February 2023 Projections Update

Seat totals

Sinn Féin 61
Fine Gael 37
Fianna Fáil 36
Independents 11
Social Democrats 5
PBP/Solidarity 4
Labour 3
Green Party 2
Aontú 1
R2C 0

Changes since January

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

Seat Map

First off, sincere apologies for how late this is, but circumstances conspired against me this month. Not that there’s much movement anyway, with only two seats changing projection under the model, and one of those is due to a retirement rather than any change in polling. I will discuss that retirement in the update below about Roscommon-Galway (or you can click on the link there to skip down to it).

There were four polls in February, as usual RedC and B&A had breakdowns, Ireland Thinks didn’t and IPSOS, after a few months of providing full data, reverted to only giving breakdowns for some parties. Thanks again, Irish Times, just absolutely stellar data presentation. There was also a poll that recently came out in March, also from Ireland Thinks. It’s not included in anything this month, but it is interesting so I’ll touch on it a bit below.

Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of note in February so this update will overall be brief, so that means you get to read my extremely good and definitely never wrong brain thoughts about politics in general rather than more grounded analysis, so have fun with that.

However, before I transform into a liberal opinion columnist and start predicting a 40 seat majority for the Soc Dems because I saw the face of Holly Cairns in a slice of toast, there is one very real and important thing to note – the slight trend away from Sinn Féin continues to happen, albeit still slowly. Three of the four polls had SF at their lowest or joint-lowest in a very long time, and the March IT poll has them at their lowest score with any pollster since September 2021 (although that poll was weird, more on that below).

Overall, SF are still comfortably ahead, but this trend is very real, and their strategy, which currently seems to be pitching hard to Fianna Fáil voters, should be questioned. The main comfort for SF is that Fine Gael are also ticking downwards following their small bump.

Nobody right now seems to be able to consolidate beyond the narrow range they’ve been settled into for the last year or so, trends seem to form and then revert as everything goes back to chaos for whoever ends up trying to put together a government on these numbers. Perhaps the upcoming constituency redraw and additional seats (due in July) will give some clarity, but I doubt it.

A couple of brief thoughts to follow, but if you would prefer to skip straight to the seat changes, click here.

Ireland Thinks poll and the Social Democrats

So, yeah, as I said above, the Soc Dems are going to get a 40 seat majority because I saw the face of Holly Cairns in a slice of toast. I joke, of course, but some of the coverage in the media coverage recently has been at about that level.

Okay, let’s roll back a little. The SD’s veteran co-leaders, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy, stepped aside. Eschewing the tradition of self-immolation-via-leadership-contest that plagues so many parties, Cork South-West TD Holly Cairns was selected unopposed as their new leader. Given the options available I think this is the right choice for a party that has been stuck in a rut for a while and struggling to carve out space and an identity. It may not work, but of all their options she is clearly the most suited to what I believe their strategy is, though there are valid questions about how vulnerable her seat could prove to be.

Given how many own goals we’ve seen scored in recent leadership contests, this is positive, as in my view, Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens all made very backward-looking choices in their most recent ones (Cue Senator Róisín Garvey bursting through the wall like the Kool-Aid man screaming “I told you so!“)

Very shortly afterwards, Ireland Thinks published a poll that had the Soc Dems at 9% nationally, their highest polling ever by an absolute mile. While we don’t have many breakdowns, they did publish the age group breakdown, which shows significantly increased support in all age demographics. Cairns also scored the second highest positive approval of any party leader, and the media frenzy began.

This kind of polling bump from a leadership change is quite unusual, and once again a lot of people forgot that this is just one poll. The other polls that come out during March will tell us if this is just a coincidentally timed outlier, or the start of something truly remarkable.

My instinct is that *everything* is a coincidentally timed outlier, and this should be treated as such until there’s sufficient corroboration from other polls. Then again, my instincts also told me to go to Chicken Hut three times in two days the last time I was down in Limerick, so…

March madness

I’m not sure this will have much of an immediate effect on polling – scandals, gaffes and singular acts of bad policy rarely do – but it really does feel like this month is off to an incredible start in terms of politicians and parties losing their goddamn minds. The ending of the eviction ban has been something of a PR disaster for the government, as well as being just a horrible decision that is going to ruin countless lives across the country.

Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien, the housing minister, came out to tell us that evicting people into homelessness is good, actually. Fine Gael Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who never misses a chance to defend his class interests, decided to take the opportunity to reveal that he too is a landlord. Eamon Ryan went along with it without any kind of objection, and now the Greens are doing what they do best – having a massive public infighting session in broadcast, print and social media.

Speaking of PR mis-steps, PBP, did what I think is a very thing of pressuring Sinn Féin and the other left-wing parties (depending on your definition of left wing) into committing to forming a left-wing government and not forming a future coalition with FF or FG. However, this was followed up by the release of a pamphlet, part of which is outlining the future challenges for a left-wing government. Reasonable enough!

Unfortunately, the pamphlet costs money so I suspect far less people will end up reading it than will have read the Irish Independent’s review, which naturally glosses over the more sensible parts and focuses in on some of the sillier and more hyperbolic elements. Control of the narrative was instantly lost, with most of the discussion I saw being about coups, Pinochet and other guff rather than the parts that would resonate more. At least the Indo proved their point about how the media treats left-wing parties!

Oh and one more thing – as if Eamon Ryan sending his party into another toxic, self-destructive bunfight (which nobody will actually have the guts to resign over, or even vote against the government on) wasn’t enough, he also decided for no clear reason to come out strongly against free public transport. Not just saying we need to do it along with building capacity, not just saying it was too expensive, but actively saying it was bad because people will get on the train for the craic and those feckless freeloaders would be better off walking. The EY report that supports this claim is questionable at best, but the entire premise is not particularly green and takes a very limited view of what public transport is and can be.

But say what you will about Eamon, he is a great uniter, and it was proven again as all of social media across the political spectrum put aside their differences, came together and spent the day thoroughly fustigating him.

Anyway, the Luas is already free so I just have to assume Eamon hates buses.

Some other small polling things

Just a few small notes here. Some issue polling by RedC on the question of Ireland’s drug laws revealed broadly permissive attitudes and reveals yet another area where the public seem to be far, far ahead of politicians. The upcoming Citizen’s Assembly now looks more like a way to delay action more than anything else, especially given the choice of chair, who announced his appointment by basically saying that drugs are bad and he hates them.

The same poll also revealed that a majority of people want neither Bertie Ahern or Gerry Adams to be the next President, which should come as a surprise to everyone except for the one shameless contrarian who has decided to try to rehabilitate Bertie to be edgy or something.

Finally, a note on the leadership approval poll I mentioned in the section on the Soc Dems – Eamon Ryan’s positive approval is just 22%, lower than Peadar Tóibín’s. And Tóibin is himself really quite unpopular, with just 29% positive approval. While leadership ratings generally mean quite little, this is still a really bad look for the Greens. I mean, I have all the same problems you do with Eamon, if not more, but honestly him being less well regarded than a reactionary charisma vacuum like the Aontú leader feels harsh.

Seat Changes

As mentioned above, there are two changes – one due to Denis Naughten announcing his retirement, and the other due to Sinn Féin’s recent drop-off in polling.

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 2023’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.

AON +1

SF -1

With Sinn Féin’s numbers continuing to tick down, we’ve seen an impact in a couple of more marginal calls and Meath West is the latest, with the model now seeing Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín as favoured to hold his seat, although it remains fairly close, with Fianna Fáil also potentially very much in the mix. Tóibín was less popular once he left Sinn Féin but still benefitted nicely in 2020 from their transfers, as well as a big chunk from the Greens and Social Democrats. It remains to be seen if that will still be the case with some of the positions Aontú has staked, but as we know, policy is less of a factor in transfers than some people like to think it is.

I’ve spoke before about the trouble with polling Aontú – outside of this constituency, their support across Leinster is very limited, effectively making them as hard if not more so to project than Independents, so I am inclined to think the model is underestimating Tóibín anyway as it’s not clear how much the regional trends will end up affecting him (though I believe it is broadly correct that Aontú will struggle to add more seats).

FF +1

IND -1

This is a bit of an odd one. Denis Naughten (IND) has announced that he won’t be contesting the next election, and thus his seat is gone. The question of course is who would benefit from this – and the instinctive response would be Fine Gael. Naughten was a member of the party from 1997 until 2011, before losing the whip. Following this, he joined the Reform Alliance political group, but was smart enough to get out before it turned into the gigantic clusterfuck that was Renua. As an Independent he propped up Enda Kenny’s minority government and was rewarded with a ministry until he was caught up in a corruption scandal.

As you can see, despite being an Independent, the Fine Gael history is strong. So why does the model think this seat will go to Fianna Fáil? There’s two reasons. Firstly, based on polling, FF are likely going to be stronger than FG here, as they were in 2016 and 2020. Secondly, looking at where Naughten’s transfers have historically gone during his time as an Independent, they have tended to go more to FF than to FG?

And now the reasons why this could be wrong: FF have been stronger than FG in Roscommon-Galway, but is that the natural state of things or is it because Naughten took up votes that otherwise might have gone to FG? The transfer numbers are from 2016, transfers are not a reliable metric at the best of times and even less so from this long ago. Will geography end up being a factor depending on who each party runs? Or will another Independent emerge from somewhere like Michael Fitzmaurice did?

This is definitely a case that pushes up against the limitations of the model, and this is certainly a projection that could end up being wildly wrong; there are a lot of obfuscatory factors. However, absent a better way of doing it, and as picking what I personally think might happen would defeat the entire point of this experiment, it goes into the FF column.

Other notes

  • Nothing else really notable this month, very little change as polling has been static. If the rest of March’s polls follow that Ireland Thinks one though, there could be a lot here next month.

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