It has been a year since the game-changing 2020 general election, which brought an end to civil war politics, and redrew the electoral map. However, due to COVID-19 suspending politics as usual the effects of this change have been muted and the public’s opinion hard to discern. This has left Irish politics in an interesting place going forward that should be closely examined. By analysing the election results and subsequent polls, we have identified shifting trends that are largely being shaped by young voters.
Among younger voters, i.e., the under thirty-fives, the change has been discernibly different from the rest of the public. Support for Fianna Fáil has been reasonably steady, albeit low, over the last year remaining only in the mid to low teens. Similarly, its former rival turned coalition partner, Fine Gael has remained fairly intact with this voting bracket. However, its support has a higher base in the low twenties, so it is in a better position than Fianna Fáil.
One trend that has been reflected in the general public, yet spearheaded by younger voters, is an increase in support for Sinn Féin. While the results do vary, it appears that their support amongst the under thirty-fives has grown from the low to the high thirties, and possibly even higher. This makes it comfortably the most popular party with young people. If they can maintain this support, they will have an expanding support base as the years go on.
Over the last year, there has been more fluctuation when we analyse the entire voting population. The biggest victim of this change in opinion is Fianna Fáil. Having left the 2020 elections with a respectable 22.2% of the first preference votes they are now down to the mid-teens in the polls. This would have a rather devastating effect on their party. If an election were held tomorrow, they would probably lose close to 9 seats, leaving them with just 28.
This could potentially hit some pretty big names in Fianna Fáil. Our analysis shows prominent deputies like Jim O’Callaghan, and Stephen Donnelly would likely lose their seats, with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath also at risk. This is an incredibly dangerous position for Micheál Martin, exposing him to a leadership challenge, potentially as soon as December 2022 when Leo Varadkar becomes Taoiseach.
Fine Gael is benefiting from Martin’s struggles. After having a disappointing election, that only secured them 20.9% of the first preference votes, they are looking noticeably stronger. They are currently polling in the high twenties and were even hitting the low thirties throughout last year. Our projections show they could become the largest party, with forty-five seats, up by ten.
Sinn Féin has also grown in popularity over the last year. After a surprise finish in the 2020 election, winning 24.5% of the first preference votes, they have continued growing. Like Fine Gael, they are also in the high twenties and occasionally break into the low thirties in the polls. Due to this rise in support, and their fielding too few candidates in the last election, they would probably gain seven seats in the event of an election. They would increase to forty-four seats, neck and neck with what we project Fine Gael to get.
The Green Party has also suffered from going into government. They are currently polling around five percent, which would cause them to drop from twelve to eight seats in an election. The other smaller parties have remained relatively steady. Labour hasn’t changed at all in the polls and may even stand to gain a seat.
The Social Democrats have grown in support, largely among young voters. However, due to their electoral strategy of only running in a few constituencies, they won’t be able to make any gains. Solidarity-People Before Profit has remained steady in the polls but may lose a seat to Sinn Féin. Aontú has grown in support but it is unclear where they can pick up any new seats. Finally, the independents have lowered slightly in support, possibly causing them to shrink to sixteen seats.
From this, we can see a very interesting electoral landscape forming. The current coalition may be able to regain power even after losing seats, provided they have the support of some independents. The question is will Fianna Fáil and the Greens want to come back in after losing so many seats? They may have their doubts. However, it doesn’t look like there will be enough seats for a broad left coalition to oppose them. This means that a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin-other coalition may be the only alternative.
Conall Clarke – Politics Writer