Irish general election forecast – Fine Gael set to recover many of their 2016 losses

Fine Gael retained their status as largest party following the Irish general election of 2016, but were unable to put together a coalition after a collapse in support for their coalition partners, Labour, and an increase in the number of independent and Sinn Féin TDs in the Dáil. Since then, they have required a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the second largest party, Fianna Fáil.

The deal is due to be reviewed later this year, and many commentators are expecting that there will be a general election in 2018, with the bookmakers Paddy Power offering odds of 2/1 on that there will be a ballot before the end of the year.

Since Leo Varadkar took over as Taoiseach in the summer of 2017, Fine Gael have established a persistent lead in the polls over Fianna Fáil of between six and nine points. In order to predict how this polling lead might translate into seats, I repurposed the STV forecast model that I built for last year’s Northern Ireland Assembly election, using transfer pattern data, number of first preference votes received in 2016, and a scaling factor to adjust these for the most recent poll; I used the Red C/Sunday Business Post poll from the 25th of January 2018, which gave Fine Gael 32%, a six point lead over Fianna Fáil on 26%.

There are a number of limitations with the model and reasons why southern elections don’t necessarily unfold in the way northern elections do. The biggest issue is the number of independents; Northern Ireland doesn’t have anything remotely as wacky as the Tipperary constituency, which elected three independent TDs in 2016. I’ve had to group all of the independents as one large party, which is a gross simplification. Party tickets tend not to be as evenly balanced in terms of first preferences in the south as they are in the north, either.

In other words, if you have a great deal of local knowledge about any of the constituencies and something looks awry, then I apologize in advance. If it is in-depth constituency profiles you are looking for, then I suggest Statler and Waldorf’s excellent series from 2016.

The nowcast model predicts what would happen were a general election to take place tomorrow. If a constituency name is highlighted then it means that the party is the incumbent, and the percentage probability shows the probability of that seat being won.

In the 160 seat chamber, with 80 required for a majority, the composition would be something like:

  • Fine Gael 70 (up 20)
  • Fianna Fáil 46 (up 2)
  • Sinn Féin 19 (down 4)
  • Independents 16 (down 7)
  • Labour 3 (down 4)
  • Solidarity-People Before Profit 1 (down 5)
  • Social Democrats 3 (no change)
  • Greens 1 (down 1)
  • Ceann Comhairle 1 (no change)

Whilst this outcome would see Fine Gael recoup almost all of their seats lost in the 2016 election, they would still struggle to put together a governing coalition due to the meltdown of Labour, their traditional coalition partners.

Whilst this scenario would see Fine Gael making a significant number of gains, there are relatively few opportunities to make gains at the expense of Fianna Fáil. A third seat in Mayo, at the expense of Fianna Fáil’s second seat, is a rare example of a clear opportunity to make a gain at their main rival’s expense.

Elsewhere their biggest opportunities to make gains are at the expense of independent TDs (for example Roscommon-Galway or Tipperary, or second seats in Dublin South-West or Waterford), or from Labour (e.g. a second seat in Cork East), or in newly created seats such as Cavan-Monaghan or Kildare South. To win 80 seats and an outright majority, they would need to win a third seat in Galway West, in addition to all the contests that the model suggests would be easier, such as third seats in Carlow-Kilkenny, Cavan-Monaghan, and Cork East.

Fianna Fáil will see a number of potential opportunities to make gains, needing only a small rise in support to be competitive in seats such as a third seat in the newly-created Laois–Offaly constituency, or a first seat in Dublin South-Central. Were they to retain their second seat in Mayo, whilst making gains in all of the seats that the model ranks as being notionally easier, then they could find themselves winning as many as 58 seats.

Winning fewer than 60 seats wouldn’t put Fianna Fáil in a position to form the next government, even if they went in to coalition with Sinn Féin (something that they appear to have ruled out, anyway).

Fine Gael look to be in a strong position should they contest an election this year, despite the uncertainty in many of the contests that they face. However, they are likely to yet again struggle to put together a stable ruling coalition.

A qualified accountant and data analyst, interested in politics, economics and data. Twitter: @peterdonaghy