February 2022 Projections Update

Seat totals

Sinn Féin 63
Fianna Fáil 38
Fine Gael 37
Independents 8
Green Party 5
Social Democrats 3
PBP/Solidarity 3
Labour 2
Aontú 1
R2C 0

Changes since January

Sinn Féin nc
Fianna Fáil +4
Fine Gael -3
Independents nc
Green Party +2
Social Democrats -2
PBP/Solidarity nc
Labour -1
Aontú nc
R2C nc

Seat Map

Seems we are in a pattern with the polls coming out monthly, with Ireland Thinks (with no breakdowns), RedC and B&A again for February. As usual, there’s no great shock to focus on, just a steady continuation of the trends we’ve been seeing overall. That said, there are some interesting things in the breakdowns – RedC in particular had some wild stuff this month, including PBP on 4% in Connacht-Ulster and Aontú on 5% in Leinster. Both of these are pretty clear outliers, but little things like this are expected when you have very geographically concentrated areas of support for small parties.

Let’s get the big thing out of the way – for the first time, the model is showing Fianna Fáil ahead of Fine Gael in terms of likely seats. I do believe there are some odd things in the model that aren’t quite correct and will average out as we move forward (for example, Mayo, which I will discuss below). There’s also the inevitable problem of the gap between B&A and RedC on Fianna Fáil – if either is right, we will see radically different outcomes to this model, which at the moment effectively splits the difference between the two.

I also think I need to take some time to look at the transfer modelling again. It’s always been a bit of a dark art as it’s data deficient in many ways, but I think there’s scope to improve it.

Other than that, although there is a lot of change this month, it’s mostly a result of a number of underlying trends emerging at once rather than any sea change; its coincidence all of this is happening at once. Some of these may end up regressing towards the mean as well, particularly in terms of the Soc Dems and Labour. Others, like the Green Party’s improvement in Dublin, are well established tends that were inevitably going to cause changes to the projections as they continued.

There are a few additional areas I’m going to cover below, but if you would prefer to skip straight to the seat changes , click here.

It Isn’t as Bad as it Looks for Soc Dems & Labour

The model is pretty grim this month for the SDs and Labour. It’s not been a great period of polling overall for Labour, and the SDs are failing to make consistent headway against other small left-wing parties in general. But there is cause for hope – both parties were on 7% in Dublin in the RedC poll. While both have been in and around this area at times, this is a combined high and the first time I believe a poll has had both up there simultaneously.

If RedC are accurately gauging their support, their task of holding their seats in the capital becomes a lot easier; indeed at 7%, Labour would potentially become competitive in a number of Dublin seats where they don’t hold have TDs currently. And while the Soc Dems don’t have anywhere immediately obvious that they could break through, 7% would mean holding all of their current seats in the city comfortably. With that said, it must be noted here that B&A have the SDs much lower – 2%.

Finally, as I have mentioned before, small parties’ seats tend to be much more sensitive to small fluctuations. So I expect this will flatten out over the next while – though I also expect both parties to continue to swap the final seat in Dublin Bay North back-and-forth.

Will Labour’s Leadership Change Change Anything?

Speaking of Labour, just this week, Alan Kelly resigned as leader of the party under somewhat confusing cirumstances. His fellow TDs scrambled to rule themselves out of running for a position that is something of a poisoned chalice, and right now it looks likely that we will have a coronation for Ivana Bacik. (Warning – the rest of this section isn’t based on data, it’s just my silly little thoughts.)

I don’t expect anything long-term to come from this. Bacik was deputy leader of the Seanad during Labour’s most recent disastrous stint in government, and this feels like both a step back into a past the party has been trying to distance itself from. Bacik is also struggled in TV debates, has massively conservative views on sex work, and was caught up in the Merrion scandal. I also feel that she would be taking a job that nobody else wants to touch right now, which is understandable. Labour has been spinning its wheels for years now, and increasing their seats will be an enormous ask.

One thing I’ve seen people saying is that this represents Labour’s final retreat from what remains of its working-class base and an embracing of the more liberal, suburban, middle-class side of its identity. I’m not sure about this – Labour’s support among the working-class and the middle-class is essentially identical. It may be an attempt to muscle the Greens out, but the Greens are only getting stronger in Dublin, and most of that support is liberal, middle-class and suburban, so it’s not clear that that’s a fight Labour can actually win.

Then again, I did not anticipate the support for Bacik in the DBS by-election, and she is beloved in the media and in mainstream NGOs. Then again, again, by-elections are weird, that by-election was especially weird (hi, Cllr. Geoghegan!), and Dublin Bay South is weird. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that I’m wrong about this – as I often am when I’m speculating – but I’m not changing anything until I see a good polling basis for doing so – otherwise that would quite undermine the point of this project.

Anyway, at time of writing, Bacik isn’t confirmed as leader yet, leaving open the ultimate comedy option where she also declines and since nobody else wants to do it, they have to re-appoint Kelly.

It Is as Bad as it Looks for Fine Gael

Whereas I’m not sure what we are seeing for the SDs and Labour is a trend, I am very sure of it for Fine Gael – and it doesn’t take any mathematical modelling to work that out. I know I mentioned this last month as well, but dropping behind Fianna Fáil in the projections is another bad sign.

FG have been on the slide for a while, and despite FF being nominally the leaders of the government, FG appear to be the ones catching most the flak – my personal perception is that they have made a concerted effort to centre themselves in everything that has backfired spectacularly. Obviously this trend won’t continue indefinitely; there will be a floor somewhere, but FG need to find a way to stop the bleeding at some point before that. To emphasise further, consider that they were in the lead in January 2021, and here has what happened to their support since when compared to FF and SF:

Brutal. While FG are still marginally ahead of FF, political geography doesn’t favour them when it comes to seats, and the race between them and SF stopped being a contest a while ago. Unless they turn things around, or at least stabilise, they’re going to be in serious trouble by the time an election rolls around.

Seat Changes

Quite a few changes this month; including both changes from last month reversing.

Clicking on the linked name for each constituency should jump to the relevant section of this page. Changes on this page indicate changes from January 2022’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.

LAB +1

SD -1

Sigh. Dublin Bay North continues to be volatile and will just not stop swapping the final seat. It is worth noting that overall there is some stabilisation – the Fianna Fáil seat looks safer than it ever has as their numbers continue to rise, and Sinn Féin’s chances for a second seat looks relatively secure. But the battle between Cian O’Callaghan (SD) and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (LAB) is still set up to be viciously close.

Both parties had a good RedC poll this month (at 7% in Dublin), but a bad showing in B&A (2%, versus Labour’s 5%) does enough to drop the SDs back into sixth place in this constituency. O’Callaghan gobbled up transfers in 2020 to overhaul Ó Ríordáin and Haughey (FF) to finish third, but the presence of a second Sinn Féin candidate may end up making that a lot harder next go-round. I’d suspect he’ll need to be closer on FPV, but unless something shifts radically, this isn’t going to be comfortable either way.

FF +1

FG -1

This is a sign of the problems for Fine Gael – Dublin Bay South will have been among their primary targets for a pick-up even before the by-election cost them a seat there, and they should have been targeting two. I pointed out last month that FF were threatening this, and it’s come to fruition this month. Their numbers continue to decline in Dublin, and with the Greens and Fianna Fáil recovering, they’re going to get squeezed, and only gaining one seat looks a lot more likely than two.

One wrinkle of course is that Ivana Bacik (LAB) remains somewhat unquantifiable. It looks very likely she’ll be a party leader heading into the next election, which could help her. On the otehr hand, it’s difficult to know how much stock to put in the by-election result as a signifier for a GE, especially since she’ll be competing with much, much stronger candidates from the Green Party and Fianna Fáil for middle-class votes (and Fine Gael would also hope for stronger candidates, but honestly, God knows).

But this is the exact kind of scenario the model struggles with, and as much as they might cap her support, she might also cap what Ryan (GP) and O’Callaghan (FF) can achieve. This could be extremely messy and close.

GP +1

SD -1

Another tough one this month for the Social Democrats. With the Greens and Fianna Fáil rising, and Sinn Féin all but guaranteed to take a second seat here, Gary Gannon could be on the outside looking in, with Neasa Hourigan (GP) now favoured to keep her seat. With that said, the distance between the SDs, Greens and FF is basically negligible, and this could swing right back with even a marginal shift in polling. Indeed, on current numbers, the final seat here is one of the closest in the country and looks to be settled by transfers – something that inherently carries a much higher margin of error when projected.

Who gets eliminated first will be key. If FF or the SDs are knocked out first, that would favour the Greens; if the Greens go first, that would favour the SDs – essentially making it quite difficult for FF to get ahead. The presence of a second Sinn Féin candidate is, however, a bit of a wildcard when it comes to transfers, so there’s still a lot of unknowns here.

GP +1

SF -1

The Green recovery in Dublin is real, and Dublin West is another area where they look increasingly competitive, now to the point where the model favours Roderic O’Gorman to hold his seat against a putative second Sinn Féin candidate. This is always a very competitive constituency, but if the current Green trends continue, it could end up being comfortable for them. With that said I’m not sure that the Greens aren’t approaching their ceiling in Dublin, so I expect this will end up being very competitive and I expect the swinging back-and-forth on the last seat to continue.

FF +1

IND -1

Not a lot new to note here, but the patterns and fluctuations we have seen thus far in Laois-Offaly continue, this time vaulting Fianna Fáil back ahead of Independent Carol Nolan for the final seat. Independent polling has been rough in Leinster for a while now, but it remains harder to allocate than party support as the variation between constituencies is wild. It’s also worth mentioning, of course, that this constituency had some other Independents pick up a relatively high level of support in 2020; it’s hard to know where that will go, and that could end up being a potentially deciding factor here.

FF +1

LAB -1

Fianna Fáil continue to gain here, and with Labour’s Leinster surge from last year regressing to the mean, they move ahead of Ged Nash in terms of likelihood for a seat here. Nash is one of many vulnerable Labour incumbents, so it will be very interesting to see how the leadership change affects polling here, and if he may end up regretting not challenging for leadership.

FF have been quietly building steam for a while across pretty much the whole country, and if this continues I expect to see them move ahead a few more seats like this, but if they run an overambitious candidate strategy like they did in 2020, these seats aren’t secure. Indeed, Louth is a good example of a place where running two again would be very, very ill advised, unless their numbers improve a fair bit more.

SF +1

FG -1

Okay, yeah, I know. This looks wrong. This probably is wrong. Bear with me.

First, to make it very clear: I don’t think the model is right here, I don’t think SF will take two seats in Mayo and FG only win one. I don’t think it will never happen, but I don’t think we are at that level yet. But I’ve been consistent in not adjusting the model outputs simply because I disagree with them, as then I might as well just guess what I think is right, and that would be more wrong. But this is a good illustration of the challenges for the model. So I’m going to talk about that rather than the result, which I think is a fluctuation that will self-correct.

Because we only have provincial level polling, and not constituency level, it creates challenges in outlier areas because swing is applied consistently across all constituencies in a province. Mayo is substantially more Fine Gael than most places in Connacht-Ulster, so the swing there is probably less than in, say, Donegal. But we don’t have data to put a number to that feeling, so we have to proceed, and the model will occasionally throw up weird results like this. There’s maybe something to look at here, but I’m not sure how to account for it. It’s absolutely a good indication though of why pure data will never be 100% accurate!

IND +1

LAB -1

Yep, Tipperary again. A very strong showing for Independents in Munster in the Red C poll (the highest since June 2021) contributes to McGrath moving back ahead of Kelly (LAB) in what is still a close race with a lot of confounding factors that I have at this point discussed to death.

However, things might be about to get more straightfoward if Kelly decides to pack it in after being removed as Labour leader, and there’s a distinct possibility that he will be done with politics by the next election. If so, the final seat here really stops being in question.

FF +1

FG -1

Still waiting for that third Sinn Féin seat to disappear, but the first change in Waterford is different – Fine Gael dropping another seat to Fianna Fáil. Or, I suppose more accurately, FF now being favoured to hold a seat that FG looked like they would win from them. This is again a worrying sign for FG, Waterford is a clear pick-up target where they should have won a seat in 2020 but made a mess of their candidate strategy in the constituency.

The one other thing to look out for is the upward trending Independent numbers in Munster. If that continues to tick on, Matt Shanahan could re-enter the conversation. He’s a good way off at the moment, and 2020 was strange as the field behind Cullinane (SF) was extremely fractured. But there’s no guarantee this one won’t be another mess by the time an election rolls around, so the door is not completely closed for him.

Other notes

  • Clare: I’m not sure what happens in the aftermath of Violet-Anne Wynne’s resignation from Sinn Féin; I don’t know if she runs again as an Independent, and if she does I’m not sure what impact it has. My gut is that it would be less impactful than MacSharry doing so in Sligo-Leitrim, as she is less well established, but either way, this is an ugly situation that adds a lot of uncertainty to what will happen in Clare.
  • Cork North-West: Just an interesting note on this – back when I started this model, if Fianna Fáil ran two candidates, they would likely manage a configuration of votes where they would win zero seats, if Fine Gael also had two candidates. In a testament to how the parties’ fortunes are going in opposite directions, FG are now in the exact same situation.

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