December 2021 Projections Update

Seat totals

Sinn Féin 63
Fine Gael 40
Fianna Fáil 35
Independents 8
Social Democrats 5
Green Party 3
PBP/Solidarity 3
Labour 2
Aontú 1
R2C 0

Changes since November

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

Seat Map

Three polls this month, one from each of B&A and IPSOS/MRBI with regional breakdowns, and one from Ireland Thinks without. No RedC this month, which is probably of benefit to Fianna Fáil. It’s also worth noting that IPSOS have Fianna Fáil tied with Fine Gael, and B&A actually have FF ahead of FG. Ireland Thinks has Fine Gael ahead, but the overall trend is what we have been seeing for the last while – FG sliding down closer and closer to a slowly recovering FF, to the point where a gap that was once 15% is now down to less than 3.5 points.

If this trend continues, FF will overtake FG at some point in the new year; the impact this will have on the function and stability of the coalition government will be interesting to see indeed. A year ago we were speculating that if Fine Gael wanted to cut and run, they would be in a strong position to do so. Now that onus may be on Fianna Fáil. Also, shout out to Martin McMahon over at the Tortoise Shack for being the first person to predict this very early last year, a fact I was delighted to be able to remind him in person a couple of weeks ago.

Overall, December has been a “trends continue” month elsewhere – Sinn Féin continue to stretch their lead and have demonstrated that recent numbers in Dublin are not an outlier. With Fine Gael support declining, they have opened a significant lead in the capital, even ticking slightly ahead of their GE20 numbers. That last part is important, as SF have consistently struggled to do in Dublin so even with FG on the downslide.

Smaller parties remain relatively steady – or stagnant, depending on your point of view – although there has been a noted decline for the Soc Dems, but small numbers and margins of error are very much cautionary factors in this. It’s also worth noting that Aontú’s friendliest pollster, Ireland Thinks, have consistently had them at 3%, after consistently having them at 4% for a very long time. The prior caveats apply here too, of course, but they still appear to be struggling to make a breakthrough.

All of this ultimately reflects in a very small number of seat changes (three in total). There’s not much else interesting to discuss other than Eamon Ryan setting new records lows for a party leader approval rating, yet still being on course to keep his seat. So, accordingly, I am going to engage in the worst end-of-year tradition of Irish political analysis and give out some pointless “awards”. Rather than declaring ministers or TDs to have done a good job however, I’m going to try to keep it somewhat relevant to the purpose of this website and talk about constituencies and polling.

If you would prefer to skip straight to the seat changes (and I do not blame you if you do!), click here.

Irish Election Projections’ Meaningless Political Awards 2021

Most Stable Constituency

There’s a good few candidates for this – Limerick City, Limerick County and Cork North-Central have all been showing the same result since the initial modelling in January. However, they all indicate a likely seat change, with projected losses for the Greens, and Independent and Solidarity, respectively.

There is, however, one constituency that is projected to return all its incumbent TDs and has not changed since the first set of projections – Kildare North. Nobody currently has the numbers to make a breakthrough here in an constituency that is is relatively evenly split between the SDs, SF, FG and FF. If an optimal candidate strategy is pursued by all four parties (i.e. they run one candidate each), this could be settled in two or three counts.

However, never underestimate the ability of certain parties – chiefly FF – to run completely the wrong number of candidates. Both them and Fine Gael will struggle to pursue an optimal candidate strategy everywhere and meet gender quota requirements. So nothing is 100% for certain, but right now, Kildare North is as certain as it gets.

Least Stable Constituency

Cork South-West, Dublin North-West and Clare are all strong contenders here, and have seen the final seat change multiple times – as anyone who follows the site consistently will know from how regularly they feature here.

But ultimately, despite their final seat chaos, they can’t compete with Dublin Bay North, a five-seater where three of the seats are pretty insecure and the model has changed projection on what feels like a hundred times. Those three seats will be contested by potentially five viable candidates – Fianna Fáil, the Soc Dems, Labour and second candidates from Sinn Féin and Fine Gael; any configuration is possible at this stage and the gaps between them are fairly tight, especially if SF and FG can nail their vote split.

Safest Seat

You thought this would be Mary Lou McDonald, didn’t you? She’s definitely got a strong case. So does her Sinn Féin colleagues David Cullinane in Waterford and Imelda Munster in Louth. But among many locks nationally – mostly from Sinn Féin, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have a good few too – the lockiest of all is another colleage of McDonald’s, Pearse Doherty in Donegal.

Sinn Féin are flying in Connacht-Ulster, ahead of their polling in any other region, and Donegal was already their strongest constituency. Doherty himself is one of Sinn Féin’s highest profile operators along with McDonald and Eoin Ó Broin, and even justified criticism from the left over his stance on the corporate tax rate doesn’t seem to have knocked any of the shine off.

Modelling shows that SF can bring home three candidates here, and Doherty will lead that ticket. Combine that with factors the polling can’t consider such as the mica scandal and failure to deliver on public transport in the county, and his, right now, is the most secure seat in the country.

Polling Comeback

While the aforementioned example was someone who has been in a consistently dominant position off the back of their party’s polling for several election cycles now, we are going to look at a few candidates whose hopes of holding their seat looked dead and buried at one point or another this year, but have ridden the polls to a place where they look like they can hold on. To me there’s two very clear candidates.

The first is Catherine Martin (GP), who at one point looked like she wasn’t just going to finish behind Fianna Fáil, but also behind Sinn Féin, a huge upset in a place like Dublin Rathdown. However the Greens’ fortunes have reversed in Dublin over the last while, and now – depending on how many candidates Fine Gael run – she’s a potential poll-topper, albeit with a much reduced vote from 2020. However, this constituency is shaping up to have a very tight top five, and her position is still wobbly. It wouldn’t take much movement towards Fianna Fáil to see her struggling again.

With that in mind, I think the most impressive resurrection of the year has to go to Ged Nash (LAB) in Louth. It difficult to overstate just how over it looked for him at one stage, but a turnabout in Labour’s fortunes in Leinster make his outlook a lot more rosy. It’s still going to be a very tough fight between Nash, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Independent Peter Fitzpatrick for the seats behind Sinn Féin, but he’s in relatively great shape for someone who was, earlier in the year, looking like he would struggle to finish ahead of a Green Party candidate.

Hardest Constituency to Model

There are two constituencies that are so complicated they need their own side-sheets to model out, so it’s going to be one of those. Galway West was, once given its own slot, straightforward enough, which leaves Tipperary. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to Cashel and Cahir and Cloughjordan and it’s a beautiful, friendly county but my God after the year I have had trying to work out what will happen, I yearn to be free from having to think about the politics of the county!

Tipperary is a very difficult combination of extremely competitive, full of strong independents (which the model struggles with at the best of times) and extremely geographically divided. While every constituency has the latter issue to an extent, it is extremely pronounced here, perhaps because it was until relatively recently split in two; not just for national elections, but until 2014 it had two County Councils and even separate areas for car registration. However, even within the North/South divide, votes are polarised by geography far more than ideology, and while this is scarcely unique, there probably isn’t a constituency in Ireland where it is so pronounced, and that’s not even considering how unpredictable it can make transfers.

This makes things like the retirement of Séamus Healy extremely difficult to factor in when it comes to working out where his votes go. There’s a lot of speculative measurement of transfers and so on, so it wouldn’t suprise me if the model is off on Tipp. And, speaking of…

Constituency the Model is Almost Definitely Going to Get Wrong

It’s not Tipperary, even given the circumstances above! It’s not even Kerry, where the model doesn’t really know what to do with Danny-Healy Rae. If I were doing this a couple of months ago it would have been one of those two, but recent events have pushed Sligo-Leitrim forward as fundamentally unprojectable.

Marc MacSharry’s resignation from Fianna Fáil throws all the polling data points out the window. If he runs again as and Independent, the impact this will have on both FF and other IND candidates is a complete unknown, and even if he doesn’t, it’s unclear what effect it would have on FF’s support. We don’t even have transfer data to speculate with, as the vast majority of FF votes were not distributed in 2020, and none of MacSharry’s specifically. God knows what this will look like by the time an election rolls around.

Cyprian Brady Thing that Makes No Sense but Might Actually Happen Memorial Award

I’m not even going to pretend there’s a contest here, three Sinn Féin TDs in Waterford has been weird since day one, is weird now and will continue to be weird because it is what the numbers say is most likely – and I know there’s no mistake here, I’ve gone over it a million times precisely because it doesn’t make any sense. But it is mathematically correct, within the limitations of what the model can do, at least.

Anyway enough of that nonsense, on to the stuff that matters (insofar as anything matters)!

Seat Changes

Clicking on the linked name for each constituency should jump to the relevant section of this page. Changes on this page indicate changes from November’s projections; changes on constituency pages indicate changes from current composition.

Note: 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

Dublin North-West features yet another change, but to a completely new configuration, joining Roscommon-Galway as one of the two constituencies where the model reckons the government won’t return a single TD. The movement up of Sinn Féin and down of Fine Gael has created a new possibility of SF returning two TDs and Social Democrat Róisín Shortall keeping her seat.

It might seem odd, but it was only in 2011 that DNW returned no government TDs, electing current incumbents Shortall and Ellis (SF) along with another Labour TD. Since then the constituency lost parts of Drumcondra, which would have been more Fine Gael-leaning than the area as a whole, so this outcome is certainly a plausible one that gets more and more likely if current polling trends in Dublin endure.

SF +1

GP -1

Final seat changing hands here again, this time going back to Sinn Féin at the expense of the Green Party as their numbers rise in Dublin, but this is still really close, with PBP/Solidarity not out of it either. There’s a lot that will come down to transfers and elimination order. Overall not a lot has changed in the analysis since September, although this is the third projection change since then – it’s a matter of fluctuation along fine margins, though if SF’s upward trajectory continues we could see a firming up here.

FF +1

FG -1

This is a new one – the first time we’ve seen a change in Longford-Westmeath. Fine Gael are struggling in Leinster right now – Sinn Féin are nearly 13% clear of them and Fianna Fáil are barely 2.5% behind. This should have been a real target pickup for FG and now it looks to be slipping away. Indeed, FG, FF and SF support in the constituency are likely within a few percentage points of eachother, so while for now the final seat is back with the FF incumbent, it’s far from certain. When things are this tight, factors like geography, candidate numbers and vote splits have a potentially outsize role to play.

It is worth bearing in mind however that there’s a substantial wildcard in play in the form of former TD Kevin “Boxer” Moran (IND). It’s not that I think he’ll get his seat back – that would be very, very difficult on current numbers – but rather if he doesn’t run again, where would his votes go? We haven’t seen Boxer’s votes transfer since 2011 – and then they broke roughly 61% FG, 25% SF and 14% FF.

But it’s impossible to estimate the impact of things like geography, or the fact that SF are much stronger now than in 2011, or that his votes in 2011 could only go to those three parties because of the elimination order. If he doesn’t run again, it’ll be really interesting to see the impact.

Other notes

  • Dublin Central: Another seat in Dublin where the Greens are looking more competitive, particularly after a rough month of polling for the Soc Dems. Eight of the Greens current 12 TDs are in Dublin, and while the current model shows only three keeping their seats, this is another one where they will potentially be competitive.
  • Dublin Mid-West: This one could also be interesting – Fianna Fáil are quite vulnerable here in spite of their recent uptick in Dublin; Gino Kenny (PBP) is quite close the final seat, but a lot of that will come down to what Sinn Féin opt to do. Three Sinn Féin candidates is a plausible strategy and has an outside chance of being viable.
  • Tipperary: No movement here, but this is the closest I have had Alan Kelly to keeping his seat in a while. Of course, as discussed, this is a very hard one to model, so let’s see. Mattie McGrath is currently the most vulnerable on the basis of polls, but again, the model may be underestimating independents.

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