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.