Archive for February, 2011

Results in Ireland

It is now Sunday evening in the Republic of Ireland, and most seats have been decided in their general election. The overall result is clear, with the governing Fianna Fail party decimated, their government partner the Green Party completely eliminated from the Dail, and opposition parties Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein winning record numbers of seats.

Fine Gael had earlier hoped to be able to govern alone with the support of some of the numerous independents, but instead will almost certainly govern in a large coalition with the second-biggest party, Labour. Ireland’s political system for the last ninety years has been dominated by two centre-right parties, who today only hold approximately 93 out of 166 seats in the Dail. It would probably make more sense for Fine Gael to go into government with Fianna Fail, with whom they share more ideology and who have been reduced to minor party status. Old habits die hard, however, and Fianna Fail have been blamed for the collapse of Ireland’s economy. After 14 years of sharing the opposition benches with Labour, Fine Gael look set to form government with them. This government will have over two-thirds of the seats in the Dail.

At the moment, 150 seats have been filled in the Dail, with twelve seats in three constituencies yet to be decided. Races in these three constituencies were delayed by extremely close counts at key points of elimination. The results are as follows:

Party Seats won Seats leading Total
Fine Gael 69 5 74
Labour 36 1 37
Fianna Fail 18 1 19
Sinn Fein 14 2 16
United Left Alliance 5 0 5
Independents 12 3 15

The wipe-out of Fianna Fail hit them all over the country. In 2007, they won 19 of 47 seats in County Dublin. This time they only won one. They fell from 14 to 5 in Connacht and Ulster, losing their deputy leader Mary Coughlan in Donegal South West. In County Cork, they won five seats, down from nine, with their new leader Micheál Martin cushioning the blow. His constituency of Cork South-Central was the only place in the country where Fianna Fail managed to win two seats. In 2007 they managed to win two seats in 32 constituencies. There wasn’t a single constituency that didn’t elect a Fianna Fail member in 2007, but this time a majority of constituencies did not elect anyone from that party.

Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein made gains all over the country. Labour is now the largest party in Dublin, with 18 of 47 seats, up from 9 in 2007. In addition, the United Left Alliance, which includes the Socialist Party and other left-wing groups, won four seats in Dublin, and an additional seat in the country. All six Green Party seats were lost.

I have produced maps that attempt to display graphically and geographically the results of the election. Due to multi-member districts this is difficult to demonstrate. I have produced a map with a dot for every TD, with dots distributed evenly within each constituency, and then randomised within that constituency. It gives you a general sense of the representation of the parties. You can see them below the fold:

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Irish election results liveblog

11:10am – We’re getting early figures in for a bunch of constituencies. They are all confirming the trend that we have seen. In Donegal South-West, the Deputy PM, Mary Coughlan, is in trouble.

9:04am – I’ve been doing some number-crunching of the 2007 election results while we wait for figures. In 2007 Fianna Fail won 77 seats, to 51 for Fine Gael, 20 for Labour, 6 for the Green Party, 4 for Sinn Fein, and 6 others. Breaking down the seats between five regions (County Dublin, County Cork, Connacht-Ulster, Munster and Leinster), Dublin is by far the best region for Labour and the Greens, with 5 of 6 Greens elected there, and 9 of 20 Labour TDs. In constrast, Fine Gael only won 10 seats in Dublin, out of a total of 51.

8:23am – The RTE exit poll has Fine Gael polling 36%, with Labour on 20%, 15.5% for Independents and others, 15% for the governing Fianna Fail party, 10% for Sinn Fein and 2.7% for the Greens. This doesn’t appear to be enough for FG to form single-party government. Fianna Fail polled only 8% in Dublin, which could wipe them out entirely in the capital.

8:15am – It’s now early in the morning in Ireland, where votes will be counted over the weekend to determine the result in the 43 constituencies. Over the next few hours we should see primary vote figures in many constituencies, but it will take the next two days to count all the preferences. RTE Radio 1 is currently reading out an exit poll which I will post in a minute.

Ireland 2011: the electoral system

Ireland’s electoral system is one that is relatively familiar to Australians, but quite unusual around the world, using a system similar to Hare-Clark, used in Tasmania and the ACT.

The lower house of the Irish Parliament, the Dáil Éireann, has existed in various forms for over 90 years. The original Dáil was elected by single-member districts. It was created following the 1918 UK election, when most Irish seats were won by Sinn Fein. Those MPs refused to sit in the UK Parliament, and convened as the Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Irish home rule was instituted in 1922, with the Dáil Éireann elected by the single transferable vote electoral system. This system has continued until today.

The modern Dáil Éireann is elected from 43 constituencies, electing a total of 166 Teachta Dála, or TDs. Each constituency elects between three and five TDs.

Elections are conducted by Single Transferable Vote, which is basically the system of proportional representation used in Australia for the Senate, the ACT, Tasmania, and all other state upper houses.

The key differences are slight but significant. There is no above-the-line voting in Ireland, and while candidates are almost always aligned with a party, they aren’t divided into separate parties on the ballot. Parties don’t necessarily run as many candidates as there are seats: indeed parties usually run only as many as they think can be elected in that constituency.

The system does tend to produce coalition governments and hung parliaments like any other proportional system, but unlike those in mainland Europe, it isn’t precisely proportional. With only 3-5 members per district the quota lies at between 16.7% and 25%, meaning most seats are won by major parties, with a bias against smaller parties.

In 2007, Fianna Fail won 77 seats, with 41.6% of the vote. Fine Gael won 51 seats, with 27.3% of the vote. Labour won 20 seats with 10.1% of the vote. The Green Party won 6 seats with 4.7% of the vote. Sinn Fein won 4 seats with 6.9% of the vote. The Progressive Democrats won two seats with 2.7%.

Ireland 2011: the final week

Ireland goes to the polls this Friday in a general election that will likely see a massive shift in Irish politics.

The current Irish government has been in power since 1997, led by the conservative Fianna Fail party. They have been in coalition since 2007 with the Green Party. While the government was one of the most stable in Irish history for its first decade, things turned sour in the last term, with the Irish economy devastated by the global financial crisis.

Fianna Fail has plummeted in the polls, and are currently stuck in third place, occasionally in danger of falling into fourth place.

The main opposition parties in Ireland are the centre-right Fine Gael, the centre-left Labour and the left-wing Sinn Fein. Fine Gael is the other major party, and are the only other party to have ever led a government. Fine Gael was originally formed by those who had supported the Anglo-Irish treaty in the early 1920s that triggered the Irish Civil War, while Fianna Fael was formed by those who opposed the treaty and fought on the other side in the war.

The two major parties cannot be easily slotted as the major “centre-left” party and the major “centre-right” party, and both are more right-wing than left.

Unlike in other English-speaking countries, Labour has never emerged as a major party, usually polling much less than 20%. Sinn Fein operates as a single party in all of Ireland, and are led by Gerry Adams. Adams has traditionally held a seat in the British House of Commons (which he has refused to take up) as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly. He recently resigned from both bodies to contest the upcoming Irish general election.

Today’s Irish Times poll has Fine Gael polling 37% (up 4%), Labour polling 19% (down 5%), Fianna Fail 16% (+1), Sinn Fein 12% (-1) and the Greens 2% (-1).

Fine Gael has never previously won a majority in the Dail (the lower house of the Irish parliament). It is estimated that they could win such a majority with just over 40% of the primary vote. While Ireland’s system is largely proportional, the small size of districts mean that the larger parties still benefit from a disproportionate seat allocation, and can win a majority with less than a majority of votes.

Labour is also clearly on track for second place, and the campaign has largely focused on the contest between Fine Gael and Labour, resembling a more traditional left-right battle. For most of the last decade, it has appeared that the next non-FF government would be a coalition of Fine Gael and Labour, as have most of the previous governments in which one of those parties has been involved. However the complete collapse of Fianna Fail has shifted focus away.

It seems unlikely Labour would join a government with Fine Gael in circumstances where FG fell just short of a majority and Labour was for the first time a major party in the Dail. Current polling has the vote for independents increasing dramatically, and Fine Gael should be able to gain the support of enough independents to govern without another party.

Along with Labour and Sinn Fein, a third left-wing party is expected to gain ground. The United Left Alliance is a recently formed grouping led by the Socialist Party’s Joe Higgins, who was his party’s sole TD from 1997 to 2007 and has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2009. They are also polling well and are expected to gain seats.

Canada 1993: the benchmark for NSW?

With the NSW Labor government on track for a massive defeat, I thought I’d look into the history of massive landslide defeats in Westminster system countries. Most of the examples I found came from Canada, mainly from provincial elections, along with a few other notable examples. The Queensland elections of 1974 and 1983, the South Australian election of 1993, the 2002 New Zealand election, and elections in the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

There is one example, that stands out from all others, which was the 1993 Canadian federal election, which saw the quick and painful death of a political party with over a hundred years of history.

Brian Mulroney had led the Progressive Conservative (PC) federal government from 1984 until early 1993. He had won a landslide victory in 1984, and was re-elected with a smaller majority in 1988. The government’s popularity collapsed in its second term, and its position worsened in the recession of the early 1990s. Mulroney retired in June 1993 and was succeeded by Canada’s first female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell. She led the government into the federal election in October 1993.

The election was an extreme result, with a majority of Canadian voters changing their vote compared to 1988. The PCs were assaulted on all sides, losing ground to the separatist Bloc Québécois, the opposition Liberals, and the right-wing Reform party. Reform had been formed as a conservative party with its base in the western provinces, promoting decentralisation and attacking the PC government from the right. The Bloc Québécois was formed in 1991 with the defection of a number of Liberal and Progressive Conservative federal MPs from Quebec, committed to sovereignty for Quebec.

At the 1993 election, the Progressive Conservatives collapsed, falling from 169 seats in 1988 to only two. Only one cabinet minister survived the election. While the party had been polling in the mid-30s six weeks out from the election, by election day this had plummeted to 16%.

The Liberal opposition increased its seats from 83 to 177, giving them a solid majority. Both the Bloc Québécois and Reform won their first seats at a general election, with the Bloc winning 54 seats and Reform winning 52. The Bloc became the official opposition, despite only running in one province. The left-wing New Democratic Party also collapsed, falling from 43 to 9. The 1988 election had been their best, but 1993 turned into their worst. They still won more seats than the PCs, despite polling substantially less.

The Progressive Conservatives never recovered from this devastating loss. They won 20 seats in 1997, but again fell to 12 in 2000.

The PCs merged with the Canadian Alliance, the successor to Reform, in 2003 to form the Conservative Party of Canada. The party is dominated by those aligned with Reform.

Meanwhile the New Democrats recovered their strength, and the Bloc today continue to hold a large majority of federal seats in Quebec. With the continued strength of these two parties, it has become incredibly difficult for either major party to form a stable majority government, despite Canada’s majoritarian electoral system.

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NSW headed for colossal landslide

Yesterday’s Nielsen poll has Labor still on track for a catastrophic defeat. Along with the January Galaxy poll, the Nielsen poll has the ALP polling only 34% of the two-party-preferred vote, compared to the Coalition on 66%. On primary votes, the Coalition has hit a new high with 53%, compared to 51% in the Galaxy poll, with the ALP on 22% (compared to 20% in Galaxy) and the Greens on 13% (compared to 15% in Galaxy).

There is a general consensus that such a result would produce a massive defeat for the ALP, way out of proportion to the voting figures. Antony Green’s swing calculator has the ALP winning only 14 seats compared to 73 Coalition seats on a uniform two-party-preferred swing. In the next election, however, many contests will not be between Labor and the Coalition, with Greens and independents coming in the top two in many seats in Sydney and the country. In addition, two-party-preferred figures in polls are based on preference flows from minor parties remaining consistent. Yet it appears that the Greens preference flow to Labor will be greatly diminished. Both of these factors suggest that the impact could be worse than Antony Green’s calculator predicts.

I developed my own calculator which instead calculates swings on primary votes, based on proportional swing, which means a party’s vote will swing more heavily in areas where their vote is higher. This reflects the expectation that the swing against Labor will be more heavily concentrated in its heartland and marginals, rather than in Coalition seats, and that the Greens vote appears to have the most potential to grow in areas where it is already strong.

Before laying out what my calculator produced, it’s worth noting that many flaws still remain. Like a simple pendulum calculator, it relies on the concept of a uniform result. It doesn’t take into account the abilities and appeal of individual candidates, either at the current election or at the last. As an example, Macquarie Fields appears much more marginal than its neighbouring seats of Campbelltown and Liverpool largely because of the 2005 by-election and 2007 election which saw a particularly strong Liberal candidate and a local ALP hit by repeated scandals. It is unlikely to experience such a strong swing as other seats that have not previously swung so hard.

Neither calculator can factor in the strong Liberal candidates in Keira and Cabramatta, both of which are some of Labor’s safest seats in the state on paper. It is a particular problem when it comes to independents. The calculator assumes that defeated independent MPs will run again in Pittwater and Manly, while ignoring the independent candidate in Wollongong who many are tipping to win the seat.

In addition, the calculator allows the user to make changes to the estimated preference flows in a contest between any two of Labor, Coalition, Greens and Independents. These assumptions could be wrong. For example, I assume that 30% of Greens preferences will go to Labor, and 15% to the Coalition, which is substantially less than in 2007.

Having said that, the result the calculator produces is:

  • Liberal – 56
  • National – 19
  • Labor – 10
  • Greens – 3
  • Independents – 4

After the break, I break down these figures, map them out on a map of NSW, and give you a link to where you can download the calculator yourself.

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NSW 2011 guide launched

I have now finished my guide to the NSW state election, to be held on 26 March. The guide includes profiles of all 93 Legislative Assembly districts, as well as overviews of NSW political history, recent political events, the key seats, and the race for the Legislative Council.

You can click through to the front page of the guide by clicking on the above image. You can also access the key pages in the box on the right-hand side of the website.

Most pages of the guide allow readers to post their comments, so please contribute if you have something to say.

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