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The Referendum In Numbers

On May 25th, Ireland went to the polls. This was a Referendum of huge political and social divide, with long term consequence as the outcome obviously permanently amends our Constitution. The electorate were being asked whether or not to remove (repeal) the 8th Amendment, regarding the regulation of termination of pregnancy. They were being asked to mark a straightforward Yes/No answer, but the complexities behind this were many.

We now know the outcome. Here are the stats that led to it.

What were we voting on

The electorate voted on the Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution; specifically, Article 40.3.3, known as the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. This Eighth Amendment had been introduced into our Constitution after a referendum in 1983, meaning equal status was given to the mother and the unborn.

The media run up

Obviously, there was a huge amount of media coverage around the debate. There were numerous lobby groups who funded information campaigns, and the official Referendum Commission information campaign also. The Claire Byrne Live debate on 14th May averaged 10.7 TVRs against all Adults 18+, with 32% share of viewing, and 655,000 tuning in in total (which was almost double the normal viewership of the programme). The RTE Primetime Special on 22nd May had an average of 348,000 viewers to the full hour programme, with 738,000 tuning in at some point.

The 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum proved the power of social media in campaigning. This time around was no different, with the various lobby groups using Twitter and Facebook extensively. Comparing the number of followers of the official social media pages for Love Both and Together for Yes, we can see the Yes camp appeared to garner more social followers with a combined Twitter and Facebook total of 95,729 to the No combined total of 31,470. Anecdotally this ratio seems to have been mirrored on the streets, and door-to-door with more visibility of the Yes campaigners who recognised mobility as a key tactic.

Electorate

Over 3.3m citizens were eligible to vote; 188,389 people added themselves to the supplementary register in recent weeks. On Friday, 2,159,695 votes were cast, giving a turnout of 64.13% overall. For comparison, the 2015 Marriage Referendum showed a turnout of 60.52%, with 1,949,725 votes cast. Therefore, an additional 209,970 people voted this time around.

Some areas reported very high turnout -  71.6% in Dublin Bay North, with some areas showing double what it was for the 2016 general election; 70% in Waterford city; 62.4% in Kerry, which is much higher versus their average – turnout tends to be lower in more remote areas; one Laytown (Louth) polling station showed 78% turnout and an impressive 72% on Inishbofin. County Cavan returned its highest referendum turnout in recent history at 63.4%.

Nationally, it was the highest turnout since 1992, which also happened to be a Referendum relating to information around abortion and right to travel. Historic stats on election turnout were published by the Oireachtas

The mobilisation of voters has not just been in the social world, an estimated 40,000 Irish citizens travelled home to vote from as far afield as Hanoi, US, New Zealand and Argentina, to name a few. The resurrected hashtag #HomeToVote was used 150,000 times over 72 hours. 

Some brands were unexpectedly thrown into the limelight via this hashtag – delayed voters on a UK train pleaded with @StenaLineUKIE to delay their ferry departure from Fishguard to wait for them, and were duly lauded when they did so. You can’t buy PR like that!

There were also countless tweets telling of a lady handing out bags of Tayto in Dublin airport to those returning home (things like this is why we all love this little country!).

Polling Day

Polling was open from 7am-10pm on Friday 25th May in 6,500 polling stations; however, if you were one of the 2,611 residents across 19 of our offshore islands , including one of the four (yes 4!) on Inishfree in Donegal, you would have cast your vote on Thursday 24th May. Turnout was strong from early on, with polling stations reporting they expected record numbers versus any other referendum in recent history. In particular, the supplementary register voters (which all skewed young in terms of age profile) boosted turnouts in all counties.

Final Result

There were two initial exit polls reported at 11.30pm on Friday night – the RTE poll indicated a 69.4% Yes result, whilst the Irish Times poll noted 68% opted to repeal the Eighth; The actual confirmed figure after counts was 66.4% Yes to 33.6% No. The official results were 1,429,981 voted in favour, 723,672 against. A clear 2-1 outcome. This is the polar opposite of the outcome in 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was inserted into our Constitution – where 66.9% were in favour and 32.1% against.

The highest percentage for Yes was in Dublin Bay South @ 78.5% vs 21.5% No. The highest percentage for No was in Donegal @ 51.87% No vs 48.13% Yes.

Interestingly, the Yes camp was very firmly rooted in Dublin, and weakened slightly the more west and north you go. Stoneybatter (Dublin 7) alone returned a 92% vote in favour of Yes, Dublin overall was 75.5%, Leinster (ex Dublin) 66.6%, Munster 63.3% and Connacht-Ulster 57.5%. The Guardian summed it up visually here. (Source: TheGuardian.com)

RTE televised results coverage throughout the day on Saturday, with 566,000 individuals tuning in at some point during the day.

A youth and gender quake

This Referendum has widely been reported as divisive and a hugely emotive topic. It has historically been one of the most divisive social issues in this country. The last two decades have seen reversals of opinion on Divorce and same-sex marriage, and now abortion. What has been interesting is the rest of the world watching, and commenting on the scale of the global debate that Ireland is starting on these topics. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described this vote as “the culmination of a quiet revolution” amongst this generation.

We have also learned that mobilising our youth has been pivotal to referenda results in recent times, with social media being the biggest driver of this. This 2018 result has been dubbed a “youth-quake, a gender-quake”. The younger the voter, the more likely they were to vote Yes; 90% of under 25’s voted Yes, 73% of 35-49 and so on the trend continued, with only over 65’s voting a majority 60% No, possibly indicating that they retained their position from 1983 in terms of opposing abortion, but are now outnumbered by the younger generations committed to effecting change.

It’s anyone’s guess what the next Referendum will be. I’m sure the rest of the world are watching this space.