Current TDs: 2 SF, 1 FG, 1 FF, 1 IND
Projection: 3 SF, 1 FF, 1 IND
This finally feels right. While it’s not directly related to Joe McHugh’s retirement – something the model can’t account for – I suspect that might be fatal for Fine Gael here. Thomas Pringle (IND) moves back to being narrowly favoured to hold his seat among a strong polling month for Independents.
I have had Pringle ahead once before, but that didn’t feel quite right, but I think his odds of holding his seat increase significantly in a situation where he is competing with a random Fine Gael Councillor rather than the well-established McHugh.
Of course I fully expect that Donegal will not exist as a single constituency once the commission is done, as the population is now at a level where being split into two three-seaters makes sense – which I imagine Sinn Féin will only be delighted about.
Great news for Fine Gael, as it now look like they’re going to hold onto the seat in Donegal, let’s check in on incumbent TD Joe McHugh to get his reaction to this positive developm– oh shit.
So, while Fine Gael are generically favoured for the last seat, McHugh’s retirement makes this much harder to project. On the plus side, they have a good bit of time to find a replacement, and a pool of five county councillors to choose from as a successor. On the negative side, McHugh was well established and managed to hold his seat in 2020 despite a significant contraction in the FG vote in the constituency, and their only sitting councillor with GE experience, Martin Harley, did not exactly do well as McHugh’s running-mate.
So the seat is still a possibility for them, albeit a more challenging one than the provincial poll numbers – and thus the model – might indicate. If Fine Gael do underperform without McHugh, the most obvious potential beneficiary is of course Thomas Pringle (IND) but Fianna Fáil could well try to sneak in a second candidate.
Of course the real comedy option would be Sinn Féin running four candidates, which would probably backfire horribly, but if it worked, would be an immense power move.
Before this month, Donegal hasn’t changed since I started doing these projections, but I’ve mentioned prior that Thomas Pringle (IND) has been creeping closer and closer to those ahead of him, and now it reckons he holds the edge over Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh, though there’s quite a few factors here that make this fuzzy.
Firstly, there’s the ongoing fallout of the mica scandal and the failure of the government to address it. This will doubtlessly impact Fine Gael, but Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue has also come in for a lot of criticism over it, and while the model has him holding his seat with a high degree of probability, this is exactly the kind of constituency nuance that a model based on provincial level data could very easily miss.
Secondly, the model assumes Sinn Féin running three and getting three. They probably could have pulled this off in 2020 at Pringle’s expense, but running an effective vote-split strategy with three candidates is not easy, and how that happens and how their surpluses break down is tricky to say with great certainty.
Thirdly, there’s a massive discrepancy between Red C and B&A on how Fianna Fáil are doing in Connacht-Ulster; while the model smooths this out, if either one is correct, it will significantly change the dynamic for them and for the candidates around them.
There’s also, of course, the possibility that the mica scandal itself breeds another candidate to run on that issue. At that point, all bets are off.
Sinn Féin are in comfortable three quotas territory in Donegal. In fact, they’re a couple of percentage points away from having a valid argument for running four candidates (note: this is almost always a bad idea and nobody should ever do it, no matter what the polls say). They have two strong incumbents, so even if a less-established third candidate lags behind on FPV, the surplus transfer should get them home with relatively little fuss.
Similar to how SF gobbling up FPV is putting the squeeze on smaller left-wing parties elsewhere, in Donegal it is most likely to negatively impact left-wing Independent Thomas Pringle. Pringle’s FPV seemed close to its floor in 2020, but the polling environment has got even less independent-friendly since then. If SF only run two, their surplus transfers do give Pringle a path to the final seat, but it’s a narrow one and he’d be in an absolute dogfight with a second FG and a second FF candidate. If SF run three, his chances of keeping his seat appear to evaporate almost entirely.
McHugh and McConalogue from FG and FF look pretty safe, and both do still have a longshot to drag in a second candidate if SF only run two, or run three and mess up the vote split. It would be very close between a second FG and FF if this did happen, with the model giving FG a slight edge, notwithstanding the earlier pathway for Pringle. However, as of now, 3 SF looks overwhelmingly likely.