Urban/rural divide among voters made clear by turnout figures
Commuter counties rejected Government’s proposal by a clear margin
There was a high level of support for the No side in the “breakfast-roll man” Dublin commuter belt constituencies, with 54.6 per cent of voters rejecting the proposal here. Photograph: Alan Betson
There has been a lot of emphasis in recent days on the low voter turnout levels in last Friday’s referendums and the likely impact that had on the result of the Seanad referendum. But does the low turnout warrant further attention and action, or is it just symptomatic of the normal functioning of Irish democracy?
Given how the final result on Saturday varied so radically from the opinion polls, it is probably fair to say that a lower turnout propensity among a “softer” Yes support base played a significant role. People in urban Ireland, on average, were more likely to turn out to vote but also more likely to oppose the referendum proposal – while rural Ireland saw higher support levels for the referendum proposal but a notably lower level of turnout.
There are obvious parallels here with earlier referendum contests, including the 1995 divorce, 2001 Nice Treaty and 2002 abortion referendums, given the narrow margins
by which these were decided and the markedly striking geographical differences in turnout propensity.
On average, there was a turnout level of 40.4 per cent in the Seanad referendum across the different urban constituencies (constituencies located in Dublin, its immediate commuter belt – ie, Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow – and the other cities). Only two out of these 23 constituencies supported the referendum proposal, with an average support level of just 45.9 per cent being recorded for the Yes side.
By contrast, a significant majority (13) of the 20 more rural constituencies voted in favour for the proposal, with an average support level of 51.0 per cent recorded for the Yes side. However, the average turnout levels across these constituencies was just 37.9 per cent.
There was a high level of support for the No side in the “breakfast-roll man” Dublin commuter belt constituencies, with 54.6 per cent of voters rejecting the proposal here. This area proved crucial in winning the 2007 general election for Fianna Fáil and also in ensuring a strong result for Fine Gael, who gained a seat in each one of these constituencies, at the 2011 contest. Now there may be some concerns for the Coalition parties if the extent of this No vote is pointing towards a growing level of anti-Government sentiment in this crucial electoral battleground.
Rural areas tend to have the highest turnout levels when it comes to general and local election contests. Reviewing turnout trends in recent referendum contests, including Friday’s elections, a remarkably consistent pattern emerges. I’ve examined the average turnout levels across all of the referendum contests held since the 2007 general election, excluding those that were held on the same day as other types of electoral contests (Lisbon I; Lisbon II; the children’s rights referendum and Friday’s referendums
on the Seanad and the court of appeal).