Resounding Yes result reflects change in economic conditions


ANALYSIS:People voted for Lisbon out of desperation at economy rather than due to a new-found love for Europe, writes NOEL WHELAN

WITHIN HALF an hour of the ballot boxes being opened on Saturday morning, it was clear that the result was going to be Yes. The Yes got louder as the morning progressed. By lunchtime we knew that, in the words of one tallyman, it would be almost as emphatic as Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

Forty-one of Ireland’s 43 constituencies gave Europe the answer it wanted and, although it took until the second time of asking, it was a resounding Yes.

No one should be fooled that this is reflective of an upsurge in Irish love for Europe or enthusiasm for the treaty. This swing was all about the changed economic context. If, out of hubris, the Irish electorate felt they had the luxury of voting No to the treaty in June 2008, they have now out of economic desperation decided this time they had no option but to vote Yes.

The opinion polls taken over the last 12 months revealed that once the notion of holding a second referendum solidified and the economic circumstances worsened, the Yes vote shot up.

From earlier this year, a pattern had shown a dramatic jump in support for the treaty and a clear margin for the Yes side.

The campaign did not seem to be changing that pattern much, although there was concern among Yes campaigners that the margin had narrowed because the most recent spate of Fás-related controversies had exacerbated anger at the Government. The surge to Yes was stronger than most had dared to hope, however, and the two-to-one victory is an extraordinary turnaround.

The manner in which the change between the two treaty votes occurred is very different from the switch between the first and second Nice referendums.

The switch from No in Nice I to Yes in Nice II was all about a transformation in turnout. About 450,000 voters who had stayed at home for the first Nice referendum came out the second time and changed the result.

There was a slight increase in turnout for this second Lisbon referendum, with 201,000 more people voting last Friday than voted last June. Those monitoring the same polling stations for both elections talk of a significant rise in younger middle-class voters, which it appears would have assisted the Yes side. However, in all, there were almost half-a-million extra Yes votes in this poll, so it is clear that this weekend’s victory for the treaty was caused by a change of minds rather than a change in turnout.

All the available data suggests the economic context was the driving force behind that change. The geographic spread of results confirms what the polls had suggested in advance: the swing was uniform across the board among all types of voters and almost uniform across all parts of the country. The national rise in the Yes vote was 20 per cent.

The jump was as high as 24 per cent in places like Kerry North and Limerick West, but peculiarly the Yes vote only rose by 13 per cent in Donegal South West and 14 per cent in Donegal North East.

The areas where the Yes vote was strongest last year were again the areas where it was strongest this year, but of course the Yes vote was larger everywhere.

The south Dublin middle-class constituencies again proved the most positive. In last year’s vote on Lisbon, the neighbouring constituencies of Dublin South, Dún Laoghaire and Dublin South East were the only places to vote more than 60 per cent Yes. This time the Yes vote in Dublin South and Dún Laoghaire broke the 80 per cent barrier and it came close to doing so in Dublin South East.

Overall it can be said that those voting Yes were more middle class than those who voted No. While it is difficult to be definitive in the absence of professional exit polls, it is apparent that those who voted Yes are older and included more males than females.

Those comparing tallies at both referendums confirm that this time there was a substantial difference in constituencies between working class and middle class. When the fine details of this data is mined in the coming months it is likely to show there was perhaps a small majority for the No vote in almost all working-class areas. An improved turnout in middle-class areas and a change of mind in all areas is the story of this referendum.

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