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(en) wsm.ie: Repealing the 8th - what the opinion polls are telling us
Fri, 6 Apr 2018 07:56:41 +0300
The Sunday Times with Behaviour & Attitudes have ran two very useful polls that give a
strong sense of how the campaign to Repeal the 8th Referendum is going. The overall story
the poll results tell is bad for the Vote No campaign and promising for the Vote Yes
campaign. If the referendum had been held at the time of the March poll then Repeal would
have been carried by 64% to 36%, almost 2:1. The polling data also shows No has a soft
vote that is very much larger proportion than the equivalent soft Yes vote. This means if
anything between now and referendum day the polls are likely to drift towards repeal. ----
None of this is a reason for complacency, what the No side lacks in terms of numbers and
support they make up for in terms of funding. Before the campaign had even started they
were spending hundreds of thousands on online advertising, billboards, leaflets and free
buses to what had to be their disappointingly small March 10th national march. Together
for Yes may have far more support and more people out canvassing but will it have enough
to defeat all that paid advertising?
As this is a long read we are also making an audio version available
That is a question that will be answered on referendum day and the answer will be
determined by the work put in between now and then, both in terms of formal canvassing
teams but also - and at least as important - in dozens of conversations at home, at work
and out with friends. But here we want to look into the detail of the polls, in part
because it helps guide those conversations. As well as looking at the results of each
of these two polls we can also look at what changed between them, and presuming there are
similar polls in future check back in from time to time.
The first poll was carried out over the first two weeks of February, the second in the
second week of March. In terms of the overall question of which way people will vote in
the Repeal referendum the two polls showed little change, both showed 49% of people were
voting yes. There was bad news for the vote No campaign as not only were only 30%
intending to vote No in the February poll but this actually fell by the time of the March
poll to 27%. In the March poll some 20% of people Didn't Know which way they would vote
and 4% said they had decided not to vote. It's when we exclude these last two groups that
we get the 64% Yes to 36% No mentioned above.
This discussion will draw numbers from the four polls linked below but it mostly works off
a Behaviour & Attitudes poll reported on by the Sunday Times in March so we recommend you
download that and read this text with it open as we will be referring to specific pages of
Margins of error
It's useful to understand some technical details of polling so we don't try and read more
out of them than we should. The error on a poll of this size (900 voters) is a little
over 3%. This is because a random sample of 900 people from the Irish population will not
be exactly representative of the total population. There is a 95% chance that the
percentages in a poll of this size will be within 3.3 points of the actual percentage if
people voted in the referendum that day. In other words we can't really say much about
apparent difference that are less than 3%.
This error margin increases as the poll size reduces, a poll of 96 people will have an
error margin of +/- 10%. This is important for the discussion that follows because the
most useful aspect of these polls is when they break the results down to subgroups, for
example Fianna Fail voters or Farmers. Because these are a subgroup of the total poll of
900 they will be smaller, many are about 300 people.
In some cases these subgroups are too small for any meaning to be derived, for instance in
the first poll 80% of Green Party voters were voting Yes and by the second this had risen
to 100%. The problem though is that there are not many Green Party voters and these
percentages come from sub sample sizes that are tiny, just 9 people in the second poll.
The error margin is too vast to draw any conclusion at all from those numbers.
Likewise the figures for farmers are also initially fascinating until you see there are
only 36 farmers in the 2nd poll, again meaning such a huge error margin that attempts at
interpretation are futile. So later on when we look at the number for various sub
populations we will only be interested in those that show major gaps and major changes, in
the order of 5% (a poll of 384 would have a 5% accuracy) and where the subpopulation
contains hundreds of people.
RED C polls
In this piece we are focusing on the Behaviour & Attitudes / Sunday Times polls. Red C
also carried out two polls in the same period, the second of which attracted attention as
it appears to show a large swing from Yes to No in comparison with their first poll. It
appears to us that something went wrong with that first poll as the B&A poll taken less
than a week later had a startlingly different result which would require a 21 point swing
against Yes in the period before any significant campaigning had taken place.
Excluding RedC 1 the three remaining polls don't have such wild swings although the
different methodology and question phrasing of the Red C polls would complicate direct
comparisons. For what it's worth the No vote across the three polls goes from 30 (B&A 1)
to 27 (B&A 2) to 26 (RedC 2). RedC 1 with a No of 20 would not fit well at the start of
that sequence and if it actually measured anything as opposed to being the product of an
error it was measuring something other than the impact of campaigning.
Red C January - https://www.redcresearch.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SBP-Jan-2018-Poll...
B&A February - http://banda.ie/wp-content/uploads/Sunday-Times-Report.pdf
B&A March - http://banda.ie/wp-content/uploads/J.8878-Sunday-Times-March-2018-Report...
Red C March - https://www.redcresearch.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/SBP-March-2018-Po...
Soft and Hard votes will decide
In terms of strategy both sides of the referendum will pay most attention to 3 blocks of
voters and mostly ignore two other blocks. The mostly ignored ones are called the ‘hard
yes' vote and the ‘hard no' vote. These are people who are very unlikely to switch votes
and canvassers will be trained to not waste time talking to them as the time is better
spent with the three other groups .
We do of course want to encourage the ones voting hard Yes to definitely get out and vote
- this could be key to winning Repeal - but arguing with a hard No would in most cases be
a complete waste of time. In particular as the hard No's are close in size to the
percentage who opposed the very very limited reforms of the Protection of Life During
Pregnancy act which was designed to deal only with cases where the women would die if
denied a termination. The hards Nos are pretty much that ‘let women die' bloc.
These are three groups whose opinions both sides will try and spend time shifting
1. The ‘soft Yes' voters who are voting yes but unsure about aspects of a women's right to
choose. Typically they only want women to be able to access abortions for some reasons
and not others..
2. The Don't Knows that have not yet decided how to vote but who do intend to vote.
3. The ‘soft No' who are against a women's right to choose but perhaps think there are
some circumstances eg Fatal Foetal Abnormality (FFA) where access to abortion should be
In these polls and it would appear in the internal polling of all the campaigns the key
issues that are being used to identify the soft voters are, for the Yes vote whether they
are voting Yes but oppose abortion on request up to 12 weeks and on the No side whether
they are voting No but support access to abortion in cases of Fatal Foetal Abnormality
(FFA) and threats to the health of the women. Fairly obviously someone who intends to
vote No but feels abortion should be available in the case of FFA or where there is a
threat to the women's health should be possible to convince that they should vote Yes so
this can happen.
The No campaign will target soft Yes voters by trying to steer the conversation onto the
12 week access on request issue. Typically this is done by trying to create categories of
women who deserve access to abortion and those who do not. So even though the No campaign
are against abortion in all cases they will try and chip away at the soft Yes, for
instance through the favourite myth of women using abortion as contraception because they
Likewise the Yes campaign will target the soft No's by explaining that if they vote No
they will be stopping women with (FFA) from accessing abortion in Ireland - only Repeal
will mean the legislation required to access such medical care in Ireland can be passed.
To a very large extent this means that the No campaign will want to centre discussions on
the 12 week issue while the Yes campaign will want to centre it on FFA and threats to the
women health. Both will have to be able to provide answers to its own ‘soft Yes' voters
to avoid losing them but as far as possible they don't want the conversation centered there.
The Sunday Times polls directly asked those polled on their attitudes on both these
question so they give a very good indication of the relative side of these five important
blocs and over time the movement between them. From looking at all these responses (p13
to p17) we can say that the March poll would divide the population up as follows;
40% hard yes (‘its a women decision')
8% soft yes (‘for health threats & FFA only')
20% Don't know
4% Not voting
14% soft no (‘but should be available for health & FFA')
14% hard no ( ‘not even for health & FFA' bloc).
It may be a little bit hard to get your head around where we have produced these numbers
from so hopefully the accompanying graphic will help. It hacks together three of the
Sunday Times / Behaviour and Attitude graphics around the key questions to allow us to
visually focus in on the soft voters for each side.
Both the images and the figures above show the difficulty the No campaign is in, it has a
comparatively small hard No vote (51% of their 27% of the vote) and a comparatively large
soft No which grew 4 points over the month. Together for Yes not only starts off with
what would be a 64% Yes but this is mostly Hard Yes (83% of their 49% of the vote) and the
Soft Yes is small and shrunk 4 points over the month.
About 42% of voters in total are either undecided or soft but the large hard Yes
percentage at 40% means that for Repeal to win we only need to win 1 in 4 of those soft
and undecided votes. The referendum can certainly be still lost with these numbers - in
referendums Don't Knows often become No.
If you look at the four different polls the weekend before the 2015 Marriage Equality vote
you see huge differences in the polls according to which company carried them out but also
that with then MRBI and Millward Brown polls that still showed high numbers of Don't
Know's much more became No than Yes on the day.
No is losing rather than gaining ground
There is worse news for the anti-choice campaigns when we look at the movement between the
two polls. As already stated the March poll shows them losing 3% of the vote who become
undecided. To be clear this is within the 95% probability but would be at a less
stringent 90% probability. To explain at 95% probability there is one chance to 20 you are
wrong, at 90% this falls to 1 in 10. A shift between the two polls can also be seen in
the health & FFA question (p17) where the percentage of No voters who are actually in
favour of access to abortion in these circumstances rises from 33% in February to 37% in
The February poll was carried out as the wording of a probable referendum became clear but
before any campaigns had really been launched. The March poll was carried out before the
Together for Yes campaign had been launched but right in the thick of the anti-choice
campaign launches and in particular of their huge advertising spend that saw anti-choice
billboards erected all over the country. This was also the context of their failed
attempt to mobilise large numbers for a national demonstration on 10th March, slap bang in
the middle of the week polling was carried out.
In other words Vote No were dominating news reporting and they had billboards, truck ads
and leaflets all over the country while very little was visible of Vote Yes. To lose
almost half of your soft No's under such conditions is extraordinary. We shall see though
that it's a little more complex and there are some warnings for the Yes campaign as we dig
deeper into the breakdown of figures.
Again at this headline level the No campaign got off to a terrible start, despite being
far more visible and spending a huge amount they not only failed to dent the soft Yes they
actually lost some of their soft No's.
The No reaction and the Marriage Equality comparison
No spokespeople have looked at these polls and have access to their own internal polling
which will be showing similar results. We get some clue as to their alarm from what they
are tweeting about the polls and what they are tweeting about canvasses. On the polls
they are actively trying to mislead their own supporters by comparing the eventual result
of the Marriage equality poll with what they describe as a 76% Yes poll near the start of
the campaign and then contrasting that with the 49% Yes above.
What's misleading is that the January 2015 ME poll excluded Don't Knows to get that 74%
Yes, if you do the same and exclude Don't Knows from The B&A poll the Yes rises from 49%
It's true the Marriage Equality referendum eventually passed by 62%, a drop of 14% from
that first poll. However... that first ME poll was also a Red C poll so in this case the
real equivalent would be equally out of place first Red C poll back in January this year.
Exclude Don't Knows from that January poll and Yes is at 75 so a similar 14% drop from the
first poll would see Yes winning at 61%. Red C polls consistently had too high a Yes vote
in advance of Marriage Equality, something they explained by talking about a ‘shy vote'
that was unwilling to tell them how they really intended to vote for fear of taking an
Observing the No spokespeople on Twitter we've seen a lot of effort going into trying to
shore up canvasser moral by posting positive claims about canvassing which just happen to
from the areas of the country that voted against Marriage Equality or only passed it by
narrow margins. But we've also seen the replies from their canvassers in Dublin saying
they are finding it very tough going. A lot of the online No paid ads have a very strong
emphasis on trying to recruit canvassers, this from a campaign whose spokespeople have
been boasting they have been organised for months. It's hard not to conclude that they
are already facing major demoralisation problems.
Who will vote?
Are both Yes and No voters equally likely to get out and actually vote on referendum day?
The tables on page 24 where Yes & No voters are asked how likely it is that they will
actually vote in a general election are our best approximation in these polls. Not too
much can be drawn directly from this as it's unlikely a general election will take place
on the day of the referendum - but we might assume that the intentions to vote would be
similar so large differences here might matter. As it turns out there are few surprise's
here to upset the calculation above, Yes and No voters are jointly a little more sure they
will be voting than the Don't Knows but there is no significant difference between the
intentions of Yes & No voters which might tilt the result.
The table on p26 which combines likelihood to vote with attitudes to 12 weeks without
restriction however shows those against unrestricted access to 12 weeks are quite a bit
less likely to vote than those for unrestricted access. This is good news for Together
for Yes as it suggest the potential soft Yes vote here is less likely to stay at home, but
this is within the margin of error.
The table on p29 combines likelihood to vote with attitudes to abortion access for threats
to health and FFA. It is the No voters that are less likely to vote here, if by a
One area of major concern for Pro-choice campaigners would be the table on page 31 which
breaks likelihood to vote down by age. Here only 60% of under 34s feel they would
definitely vote but 80% of over 55s - the one bloc likely to vote No - feel they would
definitely vote. If that gap played out in the referendum it would close the gap between
Yes and No by a couple of points and in a close referendum could result in a victory for
the No side. Both the US Trump election and the UK Brexit vote had the results they did
because of the different turns outs of the similar age groups there in what were very
close votes. Will this happen here, it would be a rather grim irony if the over 55s
turned out in numbers to defeat the access to the healthcare that no longer has relevance
to them but which the 18-35s are most likely to need and least likely to bother to go to
the polling station for!
We can now move on to the other tables that divide into sub-populations based on gender,
age, class and party support. Each of these tells an important tale providing we keep
sample size in mind - the error margin increases to 4.5% and more for these subsamples.
For the most part there is little to learn here on of Yes voters as the differences
between men & women are within the error margins, only 1% off the overall voting average
intention for the Yes vote. On the No vote though it does appear that women are somewhat
more likely to be No voters, a 5 pt gap and in comparison between the two polls this gap
opened up during the first month of the campaign because the percentage of No voting men
fell by 3 points. Why was there a 3% drop in men voting No? This may simply be because
men are less likely than women to have already given serious thought to all the negative
consequences of the 8th amendment, for example the way it reduces women ability to make
medical decisions during a healthy pregnancy.
There is no significance difference otherwise in the Yes votes all the way down this table
but opposition from women to Repeal, 12 weeks and even health and FFA is just about
significantly higher. The higher No vote among women seems counter-intuitive but there is
a simple explanation for this. The highest No voter population by far is the over 55s and
in that sub-population women are over represented because men have started to die earlier.
So the apparent gender difference may be a result of the comparatively large proportion
of women in the over 55 sub-population - we will see this effect again below.
It's no surprise to see people from 18 to 34 are overwhelming Yes voters, 59% yes to only
18% no. And even that 18% is a substantial fall from the 25% No of the previous month.
This is the second biggest shift anywhere in the tables, its a drop of 1/3rd and
presumably reflects a rapid education process amongst younger people through discussion
and online research. Likewise it's no surprise that the over 55s are the one group where
the No vote has a narrow lead, 35% Yes to 37% No. What is perhaps slightly more
surprising is that Yes is also massively carrying the 35-54 age group, 54% Yes to 25% No.
This also very much reflects the composition of those pro and anti-choice campaign
mobilisations for marches, canvassing and other street events. All the anti-choice
mobilisations are overwhelmingly dominated by people aged 50 and over. The lack of young
supporters isn't just a branding problem for anti-choice organisations that can be fake
fixed by putting all the young people on the front banner. It's looks like its also going
to really hit them in the actual vote. This incidentally is why getting a May rather than
a June poll could be vital to getting the referendum passed and why if you are heading to
a festival the weekend of 25 May you want to be sure to get down the polls first thing in
the morning, wellies and all if need be.
It's also worth pointing out again that this means the two age groups where abortion
access may be something that will directly come into their lives are 3:1 voting for
Repeal. The 55+ are group intending to vote against is very unlikely to face such a
circumstance in their future. This is also an indication that a narrow defeat in the
referendum is likely to lead to a second referendum within a few years.
The Red C poll has the age groups divided into 6 groups rather than the 3 groups discussed
above. From their results the first two groups covering 18-34 are overwhelming Yes at
68%, the next 3 covering 35-64 are majority Yes and it's only the over 65s that are
majority No at 58%
Here we have to be careful as the tables use a modified version of the UK NRS system which
only has a tangential relationship to the way socialists talk about class. Rather than
dividing class into workers and bosses the NRS subdivisions are more about what sort of
work is done (manual or brain labour) and whether people are working or on welfare. For
more on the problems of NRS see the section Class and Leave at
With that in mind we see little impact on class on the No vote (in the 25-28 range) but on
the Yes vote ABC1s (55%) are more likely to be Yes voters than C2DEs (45%). However as E
include almost all pensioners the difference here may be largely down to the weight of the
over 55 No vote. There is also a F for farmer column but there were only 36 in the
sample so the error margin is too large to say anything meaningful about the numbers here.
Over the page is the regional breakdown of voting intentions. This is important data
although perhaps also frustrating as there is not that much we can do as individuals about
the divisions that show up - they do have a lot to say about the deployment of campaign
The towns and cities are voting Yes by 2:1, a 26 point lead. In rural areas Yes only has a
modest 12 point lead. One figure that leaps out though is the huge drop in the rural No
vote in comparison with the February poll, its down 10 points, 2/3rds of which became
Don't Knows. The drop is twice the error margin for this sub population size so its a
real effect and we'd wonder what the cause of it might be - perhaps simply an impact of a
previous lack of conversation about the need for abortion access being overcome by media
If the lead in urban areas is big in Dublin it's huge, 3:1, a 40 point lead at 63% to 23%.
The Yes vote is weakest in Connacht/Ulster, where Yes with 33% has a tiny 3 point lead.
Yes leads by 20 points in the rest of Leinster and by 16 points in Munster. The Don't
Knows are highest in the regions where Yes is weakest, they are only 11% in Dublin but 30%
in Connacht/Ulster. This may indicate that the ‘shy vote' presenting as Don't Know may
shift more heavily to Yes than No because of the long term reliance of anti-choice
movements on public shaming tactics.
Our impression is also that the Together for Yes campaign is weakest at the start of the
campaign in Connacht/Ulster whereas Donegal has always been a strong point of the
anti-choice movement. So this certainly suggests that canvassing and other outreach
methods there may have a far bigger proportional impact than they would elsewhere. If you
live in Dublin but come from Connacht/Ulster you'd do a lot better to canvass ‘back home'
and chase the 30% Don't Know than the elusive 11% in Dublin.
This may also be a good point to insert a reminder that there is also a parallel
pro-choice struggle along broadly similar lines in the 6 North-East counties of Ulster
under British rule. The ‘carnival of reaction' that followed partition created theocratic
states north and south of the border but the continued impact of colonialism in the north
has served to preserve clerical influence three decades after its disintegration started
in the south. When Repeal is carried south of the border we may become the best available
option for pregnant people in the north needing to access abortion. They will of be
disproportionately disadvantaged by the requirement for two doctors visits 3 days apart to
access abortion pills. This requirement is not simply a pointless inconvenience but
something that if passed will deny abortion access to vulnerable segments of the
population including those trapped in abusive relationships.
These regional sub populations are all around 250 people meaning the margin of error is
around 6% so although there are fascinating fluctuations between the March and February
polls almost all are around 3% and so meaningless within the error margin. A few are not,
In Leinster No has dropped 7 points, all it appears switching to Don't Know.
In Ulster Yes has dropped 9 points, however the Conn/Ulster population size is small that
the others (161) so that 9% drop isn't far off the margin of error at 8%. The drop split
evenly between Don't know and Won't vote which indicates it may be a ‘shy vote' in
conditions where there is a lot of aggressive public shaming from the anti-choice campaigns.
12 weeks by region
The reason the No campaign want to centre the 12 week issue is clear when we look at
regional variation on the question of unrestricted access to 12 weeks. If this was the
question rather than Repeal Yes would carry Dublin and Munster but lose Connacht / Ulster
and (by a tiny margin) the rest of Leinster. The concentration of population in Dublin
and Cork would mean the referendum would still pass - even if 12 weeks on request was the
question - but it would be very tight. This is why the No campaign is trying to centre
the conversation on the 12 week question, they want voters to be thinking of that rather
than FFA or health at the moment they mark their ballot box.
FFA & health by region
The other significant shifts are around the FFA & Health access issue - here we see why
the Together for Yes campaign will want to centre health & FFA access. The regional
differences are huge here, Dublin has an 8:1 lead when you ignore Don't Knows. Elsewhere
the Yes lead on that question is a little over 2:1 except Leinster which is 3:1. If
access to abortion for women whose health was under threat and for FFA was the question
the referendum would be massively carried everywhere. The problem for the No campaign is
that essentially this is the question for anyone who thinks abortion should be available
in such circumstances even when they are unsure of the 12 weeks on request issue. All the
more so as the 12 week limit is determined by that being the last point abortion pills can
be used and the state has already demonstrated it cannot stop hundreds of women using
these every year.
There were a couple of significant shifts between February and March on this question
In Leinster support for FFA and health access rose 9 points to 61% and opposition fell 11
points to 19%
But in urban areas support for FFA and health access fell 15 points to 63% while
opposition rose 9 points to 18%.
These are real effects several times the error margin. The 15% urban drop is the largest
change across both polls. A clue to the cause may be that while the drop is in urban
areas it is not reflected in the largest urban area of Dublin.
Intentions by Party
Over the page we have the tables that provides a breakdown of voter intention by which
party was voted for in the previous election. This is a particularly important subset as
those most likely to vote in the referendum are those who voted in the last election.
It has to be said at the start that the size of the sub populations here for Labour (42)
and the Green Party (9) are too small to draw any conclusions from the data. Otherwise we
could waste time considering the plus and minus 20% changes since the last poll but that's
pretty much the error margin and less.
It's probably not surprising to see that Fine Gael who are in government are over 2:1 Yes.
Fianna Fail voters only give the Yes side a 10 point lead over No compared to the 22
point lead for the total population. It's likely the Fianna Fail Yes is largely their
urban vote and that their rural vote is No, one of the major difficulties Fianna Fail
faces is the disintegration of their once powerful urban base because of their role in the
crash and the pressure of Sinn Fein.
Realistically we can expect rural Fianna Fail to be sitting on their hands and quietly
campaigning against the referendum. We've certainly see a couple of obvious sock puppet
accounts on Twitter whose real owners appear to be rural Fianna Fail activists. As issue
in rural areas will be Fianna Fail trying to use the referendum to damage rival
candidates, another reason why understanding these polls is important as they are far more
likely to try this if they think it will be a close vote. Likewise Fine Gael and Labour
politicians in rural areas are less likely to campaign vigorously if they think the vote
will be close. This is part of the reason the No spokespeople were very keen to talk up
the second RedC poll even though they also must have spotted that the trend across all
four polls suggests the apparent shift was an artifact rather than a real finding.
The most significant population bloc in terms of campaigning is found in this table and
that is the Sinn Fein voters. In the February poll 26% were Don't Knows or Won't Vote but
by March both these have fallen drastically resulting in a 7% rise in SF No vote to 30%.
We need a little caution here though as the SF population size is only 133 so the 7%
growth in the No vote is slightly under the error margin. Sinn Fein is the one political
party where over the period the leadership have adopted a strikingly stronger position, in
particular over the last few days (ie after the March poll had come out). It could well
be this will have a major impact on the figures in the next poll, otherwise republicans
will have to switch ‘No Freedom till Freedom for Women' to ‘your on your own girls'.
To summarise this poll data means that it is likely but not inevitable that the Yes vote
will win. The lead is significant and the trend is favourable but there are a lot of
Don't Knows and if they all become No's and the over 55s turn out in droves while the
under 35s fail to show than the result could be very close.
In addition we can expect a massive increase in the volume of dirty stealth ads to appear
in the last week of the campaign. These will attempt to create moral panics and play on
prejudices when there will not be enough time to address these. The conversations we have
with workmates, friends and relative between now and then can be used to inoculate people
against this tactic, the Cambridge Analytica investigation breaking when it did is useful
in that regard to encourage people to question the funding and truthfulness of the dirty
stealth ads as they appear.
We conclude by saying that a ‘women's right to choose' is no more subject to the popular
whim than slavery. The logic of the passing of the 8th was the attempts to ban
information and travel that quickly followed. A 2:1 majority did not stop our fight
against those. If by some disaster Repeal is defeated then the day after pregnant people
will still be illegally importing pills for use in Ireland and travelling to obtain
abortions elsewhere. A no vote won't stop abortion, it will just extend the period of
illegality and force thousands to continue to travel or break the law here and risk a 14
year prison sentence.
Together for Yes website
Author: Andrew N Flood
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