Strong lead for Repeal as campaign enters next phase

Opinion poll analysis: Referendum campaign likely to be heavily influenced by what is proposed to replace abortion ban

It is clear, and has been for some time, that a large majority of voters favour repeal of the Eighth Amendment. The amendment, enacted in 1983 and which forms the bedrock of Ireland’s legal ban on abortion in nearly all circumstances, is likely to be the subject of a referendum next year.

On the evidence of today’s numbers, the repeal side is firmly in the lead, long before the campaign proper starts. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of voters say they will vote for repeal, with 26 per cent favouring retention of the constitutional protections for the unborn. A further 13 per cent offered no opinion.

Consistent lead

The repeal side leads strongly among all demographics, political parties and classes. That lead has been consisted over several polls in recent years.

But the campaign is likely to be heavily influenced by what is proposed to replace the ban on abortion once the Eighth goes. Legislation is likely to be published in draft form before the referendum by the Government, specifying in what circumstances it proposes abortion be permitted under the law.


Anti-abortion campaigners believe that when faced with the draft legislation proposing the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, voters will choose to retain the constitutional protections. But there is little evidence for this in any polls published so far, including today's.

Pro-repeal groups say the public has moved to a position where it wants women to have to the choice to end their pregnancies if they feel that is the right decision for them.

Today’s poll confirms the public wants to get rid of the amendment. But repeated previous polls suggest there is public acceptance for a limited liberalisation only; people want greater access to abortion but not access on request, the polls suggest.

Irish Times polls have asked this question in a variety of ways over the past few years. The responses have been pretty consistent. That doesn’t mean people can’t change their minds – and other polls commissioned by Repeal campaigners have indicated that they are. Polling data, like everything else about the issue, is contested.

Dynamic campaign

The polls can only tell us so much at this stage. One of the reasons for this is that they are passive, while campaigns are dynamic. People will respond to arguments, campaigns, prompts, advertisements, personal stories and to the prevailing mood.

For instance, anti-abortion campaigners are likely to point to the likely abortion of many foetuses with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Some online campaigning material on this issue has already been circulating, and research has been carried out.

Similarly, pro-repeal campaigners will feature the personal stories of women who have travelled to the UK for abortions, demonstrating that Irish women have abortions already – they just have them in the UK. They will also feature the stories of parents who have been faced with a diagnosis of a likely fatal foetal abnormality.

It’s hard to foresee what effect – if any – this sort of campaigning will have on the public’s view, either on the referendum, or on the legislation which would follow its repeal. But it is unlikely to leave the polls unmoved.