Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here.
In 1983, Ireland voted by an emphatic 67% to 33% in favour of a constitutional amendment – the eighth amendment – that allowed abortion only if the mother’s life was in danger, including by suicide. Other than this exception, abortion within Ireland is a criminal offence. Irish women who want abortions need to travel to the United Kingdom.
On Friday, May 25, Ireland will hold a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. If the referendum is passed, parliament will be able to legislate regarding abortion. A Department of Health policy paper proposes to allow abortion within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy; where there is a foetal condition likely to lead to death before or shortly after birth; or where there is a physical or mental threat to the mother’s health. These proposals are likely to be adopted by Parliament if the Yes vote wins the referendum.
There have been three polls with field work during May. Two of these polls gave Yes a lead of 28 to 29 points, and over 50% of the vote including undecided voters. The most worrisome poll for Yes supporters was an Ipsos poll that gave Yes just a 44% to 32% lead. There are likely to be shy No voters who say they are undecided in a referendum on social reform.
In 2015, Ireland approved same-sex marriage at a referendum by a 62% to 38% margin. However, the four final polls had a Yes vote averaging 71% on a two-answer basis, so they overstated the actual Yes vote by nine points, and the difference between Yes and No by 18 points. If we subtract 18 points from the Yes lead in the current Irish polls, Yes leads by 10-11 points in the stronger May polls, but No leads by six in Ipsos. It is likely that Yes will win the referendum, but not as likely as implied by looking at the raw Yes leads in the polls.
Polls in Ireland close at 10pm May 25 local time (7am May 26 Melbourne time). However, counting will not begin until 9am May 26 Irish time (6pm Melbourne time). I would expect final results by Sunday morning Melbourne time.