Ireland abortion repeal referendum: 66.4 yes, 33.6 no

A follow-up guest post from Adrian Beaumont on the result of Friday’s referendum in Ireland to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution, which greatly restricted abortion rights.

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.

The Irish referendum on repealing the eighth amendment resulted in a Yes victory by an almost 2:1 margin (66.4% to 33.6%). All of Ireland’s 40 parliamentary constituencies except Donegal in the north returned Yes majorities. In Dublin, the Yes vote was over 73% in all constituencies, but it was also strong in the rest of the country. Apart from Donegal, the closest vote was 55.5% Yes in Cavan-Monaghan. Turnout was 64.1%, higher than for the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum (60.5%), and the Yes vote was also higher (66.4% vs 62.1%).

The effect of repealing the eighth amendment is that parliament can now legislate on abortion. As discussed previously, a Department of Health policy paper proposes to liberalise abortion laws. Given the strong Yes majority, these proposals should have no trouble in Parliament. Once passed, Northern Ireland will be isolated as the only part of the British Isles with strict abortion laws and no same-sex marriage.

In 1983, Ireland voted by a 67% to 33% margin in favour of the eighth amendment, which criminalised abortion unless the mother’s life was in danger, including by suicide. In 2001, Ireland came close to tightening the eighth amendment to exclude suicide; that proposed amendment failed by a narrow 50.4% to 49.6% margin. The massive landslide for Yes in Friday’s referendum implies that Ireland is a very different country from even 17 years ago. Exit polls indicated that only those aged over 65 voted No, with young people voting Yes by massive majorities.

At the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, polls overstated the Yes vote by nine points. It seemed reasonable to think there would be a shy No vote for the abortion referendum, but this was not the case. The two polls that gave Yes a 28 to 29 point lead were close to the actual margin of 33 points, while Ipsos’s 12-point Yes margin was far too low. The two exit polls slightly overstated the Yes vote. It is possible that undecided voters could be persuaded to vote against same-sex marriage more easily than abortion.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

3 comments on “Ireland abortion repeal referendum: 66.4 yes, 33.6 no”

  1. Congrats to the Irish for rejecting the arguments of their version of the American pro-life fanatics so determined to outlaw abortions in the USA that they ardently support Donald Trump regardless of his apparent corruption, incessant mendacity, abuse of women and destruction of the rule of law.

    Also, it’s instructive that polling company IPSOS perpetrated an epic failure in this referendum. All the same, IPSOS polls in Australia will continue to be accepted as the gospel in some quarters.

  2. I first went to Ireland in 1985, and it seemed to me to be quite a poor and backward country, a Catholic theocracy on the outskirts of Europe. Fast-forward 33 years, and how things have changed: in the last few years alone, this increasingly cosmopolitan nation – currently led by a gay son of immigrants – has legalised both same sex marriage and now abortion, both by huge margins. Ireland is now at the vanguard of social reform, and holds out hope to those of us who fight for change, that anything is possible if you keep working at it,

    No doubt those with more knowledge about Ireland than me will be able to point to reasons for these huge changes, but I’ll put forward: vast economic progress, the end of the Troubles in the North, better education, a more internationalised populace, a declining Church (most probably because of recurrent child abuse scandals, though I reckon Father Ted also played a small role!), and a more cosmopolitan society (especially in Dublin and the other cities).

  3. Interesting to reflect that the part of the Irish constitution that led to the tragic deaths and need for the referendum was only inserted into it in 1983. The catholic archbishop of Dublin who argued for it was Dermot Ryan. Sure enough, he was also later found to have covered up cases of paedophilia and moved the perpetrators on. Why does anyone give these “conservatives” (who are really extremists against human rights, not conservatives) any credence in any moral or political debate?

    And question two – how many more decades will Queensland women have to wait before they can have a legal abortion? As the Irish poll proved, the backlash feared by both Labor and LNP politicians in proposing such a law is not from the electorate, it is from the far right religious lunatics in their own party bench.

    I wish I lived in a functionally democratic country. I do not think I do.

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