Nine out of ten Irish emigrants surveyed by Irish Times Abroad would have voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, had they been able to cast a ballot.
More than 11,000 members of the Irish Times Abroad Network, who had identified themselves as Irish-born and living overseas, were invited to participate in a “virtual vote” on the Eighth Amendment this week, ahead of the referendum on May 25th. More than 2,000 respondents completed the survey.
Asked if they would vote in favour or against repealing the Eighth Amendment, 91.7 per cent said they would vote Yes, while 8.3 per cent said they would vote No.
The percentage in favour of repeal among the emigrants surveyed was significantly higher than the official referendum result announced on Saturday, whereby 66.4 per cent voted Yes, and 33.6 per cent voted No.
Support for repeal was strongest among young respondents to the Abroad survey, with 96 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 saying they would vote Yes, compared to 84 per cent aged over 65.
Women were also more likely to be in favour of repeal, with 94 per cent of female respondents saying they would vote Yes, compared to 89 per cent of males.
The largest number of votes came from the UK, Australia, US and Canada. There was no significant difference in the Yes/No split between respondents in different countries.
Conor O’Neill, co-founder of the We’re Coming Back campaign for emigrant voting rights, said he was not surprised with the high Yes result in the Irish Times Abroad virtual vote.
"Ireland is really out of step with the majority of western democracies on reproductive rights, and I'm sure many of these voters will have spent years living in countries where safe, legal abortion is available to women," he said.
“Many will have seen more compassionate systems working, contrasted with the all-too-regular tragedy in the news from home. With that in mind, I’m not surprised they’re saying it’s time for change.”
Plans to return
When asked whether they planned to return to live in Ireland in the future, 41 per cent said yes, 19 per cent said no, and 40 per cent were undecided. Younger respondents - who were also more likely to be in favour of repeal - were most likely to be abroad temporarily, with 61 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 saying they do plan to move home, compared to just 22 per cent of those over the age of 65.
Under Irish electoral law, Irish citizens are only allowed to vote for 18 months after leaving the country, provided they plan to return to Ireland within that timeframe. Those who are eligible must travel back to their home constituency to cast their ballot.
The vast majority of survey respondents were in favour of voting rights for emigrants, with just 6 per cent against. Sixty-two per cent said emigrants should retain their vote no matter how long ago they left, while 32 per cent said it should be for a limited number of years only.
Chair of the Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad campaign Mary Hickman said the results show "how in tune these citizens from abroad are with the rest of their fellow citizens".
"This is important because an argument used to try to stifle calls for the franchise to be extended to citizens abroad is that they become distant from and less knowledgeable about Ireland once they are living in Birmingham, Boston or Bondi Beach," she said.
“The thousands of young people who have returned to vote having been away for less than 18 months also demonstrates their commitment to ensuring this modernisation of Ireland is brought about.”
Why did The Irish Times conduct this “virtual vote”, and how?
Unlike more than 130 countries worldwide, Ireland has no system for citizens abroad to have a say in either elections or referendums. Under the 1992 Electoral Act, Irish citizens retain their right to vote for just 18 months after moving abroad, as long as they intend to return to Ireland within that timeframe.
There is no postal vote (except in very limited circumstances), so even those who are legally eligible to cast their ballot have to travel to Ireland on the day.
Emigrant representatives have been calling for voting rights to be extended to Irish citizens overseas for more than 30 years, but successive governments have been reluctant to address the issue, or have struggled with the practicalities of extending a vote to the Irish diaspora.
Who should be able to vote? Should it be limited to Irish-born emigrants, or extended to all Irish citizens? Would a time limit be imposed like it is in the UK, whereby citizens lose their vote 15 years after emigrating?
Irish Times Abroad wanted to offer its disenfranchised readers living overseas a say on important referendum issues such as the Eighth Amendment, and built a bespoke online “virtual voting tool” to gather their responses.
On Monday May 21st, more than 11,000 members of the Irish Times Abroad Network - who had indicated they were Irish-born, living abroad, and willing to participate in polls - received an invitation by email to cast a “ballot” in our online virtual vote on the Eighth Amendment.
Each email contained a unique link to a “ballot paper” where they could vote Yes or No, as well as provide some basic information about themselves, including where they live, how long they have been abroad, their age and gender. This ballot was completely anonymous and not linked to their Abroad Network profile, so we do not know how each individual voted.
To prevent the system being “gamed” by supporters of either side, the ballot link could only be used once, so people could not forward it to friends. The vote was also restricted to existing Network members only; people who signed up this week did not receive the invitation to participate.
Responses from people who indicated they were back living in Ireland again, or were of Irish descent, were removed, leaving a total of 2,003 valid responses.
The survey was carried out among self-selecting individuals. It is not a weighted survey and does not purport to accurately represent the wider Irish emigrant population. All results should be seen as indicative rather than definitive.
This project was a collaboration between the editorial and technology departments in The Irish Times, supported by the Google Digital News Initiative.