Ireland’s 2016 general election will be held 26 February. The current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour is not doing well in the polls. However, neither is the main opposition party, Fianna Fail. The RTE seat projection currently has Fine Gael on 55 seats (based on just 28% of the vote), Labour on 13. Fianna Fail is barely holding off Sinn Fein for second place, 33 to 29 in the projection (20% and 18% in voters, according to the poll of polls).
The assembly size has been reduced. It was 165 in the last election (2011), but will be 157 in this one (not counting the seat of the Speaker). Fine Gael’s 2011 result was 46% of seats; they may not make it over 35% this time.
So worried is Fine Gael that it is “devising a risky battle-plan aimed at salvaging as many seats as possible,” according to the Independent. The plan is to ask senior members of the party to reduce their own personal vote by shifting votes to weaker co-partisan candidates.
Fine Gael is devising strategies in a series of constituencies, which involves divides of territory and asking loyal supporters to vote for one candidate over another in a particular area.
Although this tactic has often been used in the past, it hasn’t been employed in such large numbers before. And the decline in support levels make if far more difficult to pull off.
The article has a list of strong incumbents who are being asked to sacrifice voters, and notes that the party is attempting to use Facebook to target reliable voters who would shift.
Of course, all this vote-management reminds us that the Irish single transferable vote (STV) is not dramatically distinct from the old Japanese single non-transferable vote (SNTV). In either system, parties can be hurt, relative to the seats that their collective vote totals could deliver them under a list system, if their leading candidate obtains too large a share of the party’s total votes in a district. With votes overly concentrated on one candidate, the weaker ones could be eliminated too early to benefit from vote transfers from other candidates, including the co-partisan strongest one. (I assume this also implies that not enough voters for the leading candidate can be counted on to list co-partisans second. Otherwise there would be little need to manage first-preference votes in this manner.)
Labour is banking on “locking down” its traditional core vote of 10pc and its TDs coming ahead of the second Fine Gael candidate to benefit from transfers.
Yes, there is an advantage that small parties under STV have that is not available to such parties under SNTV. But for large parties, especially those with declining support, STV poses serious coordination challenges.
The seat projections, it should be noted, come with some grain of salt, because projecting seats under STV is hard.