Another dramatic Irish election, with the exit polls proving to have underestimated the substantial fall in support for the government parties. Fianna Fáil have lurched back to within 1.2% of Fine Gael as largest party, 24.35% to 25.52%, and overnight the two were both on 28 seats. That's the sort of margin where you can get the party with fewer votes ending up with more seats once the local factors in each constituency come into play. But I've crunched the numbers this morning, looking especially at tight races for FG, FF or both, and calling them against the former and in favour of the latter; and I reckon that FG should end up with at least a three-seat margin as the largest party, possibly more.
Detailed table of results so far (on the left) and how I think it could end up (on the right):
|Progress||FG||FF||SF||Lab||Inds||AAA-PBP||Green||Soc Dem||My call||FG||FF||SF||Lab||Inds||AAA-PBP||Green||Soc Dem|
|Dublin Bay North||0/5||1||1||1||2|
|Dublin Bay South||0/4||SF transfers decide last seat between FF and Lab||2||1||1|
|Dublin North-West||2/3||1||1||tight FF/FG||1||1||1|
|Dublin South-Central||3/4||1||1||1||close between FF and AAA-PBP||1||1||1||1|
|Dún Laoghaire||4/4||3||1||FG Ceann Comhairle automatically returned||3||1|
|Galway West||0/5||FG have chance of getting one of two Ind seats||1||1||1||2|
|Sligo-Leitrim||0/4||close between FF and FG||1||2||1|
Those numbers represent a floor for FG and a ceiling for FF. If FG rather than FF wins the marginal seats in Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin North-West and Sligo-Leitrim, and FG hold off the second independent in Galway West while FF lose to Labour in Dublin Bay South and to the AAA-PBP coalition in Dublin South-Central, then the margin between the two parties will be not three seats but twelve; either outcome, or anything in between, is a decent result for a gap of only 1.2% in first preferences.
Assuming that Fine Gael does not immediately decapitate Enda Kenny (who has at least kept them as the largest party), a lot will then depend on his political judgement. If I was leader of either large party, I think my strategy would be to ensure that there is another election fairly soon that can be blamed on the independent TDs, in the hope that voters will punish them and return to stability. This has worked before (in 1927, 1943-44, and 1981-82). However, as the New York Times noted yesterday in a different context, times have changed…