October 2021 Projections Update

Seat totals

Sinn Féin 60
Fine Gael 43
Fianna Fáil 31
Independents 9
Social Democrats 5
PBP/Solidarity 4
Labour 4
Green Party 3
Aontú 1
R2C 0

Changes since September

Sinn Féin +1
Fine Gael -6
Fianna Fáil +2
Independents -2
Social Democrats +2
PBP/Solidarity +1
Labour +1
Green Party +1
Aontú nc
R2C nc

Seat Map

We’ve had a good few polls in October, and following on from September, we’re seeing a lot of movement. And it’s not good news for Fine Gael. While their numbers are still, on the face of it, positive – and an increase on their GE2020 performance, they have been in decline for some time. Modelling had them at 63 seats at the start of the year, and 43 is just the latest stop on a consistent downward movement.

Indeed, since January, Sinn Féin have moved up just 1.7% on the national RPA. In the same timeframe, Fine Gael have fallen by 7.2%. While a lot of media coverage has focused on the rise of SF, what we have been seeing this year, much more significantly, is the increasing unpopularity of FG. The changes we are seeing in the projected likely political composition of the next Dáil at this point owe can’t be understood properly without taking this into account. So why are we not hearing more about it?

The focus of so much political commentary on relatively insignificant movements in SF’s support, to the exclusion of the much more rapid decline of FG’s, is a sign of the deep rot and rigid thinking that permeates so many levels of professional “analysis” in this country. The inability, or unwillingness, to read and present polling data properly, and address clear trends instead of preconceived narratives is a never-ending source of frustration and does a disservice to our population which is, by and large, highly politically literate.

Not unrelated, but some Labour people got Extremely Mad Online because the polls don’t align with their expectations, despite the fact that this was in reality a relatively positive month for them overall. I have clearly grown as a person recently as I resisted the temptation to go back through what I had already written and take out the positive things for Labour and replace them with jokes.

There’s a couple of other key points from this month’s polling I’m going to talk about here, but if you would prefer to skip straight to the seat changes, click here.

A plausible path to left-wing government

A natural side-effect of the movement over the last couple of months is that we are now in a position where it is increasingly mathematically possible – if not necessarily politically plausible – for left-wing and centre-left parties to form a broad left/centre coalition without the involvement of Fianna Fáil. Currently, SF+SD+PBP+LAB+GP are projected for 76 seats. Add in a couple of sympathetic independents and the situation is tantalisingly close to a majority.

If current trends continue, we are likely to end up in a position where those numbers tick above 80. However, the maths is only one small part of things – there is a long way to go before that number provides a stable majority as opposed to a bare one. Also, good luck getting PBP and Labour, two parties that professionally despise eachother, to sit down and successfully negotiate a programme for government. Honestly, it’s questionable as to whether Labour and the Greens would want to be part of a broad-left/centre coalition at all, and may prefer to return to the comforting embrace of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. And as to whether or not PBP would be willing to enter government with anyone, who knows?

Still, it’s an interesting prospect that is increasingly coming over the horizon with Fine Gael struggling. If we end up in such a situation it will be absolutely fascinating to see how the smaller parties will conduct themselves.

Sinn Féin are stuck in Dublin

If you asked your average Dubliner what the most-left wing area of the country is, they’d probably say somewhere in the capital. While this may be in some ways true as an aggregate or on a policy support basis, Dublin remains the only one of the four polling regions where Fine Gael are ahead of Sinn Féin and in first place overall. While FG’s support in the capital is slipping and has been for some time now, SF have failed to close the gap and have seen their numbers decline as well; they are still slightly below their GE2020 support.

There’s two reasons for this. Firstly, Dublin is the areas where SF have not been able to eat the left/centre-left vote to the extend it has in the rest of the country – it’s the best area for the Soc Dems, Greens and PBP, and is Labour’s second best. Combined, they account for just over 25% of support in the capital, which, as can be seen from the below chart, is significant. This, coupled with the fact that the recent trickle of support away from SF in Dublin has gone to smaller left/centre-left partis, poses a challenge for SF in growing their support base and overtaking FG.

This brings us to the second problem – to counter this, SF have been in my view targeting FF voters, and we’ve seen a number of overtures made that seem designed to appeal to the sensible, middle-class FF voter who may fear radical change. This approach has been evident, for example, in their comments on corporation tax, their recent alternative budget and, perhaps most tellingly, their openness to changing their position on Special Criminal Court (Sinn Féin, are, however you may interpret their reasoning, 100% correct on the SCC – it’s a travesty of an institution that invites injustice and ought be abolished. And the SF position isn’t even outlandishly radical – the Green Party’s relatively conservative leadership felt the same way right up until government negotiations). However, it has not thus far reaped rewards, sparking a lot of criticism from the left while having a minimal impact on their polling against FF’s.

If SF want to form a majority government, or even be in a position where it is practically impossible to form a government without them, they need to find a way forward in Dublin. Whether that means a change of tack, or if they can make their approach work better in future, remains to be seen.

Party leaders are not popular right now

Last month I noted that Leo Varadkar had seen a sharp decline in his own personal support in the wake of some mismanaged government scandals. B&A’s latest poll on this shows that Varadkar’s numbers are still bad, but also that Micheál Martin’s popularity is suffering.

And it’s not just Martin who’s popularity is suffering. Alan Kelly’s numbers are at an all-time low, and Eamon Ryan, who hasn’t had a positive approval rating since early 2020, is plumbing new depths. Even Mary Lou McDonald, the only party leader with positive net approval, isn’t faring too well overall. Again, while this doesn’t reflect much on party support, it is interesting – and perhaps not a bad thing. From France to El Salvador, from India to the USA, we are seeing the rise of hyper-individualised politics, with nigh-on cults of personality forming around leaders. We have seen all of the risks this can (and not necessarily always will, but certainly can) pose. While our cynicism around political figures certainly has its problems, maybe it has its upsides too.

Polling has a problem

This is probably one of the most concerning things I’ve come across this month. I’ve noted before that there’s been a divergence between pollsters on Fianna Fáil’s support levels. I decided to go back and measure B&A against Red C on the level of FF support on a 5-poll RPA, and the outcome was much more significant than I had thought it was:

The gap in Dublin is in my view fine, but the gaps in the other areas are very concerning. From a modelling perspective, it essentially means that the numbers I’m seeing are disconnected from polling, falling somewhere between the two. Now, this might not necessarily be wrong, but it certainly poses an issue whereby the RPA, unable to chose between two extremely divergent versions of reality, has essentially substituted its own. This is far from as rigorous as I’d like it to be, but the core problem is that there’s not really any way of determining who is right

More broadly, this poses a challenge for polling companies. Different methodologies (eg face to face vs online) may account for some of it, but polls should be able to adjust for demographic over- or under-sampling resulting from this. It essentially guarantees that at least one of the companies is missing by miles. This is a new development as well – while B&A overstated FF substantially in their final pre-2020 GE poll, it was itself an outlier from their past work and came well before other companies’ final polls.

It’s not just Fianna Fáil by the way, though they are the most consistently pronounced gap. B&A had the Green Party on 15% in Dublin; Red C had them at 5%. That’s an enormous difference and would result in completely different outcomes at an election. For now it may be possible to see one or both results as an outlier, but if these numbers stay this far apart it’s worth paying closer attention.

Seat Changes

On to the seat changes for this month, and guys, there’s a lot of them! Clicking on the linked name for each constituency should jump to the relevant section of this page. Changes on this page indicate changes from September’s projections; changes on constituency pages indicate changes from current composition.

I have decided to add a reminder here in light of my earlier comments abot how media commentary deliberately represents polling as absolute. The projections reflect, and always have reflected, most likely outcomes. So if a final seat is more likely for candidate X over Y, the model will show X winning the seat.

This does not mean the scenario where Y wins doesn’t exist, or even is necessarily unlikely (there’s a lot of marginal calls!). It also does not mean that every single “most likely” scenario will come true; statistically that in and of itself is probably not going to happen. This is true from from a simple probability point of view, even if we ignore deficiencies in underlying data. A projected result merely means that the model thinks X winning is the most likely outcome.

SF +1

FG -1

This is the first change the model has shown in Carlow-Kilkenny, as the Fine Gael vote continues to decline. What previously looked like a dead cert for two Fine Gael seats now only shows one, with Sinn Féin as the most likely beneficiaries. This is, of course, highly marginal at the moment and the model shows that this will come down to transfers, with those from the Green Party being absolutely critical. Even with that said, this is extremely close and if polls stay the way they are this could be a long and uncomfortable count for the candidates

The Fianna Fáil seats look very safe from current numbers. However, here, as in many places, there is the a major caveat: if RedC are right, and FF’s numbers are much worse than other pollsters think, that second seat becomes extremely vulnerable.

With five seats open and only three parties really the races, I expect we’ll see further movement on what will happen in those last two. In very simple terms, moving forward this should be viewed as 1 seat each for the three big parties, with all three fighting to get a second candidate into one of the final two slots.

SF +1

IND -1

This is another constituency that previously looked straightforward but is now swinging back and forth. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin all seem to be guaranteed a seat – barring any galaxy brain candidate strategy stuff – but as mentioned in June the last seat is going to be a wild race between second candidates from each of the three, plus Michael McNamara.

Vote split between first and second candidates, as well as elimination order are going to be absolutely critical here. Right now, with the way things are in Munster, SF are favoured by a razor thing margin – literally hundredths of a percentage point – over Fianna Fáil. A second Fine Gael candidate and McNamara are only very slightly behind, and that of course is bearing in mind the challenges around modelling Independents.

That’s a very long-winded way of saying that this is one of those times where I don’t personally agree with the model’s output, but I don’t think there’s anything systemically wrong here – it’s a case of very close probabilities based on polling.

FF +1

FG -1

This one again! Cork South-West has been a regular feature in these projections, and with the exception of Independent Michael Collins, the final two seats are incredibly swingy. As mentioned in the past, aside from Collins, there’s probably one left-wing seat here between Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats, and another right-wing seat between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Right now, the bad numbers for Fine Gael in Munster have taken a toll and Fianna Fáil are favoured to hold Christopher O’Sullivan’s seat here, but it’s a very close thing – the sort of margin that could be decided by the strength of the Fine Gael candidate.

Elsewhere, with Sinn Féin continuing to dominate polling in Munster, the Soc Dem seat looks tougher and tougher to hold, but still is far from a lost cause. As ever, I expect the projection here to continue to move over the coming while.

SD +1

SF -1

This is another constituency that is extremely close, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a change in the projection here. What is, perhaps, surprising is what that change is – this is the first time since these projections began that the model has shown Sinn Féin not winning a second seat in the constituency. I certainly didn’t expect this, but with another stagnant-to-declining month for Sinn Féin in Dublin, the prospect is now very much on the cards.

This latest movement would, of course, mean no change in the constituency’s current representation; given how hyper-competitive this area is, that itself might be something of a surprise. While Richard Bruton (FG) and Denise Mitchell (SF) look untouchable right now, the remaining three seats are, as always, an extremely close, messy contest between the incumbents from Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Social Democrats and a putative second SF candidate.

It is worth noting that Mitchell’s result in 2020 was incredibly impressive and ran very far ahead of even the positive SF swing in Dublin. So it is not implausible that she overperforms the trend here again and SF do win that second seat, even if the model doesn’t think it to be the most likely result.

One potential other spanner in the works with FG’s continual lead in Dublin: if they nail their candidate strategy and manage their vote split well – something they failed at hilariously in Dublin Bay North in both 2016 and 2020 – their second candidate could end up being more competitive than expected.

GP +1

FG -1

Perhaps a bit of a surprising one here, given how well Fine Gael are doing in Dublin in general, but there’s three aspects to consider that are hurting them versus Sinn Féin – transfers, an apparent recovery in the Green vote in Dublin, and a modest recovery for Labour as well. Fingal has some very unique and messy dynamics, and the model once again indicates that these will stand to favour the GP’s Joe O’Brien. This is likely a long-count constituency with a lot of marginal eliminations taking place

Don’t completely write off Duncan Smith (LAB) yet either – while it’s still an uphill struggle for him to keep his seat, he’s not far off, and FG transfers here tend to favour Labour over the Greens or SF. If that dynamic continues – and it will be very interesting to see how transfers between the current coalition partners are affected by this term in government – he has an outside shot on current numbers of beating either O’Brien, or a second SF candidate. But it is an outside shot.

FF +1

FG -1

Not a hugely significant swing here, but enough to indicate that Fianna Fáil could snatch back the seat they lost in 2020 – and it wouldn’t be the first time John Curran, assuming he is the candidate again, has pulled that off. After losing his seat in a brutal 2011 election for FF, he took advantage of Labour’s implosion in 2016 to reclaim his spot in the Dáil.

It’s still relatively close here, and FF will need every piece of help they can get from transfers to hold off from FG claiming their second seat. It’s also worth noting that Gino Kenny looks more and more alive as SF number in Dublin backslide – he still has a good shot at leapfrogging one of FF or FG, though beating both of them is a tough ask. A lot will come down to how much of a Sinn Féin transfer base will come his way; how the SF vote split and candidate strategy shakes out will be crucial. I expect this to continue to move around a lot in the coming months.

SD +1

SF -1

I won’t lie, I’m fairly tired of swapping Róisín Shortall (SD) around with a second SF candidate, so there’s not a lot to say here except that this month’s polling favours her. Indeed, in Dublin it’s been good for the Soc Dems and relatively disappointing for SF, so there’s probably more daylight between the two than we’ve seen at any point previous. Let’s see if that stabilises.

PBP +1

FG -1

It’s been a while since we did the aul Paul Murphy (PBP) seat shuffle, so it’s about time for the model to pop him back in. The final two seats remain close but Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart looks a lot more comfortable than he has before. The current indication is a race between Murphy, and theoretical second candidates from Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. There’s not much here that hasn’t been said in the past – and Murphy’s seat is very much still up for grabs.

Good Green polling in Dublin means that the final incumbent, Francis Duffy, still isn’t completely irrelevant, but without an incredible bit of trend-bucking and an unexpected break towards him on transfers, he’s going to be on the outside looking in. Unless, of course, that B&A poll is correct and the GP actually have 15% support in Dublin – but I very much doubt that based on other data.

FF +1

FG -1

This is the first time since I began these projections that the model is showing that Fine Gael are more likely to only win two seats than three. They still look very comfortable on two – and they would have won two here in 2020 on lower numbers than their current polling, were it not for a completely botched candidate strategy.

Fianna Fáil look set to benefit here as the model now favours Cormac Devlin to hold onto his seat, although Green Party incumbent Ossian Smyth is not far behind in his battle to keep his. Realistically, with Fine Gael adding another TD almost a certainty, only one of them can hold on, and FG will still be competitive to add a third. Nobody else is particularly in the running, though part of me hopes Mary Hanafin somehow manages to wangle her way onto the ballot again, because that will create complete chaos.

FF +1

IND -1

Galway East is yet another regular feature here, and once again the polling pendulum has swung back against Independents, putting Seán Canney at a disadvantage against Anne Rabbitee (FF). Earlier in the year the Sinn Féin seat here looked like a squeaker, but their robust polling in Connacht-Ulster is now showing they’re a bit ahead of the Canney/Rabbitte scrap. That said, I expect polls to continue to show these three bouncing around behind Fine Gael’s Ciarán Cannon, who should cruise home on current numbers. Currently modelling here assumes FG will run one candidate, but they may well be tempted to run two – in which case the entire thing becomes even more difficult to call.

LAB +1

FF -1

Yeah, I dunno about this one, man. I’ve flagged Kildare South a few times for being potentially interesting in the case that the Ceann Comhairle retires, but this is the first time I’m seeing something interesting regardless. Labour have been polling very strongly in Leinster of late (though B&A has them a good chalk up on Red C), and that’s reflected in the model now favouring, albeit incredibly narrowly, Mark Wall for the final seat.

Wall has contested this seat – occupied by his father for 19 years – twice and has been competitive, if not particularly close, in both those races. In 2016 his FPV wasn’t enough and in 2020, he got overwhelmed on transfers by Fiona O’Loughlin (FF) and eventually winner of the final seat, Cathal Berry (IND). With Independent numbers in Leinster looking very poor, the model indicates that Berry is set to struggle. This is another one of those ones where I think the model may be underestimating an Independent, but I have no basis for that other than my gut, so I will have to ignore it.

With SF and FG in position to easily hold seats, but nowhere near being able to run two candidates successfully, the final seat on current numbers is between FF and Labour, and Labour have the edge for the first time. If the CC retires, both should get in.

SF +1

FF -1

This remains another very close constituency that has only got closer as the year has gone on, with steady changes in Leinster for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin reflecting in an extremely tight race for two final seats. Simon Harris (FG) and John Brady (SF) will comfortably keep their seats. The Soc Dem’s Jen Whitmore, while quite a bit further back, has a huge edge on transfers, particularly with the Greens overwhelmingly likely to lose their seat.

As before, it’s Stephen Donnelly (FF) fighting with second candidates from FG and SF for those last two, and right now the momentum has swung back in SF’s direction, albeit by the finest of margins. This is going to be intensely competitive for a while yet, unless one of the competing parties sees a substantial increase or decrease in its support.

Before I get into the other constituencies of note, it’s worth pointing out that a number of the constituencies flagged for potential changes last month came true this month – maybe a coincidence, but maybe we are seeing a stabilising in the trends. The RPA certainly indicates the latter may be true.

  • Dublin Rathdown: Fianna Fáil are back in the mix here, and the model thinks they will now do better than Sinn Féin. The RPA has Catherine Martin (GP) looking vulnerable but in a much better spot than a few months ago. However, if RedC are right about the Green support levels in Dublin, she may be in much bigger trouble. The main challenge here for FF capitalising on this is the lack of a credible candidate – something they haven’t fielded in the area since Séamus Brennan died (remember when George Lee got elected on the first count in the subsequent by-election? This constituency has no right to criticise Kerry for the Healy-Raes).
  • Galway West: Nothing new here seat-wise, but with the current swings in Connacht-Ulster, the model thinks Aontú have a pretty good shot at outpolling the Green candidate (presumably Senator Pauline O’Reilly). Now, I don’t think that will actually manifest and is likely an artifact of small parties with low votes having more volatility, but it is also extremely funny, to me.
  • Sligo-Leitrim: I don’t know what Marc MacSharry’s departure does here. Independents are a challenge to model at the best of times, and I don’t really have a way at this stage of projecting this scenario. Whether he will take his vote with him or it will stay with Fianna Fáil remains to be seen. If he does run as an IND and splits that FF vote up, watch out for SF entering the running for a second seat.
  • Wexford: The second SF seat here is looking increasingly vulnerable – there’s scope for a second FF candidate, or less likely but still possible, a second FG candidate, to snipe it away from them. The Labour recovery in Leinster has likely made this one a lot tighter. One to watch.

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