The unofficial Constituency Commission Report

On Thursday, the CSO revealed Ireland’s new population of 4,757,976 and a new population per TD of 30,114 – just above the constitutional limit of 30,000. It means we need to increase the number of TDs.

There are currently 158 TDs, down from 166 in the last Dáil. This was a response to the economic crisis. Fine Gael promised a reduction at the 2011 election and implemented it in government. It did so by pushing the constitutional boundary, and now that the population has risen, we find ourselves outside it.


The Constituency Commission

On Thursday evening, Minister Simon Coveney established a Constituency Commission to examine the new population data, determine the optimal number of TDs and re-draw boundaries to effect this change. The Commission is chaired by a Judge and has four other members. It will take submissions from the public over the coming months and report its findings. The Dáil must then enact the new boundaries.


The terms of reference of the Commission are worth noting:

  • It can only set a number of TDs between 153 and 160. Since 158 is in breach of the constitutional limits, a Dáil of 159 or 160 seats must be chosen. I assume 160. An even number is often chosen to avoid use of the Ceann Comhairle’s casting vote.
  • It is asked not to breach county boundaries when re-drawing. This is never always followed.

It is also apparent that the Commission attempts to keep the variance in population per TD between +/-5%. It therefore ensures that no constituency is over/under-represented compared to the national average.



The CSO has determined the population per TD in each constituency as follows:

existing cons pop


25 of 40 constituencies breach the constitutional 30,000 limit, however this isn’t relevant. The last Commission created a number of “breach” constituencies, but the overall national total was under 30,000.

We can see from the table that the North Dublin constituencies of Central and North West are most under-represented. It is therefore likely the Commission will recommend one extra seat in this region. It is also apparent that the Kildare-Laois region is under-represented. This is closely followed by South Dublin, and the North West border constituencies.


160-seat Dáil

As mentioned, I assume the Commission goes for the maximum increase and adds two TDs. The national population per TD therefore falls to 29,737. The two regions receiving TDs in this exercise will be North Dublin and the Kildare-Laois area.

Note: In the below analysis I refer to “DEDs”. These are the smallest level region and should be thought of as the “building blocks” of constituencies. They also piece together to form LEAs which are used for local elections. It is ideal for LEA and constituency boundaries to align.

Note: The below analysis is one of countless options for boundary change. The Commission will inevitably make slightly different changes.

Note: Apologies for the large map file sizes below. If some don’t appear, just click on the thumbnail to view them.


Constituencies with no change

The following constituencies see no change.

cons no chnge


North Dublin


  • Dublin Fingal loses area on its southern border. Specifically:
    • Balgriffin DED moves into Dublin Bay North; and
    • Dubber and Airport DEDs move into Dublin North West.
  • Dublin Bay North loses Drumcondra South A and Clontarf West E to Dublin North West.
  • Dublin West loses Phoenix Park and Ashtown B to Dublin Central.
  • Dublin Central loses Cabra East A, Cabra West A, Cabra West B and Drumcondra South B to Dublin North West.
  • Dublin North West becomes a 4-seat constituency, having gained the above-mentioned DEDs.

This is one available option for North Dublin. One less DED can move from Central to North West while maintaining fair representation. Alternatively, Dublin Central could receive extra land and gain a seat instead of North West. A more radical solution would give four seats each to Central, North West and Bay North.


South Dublin


This is a re-balancing to avoid under-representation in Dublin Rathdown:

  • Stillorgan-Leopardstown and Foxrock-Torquay move from DL to DR; and
  • Clonskeagh-Belfield and Stillorgan-Mount Merrion move from DR to DL.

A swap can also be done with Dublin South West although it is preferable not to breach the DLR county boundary. DL and DR were encompassed within this boundary at the last boundary review. There are other ways to re-balance between DL and DR however this appears to be the optimal solution.


Kildare-Laois area


  • Tipperary: The following DEDs move out of Tipperary to allow for the Kildare-Laois changes:
    • Roscrea;
    • Rathnaveoge;
    • Timoney;
    • Bourney West; and
    • Bourney East.
  • Laois-Offaly: This is a new 5-seat constituency. A constituency of the same name existed prior to the 2012. Its boundary includes:
    • The above mentioned DEDs from Tipperary;
    • The existing Offaly constituency;
    • County Laois (ex-Portlaoise and areas to its east, south of Emo).
  • Kildare Laois: This is a new 4-seat constituency. It is an extension of the existing 3-seat Kildare South. Its boundary includes:
    • County Laois (those areas not included in Laois-Offaly above);
    • County Kildare – Athy LEA; and
    • County Kildare – Kildare-Newbridge LEA (excluding the DEDs of Rathangan, Killinthomas, Lullymore, Cloncurry, Kilmeage North, Kilmeage South and Robertstown)
  • Kildare North: Now 5-seats, encompassing those parts of County Kildare not in Kildare-Laois.

The extra seat here pushes some constituencies towards over-representation. While this is regrettable, further constituencies would need to be involved to rectify this, leading to the breach of county lines in either Kilkenny, Wicklow, Meath or Westmeath. Alternatively, the Commission may opt to keep Offally as is, and just modify boundaries between Tipperary, Laois and Kildare.




I move the Ballybricken DED from City to County. Without this change, Limerick County is over-represented.


Galway area


  • DEDs south of Ballinasloe (all within the Ballinasloe LEA) move from Galway East to Roscommon-Galway. Alternatively, more northerly DEDs could move.
  • DEDs east of Oranmore and Claregalway move from Galway West to Galway East. Alternatively, DEDs near the Mayo border could move.
  • DEDs south of (and including) Gort move from Galway East to Clare. Alternatively, DEDs nearer to Portumna could move.


Cork area (optional)


Cork East and Cork South Central require no adjustment.

The remaining Cork constituencies also require no adjustment, however North-Central and South-West are nearly at the 5% over/under-representation limit. It is prudent to rectify this:

  • Teadies, Templemartin, Brinny, Ballymurphy and Knockavilly DEDs move from North-West to South-West.
  • Gowlane, Dripsey, Firmount and Matehy DEDs move from North-Central to North-West.

There are countless other DEDs which could also move to balance populations.


Cavan (optional)


Cavan is currently divided between the 4-seat constituencies of Sligo-Leitrim and Cavan-Monaghan. Without adjustment, Cavan-Monaghan is nearly at the 5% limit for under-representation (4.5%). DEDs surrounding and including Berturbet are moved into Sligo-Leitrim.



As mentioned, the above is one set of possible moves to achieve a balanced 160-seat Dáil. There are many others. The Commission will ultimately decide.

It is surprising to see the upper-limit for this review set at 160. It would be more prudent to:

  • Raise the number of TDs to 170/180; or
  • Run a referendum to change the 30,000 limit.

Both changes would “future-proof” the Dáil. Instead we’re moving from review-to-review with the bare minimum of changes made, just to keep things constitutional. We can do better than that.

There are 114 ways for a FG minority government to form

Last week, after the third vote for Taoiseach, I was able to narrow down the list of options for a new government. A grand coalition had already been ruled out by Fianna Fáil, and the party later admitted that Michael Martin would no longer be seeking a Fianna Fáil minority government.

old table


Only 12 options left I thought. This was helped by the exit of John Halligan from negotiations, which you can see from above left two options with no majority. Only 10 left so, with the following TDs still in talks:

old inds


However, no story is complete without a twist. This weekend it seems the door has re-opened again for Labour, the Social Democrats, and the Greens to re-enter government talks. After all, they can be certain that Fine Gael will lead the government, not Fianna Fáil. Katherine Zappone’s support for Enda Kenny during the week signals a willingness by FG to adopt progressive policies (possibly a repeal of the 8th amendment), although this hasn’t been confirmed. The new table is as follows:

new inds


So, technically there are now seven groups open to supporting/ joining a Fine Gael minority government:

  1. Labour
  2. Social Democrats
  3. Greens
  4. Independent Alliance
  5. “Rural Alliance”
  6. Healy Raes
  7. Maureen O’Sullivan


Possible combinations

As always, some mathematics can help us cut through the various options. “Permutations and combinations” (think back to junior/ leaving cert maths) allow us to group all seven groups in a way that produces a “working majority” (anything above 58 seats assuming FF abstains on every vote).

I summarise each below. Lowry and Zappone are assumed to support FG always with FF abstaining. If all seven groups support the minority government, it has a majority of 19. If only one group supports, only Labour provides enough seats for a majority. If a combination of three groups join, the average majority is 5 etc. Think of it this way:

  • More groups give a larger majority, fewer give a smaller majority.
  • If only one group supports, that group can only be Labour.
  • If more groups join, the combinations grow hugely.
  • As the number of combinations nears its maximum (7), the possible combinations reduce.



Of the possible 127 combinations, 114 produce a working majority. 

10-12 combinations is now 114.

Some of the seven groups will make their positions clearer over the coming days/ weeks. We can narrow the table substantially once this occurs. However the groups may also fragment, particularly the Independent and Rural Alliances, which increases the combinations again. But for now, here are the possibilities:

combs big table4


Let us know your favourite in the comments below.


Forecasting the Seanad elections

Having had a good go at forecasting the Dáil elections, it’s only natural to take on the challenge of the upper house. However, before we begin I best outline what cannot be “forecast” for the Seanad elections. Namely, names.

The candidates elected to the Seanad reflect the name recognition or prominence of an individual within:

  1. Their political party (in the case of panel elections – 43 seats)
  2. Their alma mater (in the case of University panel elections – 6 seats)
  3. Their political party AND with the Taoiseach (in the case of the Taoiseach’s nominees – 11 seats)

We simply do not have sufficient data on any of the above. Incumbency advantage will play strongly in the first two, but the Taoiseach’s nominees will largely depend on the deal struck between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on government formation.

By incumbency advantage I mean that outgoing University Senators and panel Senators have an advantage. It is also likely that TDs who lost their seats will be seen sympathetically and councillors with “potential” to take Dáil seats in the future. Most of the reasoning here is anecdotal so let’s park names for the time being and delve into the data.


Who votes in Seanad elections

It all depends on which Seanad election. There are two elections and one set of appointments:

  1. 43 Senators elected across 5 panels by:
    • Outgoing Senators;
    • County/City Councillors; and
    • Incoming TDs.
  2. University graduates elect 6 Senators, 3 each from:
    • National University of Ireland (UCC, UCD, NUIM and NUIG); and
    • University of Dublin (Trinity College)
  3. Taoiseach nominates 11 Senators (won’t be made until FG/FF/IND deal concluded).


The five panels and seats for each:

  1. Administrative Panel (7)
  2. Agricultural Panel (11)
  3. Cultural and Educational Panel (5)
  4. Industrial and Commercial Panel (9)
  5. Labour Panel (11)

In effect, panel names are meaningless. Elections to each panel follow party lines. There is a rule around sub-panels which I am going to ignore for this analysis. As far as I can see, it hasn’t made a material impact on elections in the past, at least for party-level results.

In modelling the panel elections, we need to know the make-up of the electorate.


In total, it appears that 1,160 people are eligible to vote in the 2016 panel elections:

  • 949 councillors
  • 53 outgoing Senators
  • 158 incoming TDs

The vote across parties is assumed as follows:

  • Fianna Fáil – 321 (28%)
  • Fine Gael – 301 (26%)
  • Independents and Others – 229 (20%)
  • Sinn Féin – 185 (16%)
  • Labour – 69 (6%)
  • AAA/PBP – 41 (4%)
  • Green – 14 (1%)


What is the recent trend in Seanad elections?

Below I outline the three most recent Seanad panel results by party.

recent results

Some key trends:

  • The panel elections are dominated by the main parties.
  • Never before has an independent been elected at a Seanad election in the recent past. This is despite the large number of independent councillors across the country, not just today but historically.
  • Sinn Féin has recently begun to win seats, in line with its growing Dáil and County Council seats.
  • Smaller parties (PDs, Green and AAA/PBP) haven’t won seats in the recent past.

It is therefore likely that the 2016 Seanad panel elections will repeat these trends. Despite a continuing rise in support for Independents, I will proceed to model the elections without Independents and will then assess the chance for individual candidates on the larger panels.


How can we forecast the Seanad elections?

For the Dáil, I spent months writing code to re-create its election process, allowing us to simulate election counts. For the Seanad elections, a simpler approach is needed. I have chosen three commonly used methods to assign seats proportionally:

Each uses various mathematically processes, which I won’t go into here. I’ve applied each to the three previous election results to test their effectiveness in forecasting the Seanad results.


In choosing a method to help us forecast 2016, we are looking for the one with the smallest error. In 2002, D’hondt and Sainte-Languë performed best (just two seats off the final result) while in 2007 and 2011, both Sainte-Languë and Haye-Niemeyer performed best (errors of eight and four seats respectively). Sainte-Languë appears strongest overall, but we will keep the other two just in case.


2016 Seanad panel forecast


Using the three seat allocation methods I determine each party to receive:

  • Fianna Fáil: 16-17 seats
  • Fine Gael: 15-16 seats
  • Labour: 2-4 seats
  • Sinn Féin: 8 seats

I must stress that such a close interval does not indicate certainty. Including independents and others produces much different results, and transfer patterns will always play a role. Note that even the closest method from above, Sainte-Languë, was incorrect for up to 8 of the 43 seats.


Analysis of candidates

As I mentioned above, candidates are short of impossible to forecast accurately for Seanad elections. The voting comes down to the ability of a candidate to impress party councillors, TDs and Senators nationwide, behind closed doors. As such, we can only count on subjective indicators to assess each candidate. I am going to attempt this here, but I would urge readers to see things from their own point of view, as well as mine.

As always, Dr. Adrian Kavanagh is keeping track of candidates, allowing us to assess the prospects for each.

The concept of sub-panels is explained here. Each panel sets a minimum number to come from each of two sub-panels. The sub-panel rule applies to the total number of Senators from that panel. Parties aren’t obliged to have a certain number from each, although it appears they aim to balance the candidates put forward from each, just in case.


Administrative Panel (7)

Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 3
  • Fine Gael – 2/3
  • Sinn Féin – 1
  • Labour – 0/1


  • Mary Fitzpatrick is likely to take one of the three seats. FF needs to improve its vote in Dublin Central, where it hasn’t held a seat since Bertie Ahern left in 2011.
  • The two outgoing Senators, Mark Daly and Diarmuid Wilson are likely for one seat between them, if not the remaining two. At the last election Daly was stronger.
  • Sean Power is a former TD. With Seán O Fearghail now Ceann Comhairle, there is an opening for Kildare South. However, only two seats will be contested here next time. FF may feel it unnecessary to “crowd the field” so to speak.


  • Having contested the General Election unsuccessfully, it is likely that either Maura Hopkins or Paudie Coffey would take a seat here. Coffey has the edge of being a former Junior Minister and having been elected to the Seanad before, while Hopkins has the edge of representing Roscommon, where FG currently has no TD.
  • Of the three Senators, Martin Conway polled best the last time, and is likely to do so again.



Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, either of the two councillors Mary Roche and Thomas Welby are likely.


Agricultural Panel (11)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 4
  • Fine Gael – 4
  • Sinn Féin – 2
  • Labour – 1


  • Connie Gerrety Quinn contested for the party in Longford-Westmeath. She is most likely from the point of view of securing representation for Co. Longford, which managed to return no TD.
  • Michael Smith contested for the party in Tipperary. FF already has one seat here, but traditionally has two. This should help Smith’s chances.
  • Pat Hayes is from Clare where FF had the votes for two seats at the election but missed out.
  • The three outgoing Senators here are Paschal Mooney, Brian O’Domhnaill, and Denis O’Donovan. At least one should be returned, if not all three. The last election on this panel suggests Senator O’Domhnaill is likely to stay.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, Noel Coonan from Tipperary and Anthony Lawlor from Kildare North are likely to take seats here. Coonan is more likely considering FG has no seat in Tipperary.
  • Paddy Burke performed strongest on this panel last time.
  • Of the councillors contesting, Maria Byrne (Limerick City) and Tim Lombard (Cork South West) come from constituencies where FG lost seats last time but will be looking to re-gain in the future. Considering Michael Noonan is almost certainly serving his last term, Byrne may have the stronger chance.


  • The candidates here are Rose Conway-Walsh from Mayo, and outgoing Galway West Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. If Sinn Féin only manages one here, Conway Walsh is likely to miss out.


  • Only one candidate – Senator Dennis Landy. 

Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, either of the two councillors Victor Boyhan and Jennifer Whitmore are likely.


 Cultural and Educational Panel (5)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 2
  • Fine Gael – 2
  • Sinn Féin – 1


  • The party is likely to choose candidates with a view to the next election. Those who missed out at the 2016 election include Malcolm Byrne (Wexford), Jennifer Cuffe (Wicklow), Lorraine Clifford (Dublin Fingal), and John Connolly (Galway West). Based on how close each came to taking a seat, I think Byrne is certain for one of the two. Connolly is likely for the second seat.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, Kieran O’Donnell (Limerick City) and Gabrielle McFadden (Longford-Westmeath) are most likely here. O’Donnell is more likely considering he performed best at the election.
  • Jim D’Arcy is the only outgoing Senator for FG on this panel. He is a Taoiseach’s nominee so this is his first contest on a panel. He will need to outperform one of the ex-TDs above to take one of the two seats.


Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, councillor Joe Conway is likely.


Industrial and Commercial Panel (9)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 3/4
  • Fine Gael – 3
  • Sinn Féin – 2
  • Labour – 0/1


  • Catherine Ardagh is near certain for a seat here, following her strong performance in Dublin South Central at the General Election.
  • Of the remaining councillors, Gerry Horkan (Dublin Rathdown) looks likely. FF needs a new candidate to take over from Mary White.
  • There is no outgoing Senator here, but two former TDs are contesting, Niall Blaney (Donegal) and Thomas McEllistrim (Kerry). The difficulty with Donegal is that it already has two FF TDs. It may not be viewed favourably to crowd this area with a Senator when other areas need more coverage. Kerry has only one TD, where it traditionally holds two. This should help McEllistrim.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, James Bannon (Longford-Westmeath), and Ray Butler (Meath West) are contesting this panel. Bannon is more likely to win a seat, since Co. Longford no longer has a TD representing it.
  • There are five FG outgoing Senators contesting. Only one can be assured re-election, with two possible. Imelda Henry polled strongest here the last time, followed by Paul Coghlan, and Colm Burke. 
  • Of the councillors contesting, William Lavelle from Dublin Mid West appears strongest. FG lost a seat in that constituency at the General Election, and it may be the last election contested by Frances Fitzgerald (unless she becomes FG leader).


  • The candidates here are former TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal) and Ciaran Staunton (running as an independent but has been endorsed by the party). Mac Lochlainn is the favourite of the two if only one seat is available.


  • Former Minister Aodhain O’Riordain (Dublin Bay North) is very likely for a seat. Having came so close to a seat at the General Election, and having championed a number of progressive social causes while equality minister, it is likely he may win support beyond Labour councillors to win a seat.

Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, councillor Deirdre O’Donovan from the Shane Ross Independent Alliance appears the most likely.


Labour Panel (11)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 4
  • Fine Gael – 4
  • Sinn Féin – 2
  • Labour – 1


  • Three General Election candidates are contesting here: Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West), Jennifer Murnane O’Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny), and Colm Keaveney (Galway East). McAuliffe and Murnane O’Connor came very close to seats at the election, and are thus most likely of the three. Keaveney was unable to keep a seat he already had, suggesting he is not viewed favourably within the party. He only recently joined from Labour.
  • Two outgoing Senators here are Ned O’Sullivan and Terry Leyden. Both performed similarly well at the last election. I think only one may be safe for a seat, considering the others in contention.
  • Kate Feeney (Dun Laoghaire) is the strongest of the councillors contesting. With Mary Hanafin now presumably out of politics again, this leaves a space open on the ticket in Dun Laoghaire for the next election.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, Jerry Buttimer (Cork South Central), and Joe O’Reilly (Cavan Monaghan) are contesting this panel. While both come from constituencies where a seat could be gained at the next election, Buttimer is the more prominent of the two and is therefore more likely to win.
  • There are three FG outgoing Senators contesting. The last election indicates Maurice Cummins is the strongest, followed by Tony Mulcahy and Terry Brennan.  
  • Of the councillors contesting, Neale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown) appears strongest, now that Alan Shatter is presumably out of politics.


  • The candidates here are Paul Gavan and Máire Devine. Having contested the General Election, Máire Devine is likely to be the stronger of the two.


  • Former Minister Ged Nash (Louth).

Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, outgoing Senator Gerard Craughwell from the Shane Ross Independent Alliance appears the most likely.


Final panel forecast

As I need to keep stressing, we’re past the point of simply looking at numbers and I am instead giving my own personal forecast. We lack sufficient data to model names like the General Election. Nonetheless, below is my forecast for the parties and panels.


There was coin flipping used to resolve some too-close-to-call situations.


University forecast



With all three incumbents contesting again, I consider two of the three likely for re-election; David Norris and Ivana Bacik. 

Sean Barrett had a much lower vote in 2011, and is therefore vulnerable. If he were to be unseated, I note two possibilities:

  • Averil Power – Former TCDSU President, now Senator. Left Fianna Fáil in 2015 over the party’s lack of involvement in the Marriage Equality referendum. Unsuccessful independent candidate in Dublin Bay North at the 2016 General Election.
  • Lynn Ruane – Current TCDSU President.




Ronan Mullen is likely to retain his seat. The 2013 protection of life bill, and the 2015 Marriage Equality referendum have provided him with lots of coverage for his rather unique outlook on society. He is also the only incumbent on the panel which helps.

The remaining two seats are too difficult to call, but a shortlist helps:

  • Michael McDowell – Former Tánaiste (2006-2007). I would be surprised if McDowell didn’t take a seat.
  • Laura Harmon – Former President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
  • Alice Mary Higgins – Campaigns and Policy Officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI). Also the daughter of Michael D. Higgins.
  • Carol Hunt – Journalist and 2016 general election candidate in Dun Laoghaire.
  • David Begg – Former General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
  • Rory Hearne – Policy Analyst with Think-Tank for Action on Social Change (TASC).

There are of course many more notable candidates. I’ve selected those who stood out to me as likely. It is rare for candidates without significant national exposure to do well in University Seanad elections.


I’m not going to put out a forecast for these panels, because I simply have no idea who will win, and I doubt even those in greater proximity to the campaigns do either. This isn’t like a General Election where the campaigning is out in the open and we can judge (even subjectively) the strength of each campaign. I may as well get my coin out again to decide the final seats.


So, above I’ve covered the 43 panel elections, and the 6 University panel seats. The Taoiseach’s nominees will of course depend on who the new Taoiseach is, and we don’t know that yet. Voting for the panel seats is ongoing and we are expecting results towards the end of April.

Here are the governments that may form in the coming weeks

Or the coming months….

Spain has been without a government since December and I doubt you’ve heard of any looming crisis there. The same is true of Ireland for now (unless Brexit begins to feel like a reality, which it will).

As of March 31st (today), this government formation period is the second longest in the state (34 days). 1992 was due to FF/ Labour coalition talks which ran over Christmas. We’re two weeks away from breaking the 48 day record.

days wout


Formation talks – Who’s in and who’s out?

whos in whos out

It appears that any TD with a lean towards the left either refused to partake, or left after a period of time. Two notable exceptions are Maureen O’Sullivan and Katherine Zappone. O’Sullivan’s decades of work with Tony Gregory has no doubt taught her the potential upside of entering government, even with the electoral risks it carries (she came very close to losing her seat).  The Greens were more moderate and pragmatic, exhausting their options before amicably parting ways.

Remaining are the Independent Alliance, the so-called “Rural Alliance”, and the Healy-Raes. Michael Lowry has already committed his support for Enda Kenny and as such is not in the formal talks taking place with the others.

still in talks


What are the possible formation options?

Cooperation between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is necessary for any government to form. We’ve been told that for weeks, but the table below lays it out in numbers. Only through abstention or a “grand coalition” can Ireland form a government.

I’ve tried my best to group the Independents. It isn’t easy when the “Rural Alliance” is something we’ve only heard of through media coverage, and the Independent Alliance is supposedly divided over how it will proceed (again, media coverage). But it’s the best we’ve got, otherwise the table would be too big. I’ve even grouped the non-group TDs (O’Sullivan, Lowry and Zappone) for simplicity.

possible options

The list of available options shows the upper-hand that Fine Gael has in these negotiations. It has 10 options to form, while Fianna Fáil has only 5. Remove the options with a zero seat majority and it’s 9 vs. 3. This explains why the independents are primarily meeting with Fine Gael.

So, which government forms?

A Fine Gael minority government looks likely at this point. It has been from the start. The question is when Fianna Fáil will seriously enter talks. Then we wait to see what deal emerges. Then we see which independents sign up to it. The order of events may overlap, but the destination is clear.


What if there’s a second election?

Two questions present themselves here:

  1. Why would one happen?
  2. What would change?

The answer to the first question lies with the formation talks above. If talks begin to drag on for months, then Fine Gael (with acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny) has the power to call a new election. This would be a drastic step, and would only be done if he felt it gave his party the chance to radically increase its support. Even if FG were to increase its seats, it still requires FF abstention and Independent support to rule. The status quo remains unchanged.

The answer to the second can be found with a dig through some past election data. In the early 1980s, Ireland went to the polls three times within two years. Governments did form after each one, but soon collapsed. This is a very different scenario to the one we have now, arguably in a way that makes vote changes less likely.

second election

Even with 252/279 days separating elections, the largest vote changes were +/-3%, the margin of error on most opinion polls. Fine Gael managed a strong +7 seats at the second 1982 election, although mainly due to some GUBU events.

So, a second election is therefore unlikely. Fine Gael has no incentive for one.


So how long before we have a government?

The constitution sets no time limit. In Belgium the country went nearly two years without a government. The budget was passed with cross-party involvement and may other measures were also dealt with in parliament. Spain, as mentioned, also doesn’t have a government and is likely to face a second election in June. From there, a government may not form until the Autumn.

Ireland faces a prolonged period without a government. Brexit is one milestone (June 23rd) which may force the coming together of parties, but even then, it’s not beyond the scope of the caretaker government to manage a fall-out, especially since Fianna Fáil is unlikely to oppose a response which advances the national interest. Then there’s the budget in October, but allow me to refer to Belgium above.


Maybe we’ll never get a government?


Ah we will though.



We always do.

Religion question on census forms

On April 24th, Ireland will fill out the 2016 census form. As often happens around this time, we query the questions and the accuracy of the results to be drawn.


A “leading question” prompts or encourages the answer wanted.


The religion question – “What is your religion?” – has emerged again as a source of controversy. Many see it as a “leading question”, with calls for a two part question instead:


A: Do you have a religion?

B: If yes, what is you religion?


But do any other countries ask a two-part question? I had a good look for census forms in the English speaking world and came up with the following:


United Kingdom







New Zealand


South Africa



None of the main English speaking nations ask a two-part question (the US doesn’t ask about religion at all). I’ve summarised the various question formats into a handy table.

main table

Ireland is not alone in having an alleged leading question for religion on its census form. Some countries place the “no religion” option first on their forms, some last (Ireland).

Judging by the percentage choosing “no religion”, it appears that question type or position doesn’t prevent the reporting of large responses. It is also worth noting that no country has yet seen the need to move to a two-part question. One reason is to maintain continuity of results census-on-census. However, if the CSO (and its international equivalents – see table sources) felt the question was giving inaccurate results, would they not have changed it by now?

I’m in favour of a two-part question, but I doubt it will alter the results.

So did the model predict the election?

A month has passed since the general election, and this weekend we celebrate the centenary of the birth of our democracy.

I’ve been pouring over the many data points from the election and have put together the Irish Election Stats forecasts alongside other the others. I note only one pundit who published their own individual forecasts – Ivan Yates. His forecasts are included. If more had made public forecasts I would have included them.


Which forecasts are being compared?

The website Election Hub Ireland compiled election forecasts throughout the campaign. You can see each constituency on their site. They noted the forecasts made by:

  • RTÉ
  • Newstalk
  • Irish Times
  • Irish Independent

As far as I understand, these forecasts were made at earlier stages of the election, and weren’t responding to poll changes.

Ivan Yates made his forecasts public the day before the election.

The Irish Election Stats forecast used here was the final one of the campaign – RTÉ’s exit poll on the morning of the count.


How do you compare accuracy of results?

The nature of our system doesn’t lend itself to easy forecast comparisons. This isn’t like a US presidential election where the forecast is one name – it’s either right or it’s wrong. I’ve had to create three methods of comparison:

  • Party total (i.e forecasting that Fine Gael won 50 seats)
  • Constituency forecasts (i.e that Dublin Central was 1 FG, 1 IND and 1 SF)
  • Name forecasts (i.e naming 150 of the 158 TDs)


Party totals

For this measure I take the “error” of each forecast for each party. The sum of these errors across the nine party groups gives “total error” which is then compared across the various forecasters.

party fore table

party fore chart

In this case Ivan Yates comes out on top with 16. This is followed by IES, and the media outlets. It’s notable that the Fine Gael/ Labour result was substantially less than the forecasts made by media organisations.  The coalition ultimately returned 57 TDs, in contrast to forecasts of 68 by Newstalk and RTÉ,  70 by the Irish Independent, and 71 by the Irish Times!

The Sinn Féin forecasts are close to the final result, with Fianna Fáil captured poorly by everyone. Even exit polls failed to capture its strong performance, thus worsening the accuracy of the IES model.

Not a single forecast foresaw the demise of Renua. It won zero seats, with the Irish Independent initially forecasting four.


Constituency forecasts

The first thing you will note about the table below is the fractions. This is because not all media organisations gave “deterministic” forecasts. Some avoided predictions for the final seat in constituencies and instead listed those they thought were “in contention”. If two were listed for one seat, only 1/2 could be counted where one of the two went on to win the seat.

In the below charts, only parties are counted towards an accurate forecast. If the correct party won a seat (but a different candidate) it is still counted.

con fore chart

con fore


On this measure Yates is ahead again, just two ahead of IES. I note again the worse accuracy by major news organisations, although their forecasts were made much earlier in the campaign.


Name forecasts

This is by far the most difficult way to make forecasts for Irish elections. It’s one thing to forecast a party to take a certain number of seats, but the candidates to win those seats is often anyone’s guess.

The media organisations avoided name forecasts at this election, leaving just IES and Ivan Yates to compare results.

“1” signifies that the TD was correctly forecast. I note where a TD wasn’t forecast by anyone. 20 TDs fall under this category, showing how such candidates came from the outside to win, but also highlighting how challenging it is to forecast Irish elections.

name fore


Once again, the IES model is just behind Yates by two.


In conclusion

For a statistical model created by a 23 year old – compared to the experience of a former minister, bookie and now broadcaster – I’m pleased with the results overall.

If there’s another election later in the year, I’m sure we’ll come back to these numbers again.

The Irish Election Stats model explained

On twitter I’ve begun to post regular output from “the model”. Reaction has been positive so far, although many wonder just exactly where all this data comes from.

As mentioned in previous posts, Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight is a major influence of the model. The Irish political system requires a custom approach. The effort to adapt his work to Ireland has spanned a number of months. In all, the R code (language used for statistical programming) runs to over 1,000 lines, with many spreadsheets of data feeding the program.

Poll aggregation 

The model’s first step (and Nate’s) is to take the polls and find a single figure for each party. The basic principle is that a more recent poll is “weighted” more, with less recent polls weighted less. Once aggregated, the polls reduce to a single figure for each party, also known as a “poll of polls”.

At the time of writing there are two approaches being taken. The first is my own simple polling aggregation. This has been the basis of the model up to the end of 2015, and the figures derived broadly mirror recent opinion polls.

As of the new year, I have been using poll averages from the Irish Polling Indicator which uses a much more advanced model. A special thanks to Tom Louwerse from Trinity College who has allowed use of his numbers. I encourage readers to check out his most recent paper on the topic.

Mapping polls to a constituency level 

The model takes the “poll of polls” and attempts to spread the votes for each party across the 40 Irish constituencies. I use six “parties” – FG, FF, SF, LP, GP and NP. To “force categorise” the other parties into “non-party” (NP) is a temporary measure. We separate out the smaller parties later.

All figures used below are sample data.

240 grid


The program begins by filling the blue boxes. I generate a random turnout, and use census/ electoral register data to produce total vote figures for each constituency.

240 grid 2


The total nationwide vote is split into total figures for the party groups using the “poll of polls” from above.  

240 grid 3


Every party in every constituency is given its national average vote share. We know intuitively that if, for example, Fine Gael polls 30% nationwide, it will poll above 30% in Mayo, and below in Dublin South Central. For now, each constituency sits at 30% but it will adjust later. 

240 grid 4



Next is a table of “deviates”. Keep in mind the above table, but one filled with completely different data. The program examines data from the last general election (2011) and the last local elections (2014). The extent to which each party (in a given constituency) deviates from its national average at both elections is calculated and averaged.

This is used to create another table (same size as before) containing a “should be” percentage. The past election data combined with today’s polling allows us to determine what vote share a party should receive in a given constituency. Fine Gael in Mayo “should be” c. 15% higher than its national vote and “should be” c. 10% lower in Dublin South Central etc.


At this point you may ask why we can’t simply convert the “should be” percentages into numbers. The answer goes back to the blue totals above. If the green numbers don’t sum to match the blue numbers, the count is wrong.


To keep the totals in tact, I have written a “vote swap” algorithm to move votes around the green space, keeping the blue totals constant. A “votes to move” table determines how many votes are needed to bring a party (in each constituency) to its “should be” point.

The “vote swap” algorithm searches the “votes to move” table for the largest move that needs to take place, and finds other parties in that constituency which need to move the other way. Returning to the Mayo example, Fine Gael’s vote would need to rise, and Labour’s to fall. The program then searches the remaining constituencies for one where Fine Gael’s vote needs to fall, and Labour’s to rise.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

240 grid 5

The algorithm repeats to cover every party in every constituency. Once complete, the model obtains a number of votes for every party in every constituency.


Candidate weights

I must give a hat-tip to Adrian Kavanagh, Storyful’s IEOD, and the many other candidate lists in the field right now. I compile my own list through these sources and add some extra information (if applicable:

  • 2011 vote – Number of votes at the 2011 general election.
  • 2011 elected – A binary measure (0 or 1) if the candidate was elected at this election (also marked for Senators as an indicator of incumbency advantage).
  • 2014 vote – Number of votes at the 2014 local elections.
  • 2014 elected – A binary measure (0 or 1).
  • Minister – 1 for a minister, 0.5 for a junior minister, 0 for a non-minister.


The above data combine through a number of formulas to create a “candidate weight”. This score only applies where two or more candidates are in contest from the same party. If one candidate contests, their vote is that for their party in the constituency (see previous section).

Example: If two Fianna Fáil candidates are in contest, the party’s vote in the constituency will split by the candidate weights. Let’s assume 10,000 votes are available. If candidate A has a weight of 0.6, and candidate B has 0.4, A will win 6,000 first preference votes (FPVs) and B wins 4,000. This sounds rigid, but later on I discuss simulation and how party ticket underdogs are allowed to lead on occasion.

Where a candidate has not contested a prior election, subjective interpretation must be used to assign a candidate weight. This is particularly sensitive to independent/other candidates who may possess some local/national “celebrity” status (or lack of). A qualitative reading of each constituency is used to determine a weight.

The 2014 local election results also undergo some subjective adjustment. A candidate may have received a small number of votes, but may have contested a very strong area for their party. It is likely (although by no means certain) that the votes received by other candidates in that area would rally around this person in a general election setting. A local election area (LEA) can typically be one-third to one-sixth of a constituency’s area and population. This adjustment is also made when a sitting TD is joined by a Councillor on a party ticket. The candidate weights would otherwise greatly favour the incumbent if this adjustment isn’t made.


PR-STV Count

At the heart of the model is a full simulation of Ireland’s PR-STV election count system. R code has been written to incorporate all the rules of the count.

A unique feature of the Irish system is “non transferable” (NT) votes. These occur when voters fail to give preferences for every candidate on the ballot. As a count progresses, the number of NT votes rises. To model this I examined a number of past general/local election counts. I then derived a formula which takes the votes to be transferred at any count and determines the number of NT votes.

t – (t*(1-((1-(c) / n))^(1/0.67))/1.85))


t = The number of transfers available
c = The count number
n = The number of candidates in the constituency


In any constituency, transfers contain a mix of party preferences (Sinn Féin to AAA/PBP for example) and local characteristics. The latter is beyond the scope of this model. We lack sufficient data to allocate transfers based on close proximity of candidates. Dual county constituencies (Cavan-Monaghan, Sligo-Leitrim etc.) have a tendency to transfer within county lines, in an effort to secure a TD for the county. A potential improvement for the model would be transfers based on geographic proximity, perhaps using the address provided for each candidate on the ballot paper (although not all candidates live in their constituencies).

To determine party to party transfers, the model takes an average of transfer patterns from the 2011 general election and 2014 local elections. Some adjustments are made including incorporation of the recent transfer pact between Fine Gael and Labour. This simple approach presents some issues. While Sinn Féin to AAA/PBP transfers are high nationally (and vice versa), they are likely to vary at a constituency level. We lack sufficient data to model transfers locally, so a national average must be taken.


Above is the “transfer matrix” for the 2011 general election. The figures included are percentages, however you will notice that rows and columns don’t total to 100%. I have highlighted internal party transfers which are naturally high, but which didn’t occur for the United Left Alliance and Green Party at the time (the opportunity never arose).

Example: Let’s assume we are at the final count. A Fianna Fáil candidate has been eliminated and only a Fine Gael candidate and a Labour candidate remain. Historically we see that Fianna Fáil gives 19% of available transfers to Fine Gael and 13% to Labour, a ratio of 19:13. In percentages, Fine Gael will receive 59% of the transfers, and Labour 41%. Non-transferable votes would be high in this case, but recall that these are modeled separately. If candidates of all parties are available to receive transfers, the ratio is 19:13:58:9:7:11:23, or 14%, 9%, 41%, 6%, 5%, 8% and 16%, and so on. Where multiple candidates of the same party can receive transfers, the model divides the available votes randomly, but with consideration to the strength of each candidate (like candidate weights earlier).



With the above processes complete, we obtain one set of constituency results. To assess all possible scenarios, we run the model 1,000 times. All variables will change throughout:

  • Turnout – At the last general election, turnout reached 70%, a figure not seen since 1997. Turnout in 2016 is likely to be lower. I model turnout at 50-65%. Any figure within this interval is equally likely to emerge (uniform random). In any case, turnout does not change the results. It allows us to estimate a figure for FPVs if we wish.
  • Party vote – Above I discussed the “poll of polls” which gives us a figure for party share. We also know the margin of error for these polls. Taking the example of a single poll, we have a margin of error of +/- 3%. If Sinn Féin is on 17%, its margin of error is a range of 14-20%. A figure within this interval is randomly chosen at each of the 1,000 simulations. We use the normal distribution. Those who remember the concept of the “bell curve” from the Leaving Cert (or elsewhere) will be able to picture its shape. Of the 1,000 simulations, the vast majority will place Sinn Féin at 16%, 17% and 18%. Every now and then, 15% and 19% will emerge, and on rare occasions, 14% and 20%. Note that this is an overly simple example rounded to the nearest whole number. Margins of error are much more complex (especially for smaller parties).
  • Deviates – Earlier, I determined to what extent a party is below or above its national average in a given constituency. This is based off the 2011 and 2014 elections. Some constituencies are more accurately captured through the 2011 data, others in 2014, although we are not sure exactly which. I work off the assumption that the 2014 data is more valuable and better captures the distribution of a party’s support nationwide. I also allow for deviates outside these two ranges. Note that this variable is perhaps the most important for determining the outcome of constituency contests.
  • Candidate weights – Earlier I spoke about party ticket underdogs, those candidates who are expected to poll below their party colleagues but who occasionally outperform the odds. This is not just a feature of party tickets but of the Independent/Others category. I model such candidates using a normal distribution for each candidate. Visually, this can be seen as overlapping distributions. The area of overlap signifies the proportion of times an underdog candidate will surpass their party colleague on the ticket. The allowance given to underdog candidates is arbitrary in the model. We don’t have sufficient data to determine how often candidates surpassed expectations in previous elections. Anecdotally, we know that a sitting TD fears the Councillor who joins them on the party ticket, despite incumbency advantage.
  • Transfers – Transfers are modeled with a 50-100% weight towards the 2014 local elections, versus the 2011 general election. The assumption being that the 2014 election better captures the likely transfer patters in 2016. Once again a reminder that local transfer patterns are not factored in, but instead make use of national averages.



As the model runs, countless data points are recorded. The most important is a binary measure of elected, or not. This is taken for each candidate at each of the 1,000 simulations. From this we can derive the probability of election for every candidate, the likely seats for each party, and even the likely number of female TDs. When run on different dates, the model allows us to see the prospects for each candidate unfold over time. As new polls and candidates emerge, the data changes.

I will be uploading all of this data to the site once the final list of candidates is known. Modelling would be inconsistent over time otherwise, a point to bear in mind for party totals already being published on social media.

Your feedback is most welcome on the methods above. The various assumptions underlying the model have yet to be tested at an election and are worthy of improvement and fine tuning before the elections takes place.

Date of the 2016 general election

In my last post I showed how a snap election was never likely, despite the ongoing rumour mill at the time. Two and a half months on and we’re still in the dark as to when Enda Kenny will drive to the Phoenix Park and ask President Higgins to dissolve the Dáil. Once this is done, an election must take place within the following 30 days.


History points towards a February election

While some election dates are spontaneous and not planned, the trend overwhelmingly supports a February vote. The election must take place before April 8th.

months chart


Friday is an increasingly popular polling day

Ireland hasn’t voted on a Tuesday/Wednesday since the late 1980s/early 1990s. Three of the past four elections have been held on Fridays. This facilitates counting on Saturday and it provides greater convenience to voters. For example, students returning home for the weekend can vote on Friday evening, assuming polls remain open to their recent norm of 10pm.

day chart


Ard Fhéis dates prevent a poll in early February

Broadcast time is precious to political parties during an election. A party Ard Fhéis includes a c. 2 hours Saturday morning broadcast and a half-hour leaders speech usually at 8.30pm on the same day. However, if an Ard Fhéis overlaps with a general election campaign, these hours are deducted from a party’s allocation. The dates are as follows:

  • Fianna Fáil Ard Fhéis – 16th January
  • Fine Gael Ard Fhéis – 23rd January
  • Labour Conference –  30th January
  • Sinn Féin Ard Fhéis – 4th February (postponed)

Simply put, Enda Kenny is unlikely to call an election before the Fine Gael Ard Fhéis, and may wait until after the Labour Conference. Sinn Féin’s decision to postpone theirs is significant.


Friday February 26th most likely

Allowing for a three/four week campaign, and for dissolution to take place following the Labour Conference, Friday February 26th is the most likely date for the 2016 Irish general election.


Two other options are open to the Taoiseach:

  1. Friday February 19th – Taoiseach shortens the campaign period from four weeks to three.
  2. Friday February 12th – Taoiseach shortens the campaign period from four weeks to three and dissolution takes place following the Fine Gael Ard Fhéis.

The second option would place Labour’s Conference during the campaign period, a move which would damage coalition relations. Having said that, a Fine Gael vs. Labour narrative is beginning to emerge in the run up to the campaign, so bigger arguments may be more prominent come the new year.





6 reasons why a November election is unlikely

They say that silly season ends when the Dáil returns from the summer recess. The trend appears to have broken this year as we cope with a barrage of stories surrounding the date of the next general election. The level of speculation has intensified in recent days, prompting a need to clarify the situation. Running a full term has always been the likely scenario for this government, and the situation has not changed materially over the past year. A November election is unlikely for the following reasons:

1. Support for government parties remains weak

combined support

With government parties now finally on an upward trend, it is likely for this trend to continue (or even accelerate) during an election campaign. However, this does not change the fact that both government parties remain c. 20% below their record performance at the 2011 general election. Purposely forgoing three extra months to campaign and improve these numbers would be a foolish decision.

2. Support for Labour is even worse


The most recent opinion poll at the time of writing is the Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll taken on September 21st/22nd. It shows Fine Gael on 28% and Labour on 8%. This represents a decline of 8 and 11.5 percentage points respectively since the 2011 election. These declines do not vary strongly from each other, however when taken as a percentage of each party’s 2011 result, the situation becomes more stark.

Of those who voted Fine Gael at the last election, c. 76% would do so today. The corresponding figure for Labour is only 41%.

In short, Labour has little incentive to agree to an early election. It has the greater task to regain support and is likely to demand more time to do so.

3. November is typically dark and wet


Climate data suggest a preference for a spring election. Although temperatures are relatively similar across the November-March period, rainfall is c. 30% less in the spring months, and sunshine hours are improved by c. 48%. This is crucial for campaigning (primarily by door-to-door canvassing). Party supporters are less likely to campaign during dark and wet conditions, and voters are less likely to answer the door.

4. It’s Labour’s call

enda joan

After five difficult years in coalition, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is conscious that he needs to achieve a second term of cohesive government. Crucial to that cohesiveness will be to maximise seats for both parties (a transfer pact was recently agreed), and to avoid decisions that would irk the junior coalition partner. It is therefore likely that Labour will have the final say on the election date, despite indications to the contrary.

5. The budget takes effect in January 2016


The latest exchequer returns point to an exceptionally positive fiscal position. Tax take continues to run ahead of “profile”, giving the coalition further room to restore household incomes and services. While the budget is announced in October, the impact of measures are not enacted until the following January. An election campaign throughout February 2016 would capture voters following their first paycheck of the year. Households are likely to be in a better financial position at this point, and therefore more likely to support the incumbent government.

6. History points to a spring election

past elections

On this occasion the government has no option for a May or June election. The constitution indicates that the election must be held before 8th April 2016. History suggests that spring or summer elections are the clear favourite over winter ones. February stands out in particular as preferred by previous administrations.

The evidence stacks high for a spring election although nothing in politics is certain. In seeking to maximise coalition support, Enda Kenny is likely to choose a date in early 2016.

A model in progress

In April when this site launched I outlined what a model for Irish elections could look like. The reaction to the post was overwhelming and I want to thank everyone for their feedback and support.

Over the summer I’ve put my ideas to work and I’m happy to report some progress. But progress only, not a final model. Below I’ve shared some initial output and some issues are worth clearing up first:

  • The output below is derived from recent polls. Specifically, it takes polls from the past two months and averages them with proportions towards more recent polls. It assumes the holding of an election tomorrow and is not a projection towards 2016. No one knows what will happen then, although when polls begin to move, the output below will change too.
  • The model uses a list of candidates which includes announced and presumptive candidates. Many of my presumptions will be wrong (some candidates will retire/not stand) and other candidates will announce to run. For example in 2011 the late candidacies of Peter Mathews, Mick Wallace and Shane Ross provided a late shift in the state-of-play for their constituencies.
  • The model is still full of bugs and I have yet to sit down with other R-fluent people (people who can understand the code I’ve used) to iron out these issues and assess the model’s accuracy. For example, candidates are weighted on their past election results. Where such data are not available, a score is added subjectively. The code has also had trouble running multiple replications. In an attempt to run the code 1,000 times last night, only 419 replications were made before the code halted. One problem may relate to the handing of vote ties, something my code is not yet able to handle.

Initial output

Below are output graphs for 11 Irish political parties and groupings. These grouping are likely to change ahead of the election. The number of seats is listed on the x-axis (bottom) with the probability of a party obtaining this number of seats on the y-axis (left). Probabilities are very wide at this point. For example, knowing that Sinn Féin is 14% likely to win 32 seats means that it is 86% likely to win another total number of seats.


Fine Gael

Of all parties, the output for Fine Gael shows the widest range of possible seats. This is a shame because ideally the model should form a pyramid shape which shows a more distinct seat number as being the one most likely. Nonetheless, the strong grouping in the 43-48 seat range provides some clarity on the Fine Gael position ahead of the election.




Labour’s graph is closer to the pyramid shape we are looking for, showing the party with a c. 19% probability of winning 3 seats at the next election.



Fianna Fáil

Despite polling near its 2011 support levels, Fianna Fáil looks poised to make significant gains at the next election. There are a number of factors at play here, including its relative position to the larger Fine Gael party (now improved by FG’s decline), better selection of candidates at constituency level (i.e running the right number of candidates) and boundary changes which are largely favorable to the party. Seats in the range of 35-38 appear likely if an election were held tomorrow.



Sinn Féin

Despite polling at a similar level to Fianna Fáil above, transfers are less forthcoming for Sinn Féin, meaning the party is likely to win less seats than its opposition counterparts. Nonetheless, with 14 outgoing TDs at present, a doubling of seats for Sinn Féin would represent an historic result for the party on the year of the 1916 centenary.



Renua Ireland

With three outgoing TDs, Renua appears likely at this point to retain its existing seats, but no more. The competitive constituencies of Wicklow and Dublin Bay North present problems for Billy Timmins and Terence Flanagan, which explains the high probability for a return of just two seats. The potential for a 4th, 5th and 6th seat comes from Carlow-Kilkenny candidate Patrick McKee, Councillor John Leahy in Offaly and Senator Paul Bradford in Cork East.



Anti Austerity Alliance/ Socialist Party

With talks ongoing for a broad-left coalition in advance of the election, this graph may become obsolete in the future. Nonetheless, the model appears to have accurately captured the return of Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger to the Dáil.



People Before Profit

Richard Boyd Barrett appears safe for a seat in Dún Laoghaire with either John Lyons (Dublin Bay North) and Gino Kenny (Dublin Mid West) likely to return a second (if not third) seat for the party. Once again, any formation of a broad left coalition could change the candidates and outcomes for constituencies. It is also worth nothing that in the case of Gino Kenny, the lack of other “Independent/Other” candidates means he takes nearly all available votes (of which there are a lot). This situation would likely change with the emergence of other candidates.



Social Democrats

With only three candidates at present (TDs Roisin Shortall, Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy) no extra seats can be derived for the newly formed party. If anything, the competitiveness of the Wicklow constituency puts the seat of Stephen Donnelly at risk, although this is a very rare occurrence in the model.



United Left

“United Left” is a broad term to describe other left-wing candidates that are not in either AAA/SP or PBP. Three seats is the most likely outcome for this grouping which comprises TDs Joan Collins, Clare Daly and Semaus Healy (WUAG). Once again, these groupings are preliminary and will change if “the left” comes together in some form.



Green Party

After the loss of all its TDs in 2011, the Green Party appears to be struggling to regain support although a few points are worth bearing in mind here. The first is that the Greens sometimes fail to register in national polls. The party often returns support of c. 2% nationally, meaning a poll average of 1% only captures half the likely Green vote. The second is that while its support has previously been highest in a number of Dublin constituencies (Fingal, Mid-West, Rathdown etc.) it is likely to concentrate at the next election in one key constituency – Dublin Bay South. Leader Eamon Ryan is contesting here and is likely to have a vote level far above all other Green candidates and above levels previously seen in other elections. The model says zero seats, but intuitively, one seat is more likely.



Independents and Others

While “Independents and Others” usually includes the above smaller parties (AAA, PBP, RN, SD, GP, UL) in this case it only covers a number of small parties such as the Workers’ Party and Direct Democracy Ireland. Since none of these micro-parties are poised to win seats, you can interpret this table as just being for “Independent” candidates. At 28 seats, an election held tomorrow would see an unprecedented number of non-party TDs in the Dáil.



The output above represents a model in progress. Its numbers are only a reflection of the state-of-play on today’s poll numbers, and not what may happen in 2016. Even if the polls were to stay static during the election, new candidates will emerge and disrupt the political landscape. Much more work is needed on this model, but I am content with the progress so far and will post when I have more updates to share. As always your feedback is most encouraged and welcome.


You can follow Irish Election Stats on Facebook and Twitter.

David Higgins tweets at @higginsdavidw


Why a YES vote is a near certainty

Referenda, like candidate elections, are highly unpredictable in Ireland. While political parties will always retain a “core” vote which doesn’t move at any General Election, referenda can attract support (or opposition) from all swathes of Irish society.

In trying to asses the prospects for the Marriage Equality referendum it’s crucial to put the polls thus far into context and assess turnout amongst key age groups.


What the final polls say


Other polls may emerge ahead of Friday’s vote, but at the time of writing we have four opinion polls; one from each of the main polling companies (Red C, Millward Brown, Behaviour & Attitudes and Ipsos MRBI).

Evident in these polls is a huge variance in the vote. Excluding undecided voters, the YES vote hovers at around 70% while the core YES vote has a range of between 53% and 69%. The sampling dates on these polls covers anything between two weeks (Millward Brown) to two days (Ipsos MRBI).

In seeking to combine these final polls I have added “weights” to those polls which were taken most recently, and have produced the following average:

YES – 60%

NO – 25%

Undecided – 15%


The assignment of undecided voters is a tricky business. Red C assigns one third of undecided voters to the YES camp, with B&A assigning 27%. The remaining polling companies lie somewhere inbetween. I am going to be generous to the NO side and give them 80% of the undecided voters. This means a 3% + 12% split in our undecided voters (15%) on polling day.

YES – 63%

NO – 37%


If we were to follow a split of 1/3 YES and 2/3 NO, the result would be:

YES – 65%

NO – 35%


Will these numbers change by Friday?

Of course. Referenda in Ireland are notorious for tending towards the 50% mark. Polls in the recent Children’s Referendum were stuck in the 60s and 70s for most of the campaign, yet only 58% supported the amendment on the day.

The point of comparison that is regularly referenced in this campaign is the 1995 Referendum on Divorce.


The drop in support for Divorce was incredibly strong, with most of the decline taking place during the campaign itself. To understand this drop, I have created an overlay of the Divorce campaign onto a timeline of polls during the 2015 Marriage Referendum campaign. For the sake of consistency I have included the polling company’s own estimates on the allocation of undecided voters.


The YES lead in this campaign has been solidly above the YES lead in 1995 and the decline in the YES vote has not been as strong. In short, there would need to be a cataclysmic revelation in the campaign over the next two days for this vote to fail. Or, the polls are completely wrong.


The “shy NO” vote

The recent UK General Election has led to an investigation into poor polling accuracy. Many fear the “shy Tory” vote which emerged on May 7th may repeat itself with a “shy NO” vote on May 22nd here. So what if it does?

David Cameron’s Conservative party won 37% of the vote, when polls placed the party at around 34%. If the YES vote is off by 3%, it will not be enough to defeat the referendum. The “shy NO” vote in the Divorce referendum was only 1.4%.


Turnout and age groups

Overall turnout will be a key indicator in this election. We will know turnout figures throughout Friday’s vote with a high turnout likely to favour the YES side. But why do we say this? Put simply it is down to demographics.


The above survey by the CSO must be taken with a pinch of salt. No age group has 90% turnout. A considerable proportion of respondents in this survey did not actually vote in 2011 or 2002. However the graph does capture the traditional apathy towards elections by young people. It also debunks the myth that turnout moves “linearly” throughout age groups (i.e that 65+ voters have the highest turnout, with all preceding age groups having less).

ageIf this survey is accurate, it shows that this referendum will not be won by those in their 20s or defeated by those in their 70s, but decided mainly by those in their 40s and 50s. This generation grew up in the 1980s alongside the AIDS epidemic and in the early 1990s when homosexuality was decriminalised. So how are they voting?

Red C has provided an age breakdown of the ‘No’/’Don’t Know’ voters in their most recent poll. This assumes that every single undecided voter will decide to vote NO on Friday. Despite this allocation, 62% of those aged 54-65 intend on voting YES with 71% of those aged 35-44 intending to vote YES.

So, turnout is often high for those aged 35-65, and a significant majority of these voters are backing a YES vote, but are there enough of them? Surely those who are aged 65 to 100 or higher will eclipse the vote of younger people?


No, once again conventional wisdom does not hold. You would be forgiven for assuming that the 65+ age group was the largest.

The mobilisation of students in this referendum is often highlighted in the campaign, and the sign-up/turnout efforts will have a marginal effect, but in reality the 25-34 age group will have the larger impact. Their likelihood to vote is higher than students, they are only marginally less likely to support a YES vote and most importantly, there’s lots of them!

The narrative of this referendum (like most others of a socially divisive nature) is that of students versus pensioners. Granted, both groups capture the cores of the YES and NO camps, but neither group has sufficient numbers in their own right to swing this election. The quiet middle-aged middle-ground of middle-Ireland will decide this referendum, and so far their vote is nothing but a YES.


Result on the day

With a strong break of undecided voters to the NO camp in the closing days, we’re unlikely to see the 70% YES that has transpired in most polls so far. However little evidence has been produced to suggest that a shy NO vote exists, other than a juxtaposition to our UK neighbours. Determination will drive turnout on both sides, and we’re likely to see brisk numbers at polling stations with the YES vote benefiting most from such a scenario.

My heart wants a YES vote in the 65-70% range, but my head says somewhere between 60% and 65% YES.


What would an Irish General Election forecasting model look like?

13-nate-silver_nocrop_w529_h615_2xThe past few year’s has been an exciting time in field of election statistics. The emergence of Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog (now a major news site) has changed the dynamic of US elections forever. For those unfamiliar with Nate, he was named one of The World’s 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine in 2009 for his accurate prediction of the 2008 Presidential Election, calling the outcomes of 49 of the 50 US state contests. In 2012 he predicted all 50 states correctly.

So, can we just take his model and use it in Ireland? Sadly, no. However the principles of his approach provide a strong basis for any export to Ireland.



At the core of FiveThirtyEight is a collection of opinion polls that are averaged to indicate what the public are thinking at any given moment. Powerful stuff, but there are a few differences between US polls and Irish polls which are worth bearing in mind from the outset:

  1. Frequency – In the course of a US election campaign there are so many opinion polls that it is difficult to track them all. In the UK we find similar frequency where at the time of writing at least one poll is published every day during the 2015 General Election. During the 2011 Irish General Election 14 polls were published in the two months prior to polling day. Outside of a General Election less than half that number are published across the same period.
  2. Multi-Party System – I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode where Kang and Kodos reveal their true (alien) identities to Springfield and declare “It’s a two-party system. You have to vote for one of us”. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Register of Political Parties runs to 19 names, with Renua Ireland soon to make it 20. The ability for opinion polls to accurately capture support for small political parties is a major concern. If a poll places The Green Party on 2%, it is customary for commentators to point out in jest that this could mean a support level of -1%, when one applies the usual +/-3% margin of error.
  3. Constituency level polling – Since the US operates an Electoral College system for its Presidential Elections, opinion polls on a national basis have little relevance. Instead, polling companies operate on a state-by-state basis, the Irish equivalent of polling Roscommon-East Galway or Cork North Central on their own. Polls at this level are costly and for that reason they are rarely done in Ireland, and there is no evidence to support their accuracy.

So we are confined to national level polls with some weighted average calculated. Some of this work is already underway by other observers of Irish Elections, and more “poll of polls” tend to emerge in the build-up to elections.



The next component of a model for Irish elections must answer the question of constituency support levels. If Sinn Féin doubles its support nationally (since the last election), will its vote double in my local constituency? The answer to this is of course, no. Sinn Féin may triple its vote in some constituencies, but may stand still in others. The same applies for parties set to lose support. If Labour’s vote is cut in half nationally, not every constituency will mirror this trend.

Adrian Kavanagh is a Lecturer in the Maynooth University Department of Geography and his website on Irish Elections attempts to gauge constituency support levels. His approach assumes that rises/falls in support levels are felt evenly across all constituencies. This is a very rough model, something Dr. Kavanagh highlights in his posts, however it is the first of its kind in Ireland and it provides an excellent basis for an improved model to take shape.

Such changes should attempt to incorporate:

  1. Local Election Results – Local Elections in Ireland take place in the middle of a Dáil term. 21 months separated the 2009 Local Elections and the 2011 General Election with a similar interval set to separate the 2014 Local Elections and the 2016 General Election. In examining “the locals” a model should examine where certain parties made gains/losses. For example, the Sinn Féin vote in Dublin West tripled between 2011 and 2014 with other areas only seeing slight increases. I question whether the level of support at local elections is predictive in its own right (many other factors are at play) however the change in vote share could prove very helpful to any model.
  2. Constituency Volatility – “My father voted for his father, and you’ll vote for his son – he fixed the road!”. The conservative nature of the Irish electorate should never be underestimate and The Savage Eye has captured this phenomenon well in a 14 second skit. Stereotypes would tell us that rural voters are less likely to change their votes at election time, with the reverse true for urban areas, especially Dublin. While most Irish stereotypes are subjective, we CAN measure volatility in political constituencies and incorporate it into a statistical model. It has just never been attempted before.



While the above changes can help us gauge party support levels for particular constituencies, this tells us nothing about support for particular candidates. Any model for Irish Elections should seek to measure the strength of candidates within their party tickets, within their constituencies and the state of independent candidates. There are a number of factors which should be considered:

  1. Historical Results – Where candidates have run before in their constituency, or in local elections, their past results can give us an indication of future support.
  2. Incumbency – Outgoing TDs have a distinct advantage above newcomers, or those who contested before but lost. This is true in any electoral system and the extent of this phenomenon in Irish elections should be further examined. Outgoing party candidates will have received state funding for the previous Dáil term and Independent TDs a “leader’s allowance”.
  3. Outgoing Ministers – A seat at the cabinet table is highly regarded in many parts of the country, and at the very least it provides a national platform upon which a candidate can increase their chance of re-election. An examination of previous outgoing ministers may give us some indication of the prospects for outgoing Fine Gael and Labour ministers at the next election.  
  4. County Councillors/MEPs/Senators – Name me a new Dublin TD from the 2011 Election who wasn’t in another elected position before their election? If you struggle to answer this question you are not alone. Only ONE TD falls into this category, Peter Matthews who was elected for Fine Gael in Dublin South before leaving the party in 2013. A regular contributor to “Tonight with Vincent Browne” during the crisis, Matthews proves that if you are not already elected to another position, “celebrity” is nearly the only other factor that can aide your election. This is true for Gerry Adams, Mick Wallace, Peter Fitzpatrick and Stephen Donnelly, all of whom joined the Dáil in 2011 with similar advantages. The only exception is Labour’s Michael McNamara who was elected in Clare having never served before as a councillor, MEP or Senator. He did however contest the 2009 European Elections as an independent. The remaining new TDs who joined the Dáil in 2011 did so from the platform of some other elected position, usually Councillor or Senator. Any model of Irish elections must take this into account, and score candidates on that basis.
  5. Strength Within “The Ticket” – Let’s assume that Fianna Fáil has won 10,000 votes in a constituency and two candidates are fielded by the party. The above factors would score candidates individually based on their elected positions and previous results. The next step is to take these strengths and proportion them to the available votes for that party. If “Candidate A” emerges with a score of 0.6, and “Candidate B” with a score of 1.8 we can conclude that “Candidate B” is three times stronger than their running mate. Applying this proportion to the votes available, “Candidate A” wins 2,500 first preference votes, and “Candidate B” wins 7,500.



Before bringing our factors together into a complete model, let us re-cap and summaries the components at play:

  1. Opinion Polls
    • Average of recent party polls, weighted for most recent polls, and those from the most accurate polling companies.
    • Adjust polls for over/understatement of certain political parties (if applicable)
  2. Constituency Support Levels
    • Include local election results to help determine regional spread of support changes for each party.
    • Use Pearson volatility measure or other method to determine volatility of each constituency. Ensure that predictions do not deviate from this volatility.
  3. Score candidates based on:
    • Past election results
    • Elected position currently or previously held (some measure of “celebrity” for others)
    • Relative strength versus candidates from same party or grouping

Having achieved all of the above (and an estimate for turnout in each constituency), we should be left with some prediction for first preference votes for each candidate in each constituency. The model must hold that party support mirrors its poll support nationwide and that constituency proportions show some reflection to historic results.



Unlike the US and UK electoral systems, our elections are determined not by first preference votes, but by transfers through the elimination of candidates (and surplus votes from those elected). An estimate of transfers is required to model election counts under our PR-STV system along with the rate of non-transferable votes:

  1. Transfer Patterns – Examine recent election results to determine likely transfer patterns between parties. Some trends are already known including a strong level of transfer between the government parties and a level of “transfer toxicity” for Fianna Fáil, meaning they attract very few transfers. Figures can be arrived at for these patterns and incorporated into the model.
  2. Non-transferable votes – As elections counts proceed, the number of remaining candidates diminishes. As each candidate is eliminated, their transfers have fewer places to go, and many do not transfer to any candidate. The rate at which this figure rises can be computed from historical results and a simple function applied to the model.



With first preference votes and transfer patterns calculated, the final step is to simulate each election count under various circumstances. I will outline some steps in this process here, with further reading recommended over at FiveThirtyEight’s Methodology page:

  • Perform the steps outlined above and produce an initial outcome for the various constituencies.
  • Allow for variations in all the variables used (for example, a poll may estimate Fine Gael’s vote at 30% nationwide. Allow for this figure to *hover* anywhere between 27% and 33%. Apply the same to candidate scores. A candidate may be on course to take 5,000 votes. Allow this number to hover between 4,500 and 5,500).
  • Simulate the model at least 1,000 times (FiveThirtyEight runs their model 100,000 times). At each “replication” (one of the 100,000 runs) the variables above will hover at a different combination of results. Essentially, this allows us to reach into 100,000 parallel universes, each one producing a slightly different result, in and around what national polls and candidate scores suggest to us.
  • Record the results at each replication.
  • Produce probability figures for each candidate and for each party.


This final point is the fun part (if you weren’t having fun reading this already). If the model works, it should allow us to track the chances for each election candidate as the race progresses. Some examples:

  • alan-shatter-3994-310x415Taoiseach X has a 90% chance of reelection.
  • Cllr. Y has a 59% chance of winning a seat.
  • Minister Z has a 31% chance of reelection. (Illustrated right)
  • Party A is likely to win 56 seats, and is 95% likely to be within the range of 52-59 seats.
  • Party B is likely to win 10 seats, and is 95% likely to be within the range of 8-11 seats.

By 90% chance, we mean that out of 100,000 replications, Taoiseach X was re-elected under 90,000 of those simulations.



The possibilities are endless with such a model however I realise that all of the above is rooted in sizeable optimism and is shadowed by immeasurable uncertainty. Even if the model draws accurately on all possible sources (and if subjective measures like “celebrity” can be turned into numbers), what’s to say that it will prove no more accurate than a coin toss in a General Election?

However, I shouldn’t end this piece on a sour note. This approach has potential, and at the very least it could prove a bit of fun putting together. The insights from election results are invaluable to our democracy and I genuinely believe that the construction of a forecasting model could radically transform the way we examine Irish General Elections. Having deconstructed the components of this model, the next step is to build it and that’s where I need some help. If you were interested by this piece and want to get involved, please get in touch.


David Higgins




Welcome to Irish Election Stats

electionstatsiconHello, and welcome to Irish Election Stats. This site was created by David Higgins with the intention of providing in-depth analysis ahead of the 2016 General Election. The next election will be a crucial test for the Fine Gael/Labour coalition which currently commands over 60% of the seats in Dáil Éireann. Opinion polls have never been more volatile in Ireland as the country moves from a “two and a half party system” (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour) to one where all of the aforementioned parties, and Sinn Féin, have the potential to command significant and even dominant support in the Irish Electoral System.   Over the course of the next year, this site will attempt to achieve a number of things:

  • Constituency level analysis – Following the 2012 Constituency Commission Report Ireland was re-drawn into 40 constituencies of either three, four, or five seats. In total 158 seats will be up for grabs in 2016, down from 166 in the present Dáil. Each of these 40 constituencies is its own battle, fought alongside the national debate on the next government. The phrase “all politics is local” rings true as many constituencies will produce results which deviate from national opinion polls and predictions. In attempting to model each constituency historical election results will play a major role, as will local knowledge and the strength of selected candidates. This is a highly subjective field, and the predictions made should be taken alongside one’s daily sodium intake.
  • Opinion polls – In advance of a general election opinion polls become more frequent and polls will begin to tackle questions beyond that of party support. This site hopes to track the major opinion poll results and to assess their validity.
  • Historic results – In their own right, Ireland’s historical elections results take us into the past debates that defined the evolution of our country. Alongside the serious business of calling the next election, this site aims to provide readers with some fascinating figures, and the stories which led to results many could never have anticipated.

This site is new and seeks to bring as many people as possible into the discussion. Comment is free and if you are interested in getting involved with the project, please get in touch. Anyone with a flare for statistical modelling would be an invaluable contributor to the site.

Happy Reading,

David Higgins