are based on general IND trends. There’s no way of knowing how accurate that is.

Collins’ FPV imploded in the face of the SF surge in 2020, but she was extremely transfer friendly and was able to hold her seat, overhauling a huge deficit to overtake FF and FG. With SF running at least two candidates, it’s going to be super-tough for Collins, but her vote is totally unpredictable so I’m not going to write her off entirely.

FG +1

PBP -1

I feel like I move Paul Murphy (PBP) in and out of holding his seat every time there’s a new poll, and that reflects how close things are currently in DSW. This constituency was really messy in 2020 and is probably only going to be a little better next time out. There are two factors to consider behind Murphy’s low FPV in 2020 – on the one hand, he looked dependent on SF transfers, but he also had a running mate that probably artificially depressed his FPV total. Either way, this looks increasingly like there’s going to be an almighty scrap for the last three seats between Murphy, John Lahart (FF) and second candidates from SF and FG.

None of them should feel particularly comfortable right now, and how SF’s vote split and transfers are managed could be absolutely decisive. Good discipline could make the second seat simple, poor discipline could hand Murphy an easy path, and it’s possible – albeit unlikely – that both could be elected.

For FG, things are relatively straightforward, but they may end up being at the mercy of centre-left transfers. While the Greens and Labour have had no issue transferring to FG in the past, it feels like a lot of the more FG-sympathetic voters from those parties are going to just straight up vote for FG instead. This could result in a lower than expect rate of FG transfers from those parties (and there’s precedent for this with Labour in 2020, where their transfers became substantially more left-leaning as their overall support declined), which could end up making the difference. For now, an edge for FG, but this one is going to be very close and depend on a number of factors.

FF +1

SF -1

I’d sort of written Dublin West off at the start of the year as a fairly boring constituency, where both SF and FG had a significant enough chunk of FPV to cruise to two seats each and leave it there. I shouldn’t have thought it would be so simple – Dublin West consistently brings the drama. Barring 2011, there have been almighty battles for the last seat or two involving many high-profile TDs, both left and right.

Therefore it ought be no surprise that improving the forecasting of a likely vote split has made this much more interesting. In 2020, Leo Varadkar (FG) was elected on the 5th count, spawning a rake of stupid claims about his legitimacy among Twitter’s many Electoral System Understanders (and then for some reason, right-wing English rag the Daily Express got in on the action. A bad time was had by all). On current numbers the Taoiseach Tánaiste would rack up a healthy surplus, to the point where he should be able to drag Emer Currie (or an alternative running-mate) over the line.

Conversely, Sinn Féin have a problem. They should easily double Jack Chambers’ (FF) FPV, but looking at the splits Paul Donnelly probably won’t be able to run up a surplus to help out his running mate. More significantly, if Donnelly doesn’t hit the quota early, he’ll end up absorbing left-wing transfers that could go to a potential running mate, and won’t end up transferring back down. SF do still have a healthy FPV advantage to play with, and the model is very, very close between FF and SF for the last seat. SF will need to pull off some relatively tricky vote management if they want to make this comfortable.

IND +2

FG -1, SD -1

Unbreaking the modelling for Galway West is probably one of the most challenging pieces of work I’ve had to do as part of this project. While it’s still quite a tough constituency to call I believe the current format is more realistic – the old model had got to point where it was showing that the SDs would top the poll at just over 19% FPV which was, to put it lightly, completely implausible.

I won’t go too deep into the changes here but ultimately it modified candidate performance in GW against the regional performance and polling, as well as splitting out the transfers to Catherine Connolly and Noel Grealish (INDs) rather than treating all Independents as identical. This had two main impacts – it revised the SD FPV downward to something more plausible, and gave better nuance to Connolly and Grealish’s performance. Ultimately this vaulted both of them ahead of the SD and a second FG candidate, but all of this remains a matter of extremely fine margins.

As flagged last month, the numbers are still worrying for Éamon Ó Cuív, as FF’s numbers across Connacht-Ulster continue to plummet. In short, there’s definitely a safe seat for SF and one for FG, but the remainder looks very close between the Independents, FF, the SDs and a second FG candidate.

FF +1, IND +1

SF -1, FG -1

This one is interesting with the changes made. FF, FG and SF are all still comfortable for a seat each. While FF’s total is marginally behind SF and FG (all three are separated by less than 1.5%), the FPV split between their candidates based on the historic data puts them into a position to squeeze into a second seat – a great illustration of how important vote management can be when you have close races with multiple candidates. This is very marginal call that comes down to a fraction of a percentage point, and any deviation from the historic data in the vote management (which is quite likely, given how many assumptions have to be made with it) could easily flip this one way or the other.

The other change here is Carol Nolan, and with Independent numbers ticking up, she’s a little ahead of the second candidate from the three big parties, particularly due to transfer friendliness. The margins here are similarly fine, so with current patterns the last two seats will be very difficult to call.

FF +1

FG -1

Louth still shows three seats for Sinn Féin even with changes, but recalibrating things puts the second FG seat in serious question, and indicates a slight advantage for Fianna Fáil. SF have a big advantage here in terms of transfer friendliness as well as their projected FPV. Behind them, and one safe Fine Gael seat, things look a bit murkier now than they did before. While FF do in theory have the numbers to get a single candidate elected, Louth does have a geographic division when it comes to transfers – particularly between Dundalk and Drogheda – which as something the model can’t really account for, could end up having an impact, given how narrow their margin over a second FG candidate is.

FF +1

FG -1

Not a lot to note here – this is largely due to better calculation of the FG vote split putting one of their candidates below Dara Calleary (FF). It’s still very tight between Calleary and the 2nd and 3rd FG candidates, so this is another one that could end up being challenging for FF in the long run. A second SF candidate remains a potential threat but they’d need a movement of a few more points before that becomes plausible.

AON +1

FG -1

After doing research on the polls leading into GE2020, I’ve reached the conclusion that Ireland Thinks have been right for a while, and Aontú are slightly underpolled everywhere except Dublin. While this doesn’t really make a huge difference, given that most of their candidates aren’t doing very well anyway, it does matter – a lot – for Peadar Tóibín. Adjusting for the underpoll in Rest of Leinster, combined with reassessing the vote splits for SF and FG, indicates that he should be able to hold his seat comfortably.

Aontú are in a weird spot in general – they are ticking up slightly in the polls, but really have very little going on beyond Tóibín himself; I doubt very much that the average voter could name one of their three councillors, and they haven’t really established a clear identity. It’s absolutely essential for the party to hold his seat – so this will be good news for them. Winning another is an entirely different question.

IND +1

FG -1

Independents have been polling well recently, particularly in Connacht-Ulster, so this change shouldn’t be a huge surprise, as the model now favours Denis Naughten to hold his seat against Fine Gael, though naturally it remains close. Fianna Fáil are the only other party looking at breaking 2% FPV here, so their transfers will be crucial in deciding this one, and in 2020 they didn’t look great for FG.

FF+1, IND +1

SF-1, FG -1

Another close call here off the back of modelling changes and strong Independent polling, essentially moving the constituency back to the status quo following the 2020 General Election. Marian Harkin (IND) looks quite comfortable with these numbers and this methodology, but Marc MacSharry has a really tiny edge over a second SF candidate and again, with FF numbers in the province wobbling badly, he could be back on the outside looking in very shortly.

It worth noting that Sligo-Leitrim had nineteen candidates on the ballot paper in the last GE. Twelve of these never had a chance at being anything close to competitive, but they managed to absorb over 25% of total FPV between them. A shorter ballot paper next time around could have significant impact as it would potentially free up an entire quota. It would be tough to predict who this would benefit the most; Harkin was very transfer friendly in 2020, but this could change if SF run a second candidate to take up more of the left-leaning preferences.

IND +1

LAB -1

Labour’s Munster numbers are not great right now, but they’re not disastrous either and seem to be drifting back towards their 2020 performance. Weirdly, the model thinks Alan Kelly will slightly increase his FPV, but shows him losing his seat off the back of bigger improvements for FG and Independents. For this month I completely remodeled the transfers (similar to Galway West) to decouple Lowry from McGrath (INDs), and this seems to have benefitted the latter. Breaking up Séamus Healy’s (IND) vote according to transfers helped McGrath a lot as well, despite the ideological gulf between the two – geography is really important in general, but infamously so in Tipp. Overall though, that makes it one of the places where it’s even tougher than usual to be completely confident when looking at transfers.

One thing that might end up being a saving grace for Kelly is that Jackie Cahill (FF) also looks really vulnerable. He only held his seat in 2020 by less than 1,500 votes (although a crackpot three-candidate strategy certainly contributed to this) and finished behind Kelly. FF’s numbers are looking sufficiently weak that even if Cahill is the only candidate for his party, it’s now far from clear that he would beat Kelly. Keep an eye on this one because current trends indicate it could change again soon.

FF +1

SF -1

There have been a lot of close calls this month, and this might just be the closest of the lot. To illustrate this, when modelling out the election in Wicklow, by the 10th count, Stephen Donnelly (FF), a second Sinn Féin, a second Fine Gael, and a third Fine Gael candidate are all separated by less than half of a percentage point. As it stands the model now shows Donnelly and a Fine Gaeler emerging versus last month where it was FG and SF, but it honestly may as well be a coin flip at this point. Vote management is going to be absolutely critical here, especially for SF.

Other notes

This article is already 4,000 words long and I’m tired. After reading this, I’d imagine you are too, so no additional notes this month! You can of course hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions.

This month’s update involved a lot of time and work. This website is done entirely in my spare time and run without ads, so if you want to donate, please do so via Patreon or Ko-Fi – any support is greatly appreciated and 100% of any donations received are invested into the costs of running and improving the site.

But regardless, I appreciate all of you who take the time to read this site, who take an interest in what I’m writing, or who get in touch. That makes it all worthwhile 🙂

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