September 2021 Projections Update

Seat totals

Sinn Féin 59
Fine Gael 49
Fianna Fáil 29
Independents 11
Social Democrats 3
PBP/Solidarity 3
Labour 3
Green Party 2
Aontú 1
R2C 0

Changes since June

Sinn Féin +3
Fine Gael -3
Fianna Fáil -2
Independents nc
Social Democrats -2
PBP/Solidarity +1
Labour +3
Green Party nc
Aontú nc
R2C nc

Seat Map

As politics returns from its summer holidays, we got two polls last weekend – one from Red C, and one from B&A. Despite one of the silliest “silly seasons” we’ve had in a long time, with repercussions still ongoing even as normal service resumes (we’ll discuss this a bit further down), the direction of the major parties is still pretty much trending the same way as it was at the start of the summer – Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil slowly moving up, and Fine Gael slowly moving down. While this has triggered a tipping point for the model in a handful of constituencies, resulting in projected changes, its not the earthquake that some of the media and online narratives are acting like it is.

While SF are still expanding their lead – they are ahead of Fine Gael in the RPA by 5.1% – Dublin remains a major problem for them, where FG are still slightly ahead. When you consider that SF beat FG in the last general election in Dublin by over 8 points, this is a continuing cause for concern. While SF haven’t really lost ground, it seems that the vast majority of voters in the capital who have indicated that they would abandon other parties would go to FG. Being unable to expand their ceiling here is the single biggest challenge to SF moving into a truly significant lead.

Fianna Fáil have been holding steady in the polls, and indeed overall having an upswing since the start of the summer. Part of this is due to the return of B&A, who have FF significantly higher than other pollsters, but their scores even in the unfriendly Red C polls haven’t dropped off much either. As I mentioned on the Tortoise Shack on the weekend, despite all the chaos and difficulties, you can’t say it’s been a poor summer for FF in terms of public views, insofar as polls are an accurate barometer of those. However, paradoxically, although their numbers are up, their seats are down, as their relative increase is slower than some of their rivals. As FF are competing for final seats in a number of constituencies, this volatility will likely continue and indicates a number of very close races.

Polls have also been good for some smaller parties – Labour in particular, as will be discussed below. PBP’s overall numbers aren’t great but their Dublin numbers are recovering, and if they can get ahead of 2nd or 3rd SF candidates, the model will continue to show gains for them. The Greens seem to continue to stabilise in the polls, far below their GE 20 result, but also above some of the low points they hit earlier this year. The Social Democrats have been having a rough go of it – B&A polls in particular are unkind to them – and a number of their seats continue to appear to be in jeopardy.

Two final interesting notes: B&A did some issues polling, which I hope to get time to dig through and do a write up on later this month. Also, census results indicate the population of the country is now over five million. This will likely necessitate 10 extra TDs and substantial boundary revisions/seat number changes. This of course poses challenges for the model and I’m going to have to do plenty of work to adapt it once we see what those changes are.

There’s three other things from these polls that I want to dive a little more deeply into. If you would prefer not to see more hot takes, and want to skip ahead to the seat changes, click here.

Do scandals even matter any more?

As alluded to above, this has been one hell of a “silly season”. Discourse has been dominated by the appointment of Katherine Zappone as special envoy, in a move that technically legally wasn’t a result of lobbying. This, combined with the fallout from the party she hosted at the Merrion hotel, and the governments increasingly inept attempts to cover it up while constantly contradicting themselves and also throwing eachother under the bus, has left this rumbling on and on.

While this made Fine Gael look like the kings of cronyism and Fianna Fáil look like a bunch of spineless Igors, their junior partners, the Green Party, had a couple of controversies of their own. Firstly, there’s the threat of blackouts in the winter because stuffing every corner of the country full of data centres is more important than supplying power to people’s homes or upgrading infrastructure.

And then there was Brian Leddin, an obscure TD with no achievements to his name who broke into the public consciousness after being exposed as participating in a misogynist and abusive WhatsApp group.

In all three of these incidents the government has attempted to ignore the problems and power through, offering meaningless apologies without action and then acting as if everyone else is unreasonable when they refuse to accept them. And yet, it appears to have had no impact in the polls for the parties; as mentioned above the trends now are the same as they were before summer.

It has, however, significantly dented Leo Varadkar’s personal popularity, plunging him towards Eamon Ryan levels, as the majority of public blame seems to have been directed towards him. I doubt he’ll mind as it seems to have not really affected the party in any dramatic way. This makes some sense – as I’ve mentioned before, leadership approval is not a good predictor of party support, and Vardakar is in no danger of losing his own seat.

Ah well, at least Leddin’s going to lose his.

Dude, where’s my civil war party majority?

There is, however, one notable thing to come from the continuation of current trends – the model now has Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael combining for less than 80 seats, meaning a majority is impossible for them to form without another partner. Now, while this also where we ended up after the last GE (and they could still get to 80 with the two surviving GP seats), this is the first time the revised version of the model has shown that.

This is particularly interesting when we think in terms of government formation. The longer this government continues, and the longer these trends continue, the more plausible it makes it that a government can be formed without the two civil war parties. Of course there’s a long way to go, and a lot of factors to consider – the right overall still holds a comfortable majority when you factor in Independents and the nominally centre-left parties who have historically fallen over themselves to go into government with the right in order to get wiped out in the next election and fulfil their martyrdom syndrome.

But overall, the long term trend is moving left; indeed, in a way, it might be better for the left the longer this government survives, as support slowly and steadily bleeds away from it and to Sinn Féin.

Labour are back! Maybe! It’s weird!

RIP to my “Labour no seats lol” meme I guess. It was fun while it lasted, but at some point, reality had to kick in and we’ve seen something of a polling revival for Labour. It’s tempting to attribute this to the DBS by-election, or Alan Kelly’s leadership, but the geography of it indicates that either something very strange is happening, or B&A are just being weird again:

Labour’s big gain is in the Rest of Leinster area – though they are also improving in Dublin and Munster, the big gain is in RoL, so it’s hard to attribute this purely to events in Sandymount or Nenagh. Indeed they remain below their GE20 totals in every other province. This swing indicates much more competitiveness than previously shown across the province, and as we’ll see below, indicates they should now be favoured to hold a couple of seats.

A note of caution though – while Red C does see an upswing for Labour in RoL, the bulk of this is from recent B&A polling, who had them in double digits in both July and September. So while there is at this point evidence for a small revival in Labour’s fortunes, there is a possibility that, much like FF’s support, B&A are overstating it.

Seat Changes

Now, on to the seat changes for this month. Clicking on the linked name for each constituency should jump to the relevant section of this page.

SF +1

FG -1

This is the first time we’ve seen a change shown by the model for Cavan-Monaghan since January of this year. Sinn Féin’s numbers in Connacht-Ulster are looking very healthy, driven by a monstrous showing in the latest B&A poll, while FG’s continue to wobble. While it’s not at the point of driving change across most of the region, three seats for Sinn Féin here is now the most mathematically likely outcome, at the expense of the second Fine Gael seat.

This is in spite of Minister Heather Humphreys pouring an astonishing amount of funding into the area, for both roads and, of course, the Big Tom memorial garden.

Fianna Fáil look a lot more secure to hold one of their seats here than they did earlier in the year. Aontú are still much more competitive than in most areas, but haven’t indicated anything to show they are going to be able to close the gap and steal the final seat.

LAB +1

SD -1

Dublin Bay North continues to be an extremely volatile constituency, with two of the five seats seeing permanently up for grabs, and a new permutation arising with every new set of polls. The question remains as to which of Fianna Fáil, Labour or the Soc Dems will lose their seat to a second Sinn Féin candidate, and if Fine Gael can knock off a second one of them.

With Labour improving in the polls, and the Soc Dems dropping off after a surge earlier in the year, Cian O’Callaghan now looks the most vulnerable. Fine Gael’s theoretical second candidate is still very much in the mix, and will come down to if they can find someone strong enough to attract a decent FPV without weakening Bruton too much. With good vote management, it’s quite possible. If they do, that projected Labour hold starts to look even more tenuous than it already is.

SF +1

SD -1

Last time around, the downward SD trend hadn’t really had an impact here; this time it does, once again favouring a theoretical second SF candidate over the SD’s Shortall. There’s not much to say here that hasn’t already been said about the myriad reasons that this is extremely marginal and comes down to factors the model can’t really account for very well.

It’s also worth noting that, while relatively unlikely, it’s not completely outside the realms of possibility that this constituency rolls back to the glory days of 2011 and elects zero right-wing TDs, going with two Sinn Féin and one Soc Dem, but as long as FG’s polling in Dublin remains where it is, that’s very much an outside chance.

PBP +1

FG -1

Well, I certainly didn’t see *this* coming. With the Green Party’s vote plateauing at a much lower level than GE20, Sinn Féin failing to increase their vote and PBP/Solidarity support reviving somewhat, Dublin West has potential to go back to being the drama-filled slugfest we all know and love. And right now, the model is bringing the spice, showing that the most probable outcome based on current polling is Ruth Coppinger nabbing back the final seat in her (and Joe Higgins’) old stomping ground.

This demonstrates something I mentioned up above – if PBP or Solidarity candidates can get ahead of Sinn Féin running mates, they have a real shot at outperforming expectations, as those transfers will break heavily in their favour.

Now, I have absolutely no idea if Coppinger would run again after engaging in the second-strangest Seanad run of this election cycle. But if she did, her chances right now look good. Of course, if it’s not her, Solidarity may not do as well with a lower profile candidate, and I believe they only have one sitting councillor based in the constituency.

I should also caveat that this is extremely close. While FG and SF are guaranteed a seat each, the final two are going to be very competitive between Solidarity, Fianna Fáil and second FG/SF candidates. The Greens aren’t a million miles away either and there’s a lot of knife-edge breaks that will go in the direction of whichever candidates ultimately emerge successful. But right now, it’s the left with the slight edge.

IND +1

FF -1

Galway East continues to swing back and forth and remains extremely close. While Fine Gael and Sinn Féin still look quite secure to grab one seat each – assuming they don’t attempt any galaxy-brain electoral strategies – the final seat is still bouncing around. This month, the polls favour independent Seán Canney holding his seat over Fianna Fáil or a second Fine Gael, but this could well change again by the next set of projections.

SF +1

IND -1

This one remains close, and while the change is that SF are now marginally more likely to return a second candidate at the expense of former party member Carol Nolan, the real story here is the increasing comfort levels for Fianna Fáil. While they were trailing SF and FG here in April, the model now expects them to lead this constituency on FPV. I believe this is the only constituency outside of Carlow-Kilkenny where this is the case.

Of course two seats here is no sure thing for anyone, and I expect a lot of further fluctuations in this highly competitive constituency that will see its final seats decided by narrow margins.

LAB +1

FF -1

Ged Nash looks set to be a beneficiary of the polling surge for Labour in Leinster, rapidly going from also-ran to marginally favoured. While Fine Gael and Sinn Féin are assured of holding their seats, the projected third SF seat is now in serious question – while Fianna Fáil are currently set to lose out to Labour, they are behind the third SF candidate by a really narrow margin, and even slight polling movement could easily flip this.

LAB +1

FG -1

Wexford has probably seen the biggest changes of any constituency as a result of the Labour recovery. Not only is Brendan Howlin favoured by the model to hold his seat for the first time, he’s favoured to do so relatively comfortably.

This is something that felt like a huge miss in the model that I couldn’t find the root cause of, but it seems the polling has taken care of it for me. Howlin is probably the most consistently popular Labour TD in the Dáil when it comes to local support, and it’s reflected here that he’s poised to do the best from the changes in polling.

Elsewhere, SF, FF and FG are all comfortably going to take one seat, with the final seat a battle between second candidates from those three parties – which Sinn Féin are currently favoured to win.

Other Notes

  • Cork South-Central: This ought to be one of the most stable constituencies in Ireland – and don’t get me wrong, it is. But there’s something quite interesting here that might manifest down the line (aside from potential redraws – this seems a prime candidate to either become a five seater or lose territory to nearby constituencies). After everything that’s happened, how enthusiastic will Simon Coveney or Micheál Martin be to run again in 2025? If either or both retire, or head off to an EU job, this will descend into absolute chaos.
  • Dublin Central: Wobbly Social Democrat polling recently has put Gary Gannon’s seat into question; while he’s still favoured to hold it, the gap between him and the Greens/Fianna Fáil doesn’t look very comfortable.
  • Dublin Fingal: The Green Party’s Joe O’Brien is looking competitive here still, current numbers imply a tight scrap between himself and the second FG/SF candidates for the last seat.
  • Dublin Mid-West: PBP’s Gino Kenny is very close to leaping over a potential third SF candidate; if he does he’ll pose a serious threat to the projected second FG seat here. Of course, if SF only run two, it’s even more open for Kenny.
  • Dublin South-West: Similar to DMW, PBP’s Paul Murphy is close to showing he can beat a second SF candidate – and even if he can’t he’s even closer to showing he can beat a second FGer. Another decent poll in Dublin for PBP and I would expect the model to show this seat flipping.
  • Kildare South: This note only applies to the “Ceann Comhairle retires” scenario, which isn’t reflected in the model. If he does does, the final seat is now leaning towards Mark Wall (Labour), if he opts to make a third run at a seat.
  • Waterford: That third SF seat is looking a little vulnerable now, with Fianna Fáíl closer than they have been recently. I don’t expect a sudden change here, but one to keep an eye on.
  • Wicklow: Conversely, the FF seat here looks vulnerable to Sinn Féin again, and Stephen Donnelly hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to make himself popular recently. Maybe his desperate excuses from that infamous Vincent Browne interview will finally prove themselves true.

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