Monday, February 28, 2011

Dissecting Ireland

So far the conclusion of the 31st Dáil Éireann election in Ireland is not one that's otherwise unexpected; indeed, all of the parties and totals seem to be heading on track to their expected amounts, after what really was a profoundly different election than any other in Ireland's political history.

To start off, all 166 seats have yet to actually been filled; there remains, at the current moment of writing, 12 seats left in a total of three districts (Galway West, Laois-Offaly, and Wicklow), where there are currently recounts underway. But no matter the results in these districts, the balance of power is not going to change, so for the moment we can ignore them and go with the numbers we have now.

Those numbers are as follows: 70 seats for the Fine Gael party on 36.1% of the vote (up 19 seats, 8.8%); 35 seats for the Labour Party on 19.4% (up 9.3%, 15 seats); 18 seats for the Fianna Fáil party on 17.4% (down 59 seats, 24.2%); 13 seats for Sinn Féin on 9.9% (up 3.0%, 9 seats); and 17 seats in the "Others" category, which includes 13 independents, 2 members of the Socialist Party, and 2 members of a party called People Before Profit, who together run under a banner called the "United Left Alliance." Together they take up 15.2% of the vote. The Green Party, which held 6 seats before, comes in with only 1.8% of the vote and no seats. Based on certain leaners in those three districts with recounts, the end result will likely end up like this:

Now, before anyone says "but Kyle, doesn't Ireland have proportional representation? 75 seats isn't very proportional!", realize now that Ireland's electoral system is pretty much like our own system, despite what it says here. Instead of having single-member districts that require candidates to have the most votes, Ireland's system uses 43 multi-member districts requiring candidates first a) pass a quota (population/number of seats in district), and when they do pass the quota, their votes are transferred to other candidates yet to pass the quota based on second preferences, until they either do a) themselves, or b) all but one district is taken by quota candidates, and the last remaining seat is taken by whichever candidates out of the remaining bunch (usually just two) has the most votes left that cannot be overtaken by another transfer of votes (important). It is most similar to BC STV, with a few kinks here and there. But in almost all respects, it is essentially candidates passing posts, meaning like our own system, local factors, candidate preferences, and vote bunching all comes into play.

Now, I could get into a long bit about what these parties did or did not do right, but that will take ages. The fact is, FG come out a winner for several reasons, and despite factors that could have worked against them. The biggest of them was that in the anti-FF wave, though they were receiving a lot of votes, they were not taking a lion's share - indeed, they only received an 8.8% bump, while the rest of the 24% drop in FF's vote were spread out among the other parties, particularly Labour and independents. This would have meant that as FF dropped, there was the potential that all the votes would splinter apart among the anti-FFers, screwing up not only the ability for those candidates to reach quotas, but concerns that transfers down from other parties would could benefit FF more than FG, since they were all old FF voters, and maybe not as FG friendly as was possible.

However, FG had two big things going for them: the inherent toxicity of FF, and their very efficient vote. The first is easy to explain; the FF brand during this election was so toxic that a party pretty much synonymous with the Irish state did not get very many transfers from other parties. Indeed, it seems that the majority of FF's transfers came from Fine Gael, and vice versa. This meant that FG received the majority of second-preference transfers in situations where it was them and another party, putting them over the top in districts where they fell behind the quota. This allowed for amazing victories in former wastelands such as Cavan-Monaghan, or Dublin. So even though they won only 36% in first preferences, they managed large victories on transfers, because FF was just so damn toxic for voters. Had it been the other way around, FF would have won more seats than it did, instead of being crowded out because of poor transfers.

The second part is their extremely efficient vote. You see, when you run candidates in multi-member districts, you have to be careful that you do so in a way whereby certain parts of these districts will vote for one candidate, the other part will vote for another candidate, etc. Given that most of the Irish districts cover an urban and rural area, this meant running a rural candidate, and then a urban candidate, even though technically they're all in the same district.

Going back to Cavan-Monaghan, you'll see that all three winning FG candidates crowded around 11%, while FF and SF candidates were up higher. FG hopes for this exact situation; they're strong contenders at 11%, but they don't reach the quota, and because all of their candidates are bound to get roughly the same proportion of transfers, they remain as one large "bloc" of FG candidates as it were, meaning that they stayed at roughly the same levels, crowding out challengers like SF candidate Kathryn Reilly, who fell just short. This occurred across Ireland in close districts, allowing FG to crowd out other candidates on a regular basis, pumping up their numbers. By not overstretching themselves in districts, and by pacing out resources on this basis, they managed a truly awesome number of wins.

In the end, all of the winning parties earned major kudos for an election well-done. Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, needs to do some major restructuring, though this election proved that they aren't totally irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Third place sucks, but you do have influences and you aren't totally screwed, yet anyways. My guess however is that they are not likely to go the way of the Progressive Conservatives here.

Anyways, below is just an amalgam of maps and results of the election so far, in map-form. They are definitely interesting:

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