Urban/rural divide makes referendum harder to call

Fidelma Healy-Eames, Dr. Anthony O'Reilly and Eamonn O Cuív TD, speakers at the recent 'Protect the 8th' conference at the Menlo Park Hotel, Galway. EIREFOTO
Fidelma Healy-Eames, Dr. Anthony O'Reilly and Eamonn O Cuív TD, speakers at the recent 'Protect the 8th' conference at the Menlo Park Hotel, Galway. EIREFOTO

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

I have spent most of the last fortnight traipsing around the country – Roscommon, Cork, Louth, Offaly and Dublin so far – on the trail of various groups canvassing on the Referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

I have been trying to combine rural and urban, and mixes of age and income in order to build up a picture of what the mood is on the ground.

At this moment it’s clear a significant chunk of the population have yet to make their minds up.

Can I say anything with certainty at this stage? No, other than the sense it’s going to be closer than people predicted several months ago.

There is no science in this. Unless the sentiment is overwhelming like it was in the same-sex marriage referendum, it’s really hard to know how the wind is blowing. Opinion polls are notoriously unreliable when it comes to accurately reflecting public mood. Even more so just now because, in reality,

What makes it doubly difficult to predict is that turnout for referendums has been low in the past (go ‘getting out the vote’ becomes crucial) and don’t knows have tended to side with the no change scenario.

In Dublin, middle class areas in general will strongly vote Yes. That became quickly clear to me during two canvasses of Castleknock last week, where people at the doorsteps were very adamant in their views.

That said, it’s not quite the same in working class areas, where the feedback seems to be that the No side is doing much better than Yes. This is more obvious in well-established estates in Finglas, Donnycarney, Cabra, Ballyfermot and Clondalkin – the kind of places where Fianna Fail would have had huge support from blue collar workers.

By contrast, the picture is more murky in urban areas outside Dublin. The Nos and ‘Don’t knows’ are far more prevalent. In bigger centres like Cork, Galway and Drogheda, it also looks like it is breaking down along class lines.

And there definitely is an urban-rural divide. The two most rural constituencies I have visited – Roscommon and Offaly – have been very strongly No, from my encounter with canvassers there.

Another general observation that can be safely made is more of the older generation tend to be veering No, and Yes is far more popular among the young.

But neither of those divisions are as certain as they once were. For one, you hear of the phenomenon of ‘Silent Nos’ in the cities – younger people who might vote No but don’t want to say so because it might be considered uncool. Simi, there may be Silent Yeses in rural Ireland

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.