LISBON TREATY REJECTION : Papers spin the 'No' vote factors
WITH recriminations and accusations over the Lisbon Treaty 'No' vote still ping-ponging back and forth between the media and the pro-treaty parties, two newly-published polls on why voters made their choices are providing interesting reading but not clarity on the referendum result.
The European Commission in Ireland published the results of a 2,000-voter phone poll by Gallup last Thursday (19 June) while a Sunday Business Post phone poll conducted by Red C in association with leading academics in Trinity College, Queen's University and Nottingham University was profiled in the paper last weekend.
A third poll by TNS/mrbi for The Irish Times, which included questions about reasons underpinning voter intentions and which was conducted nine days before polling, offers an interesting benchmark to compare both the post-referendum surveys.
However, even though polls are essentially about numbers, the context in which they are presented is vital, and the EU Commission's poll was leaked early last week to the Irish Independent, which gave it a front page on 13 June with a headline that read "Revealed: Why we voted 'No' to Lisbon."
The factors driving the 'No' vote cited by the Irish Independent included assertions that "People who did not understand the treaty voted No" and "The huge influx of immigrants into the country was a factor in the No vote".
When An Phoblacht got a copy of the preliminary results on Friday, it was difficult to find the same detail that the Independent had presented on its front page days before.
For example, of those surveyed in the Gallup poll who didn't vote, 52 per cent said they "did not fully understand the issues raised by the referendum". However, only 22 per cent of those who voted 'No' gave "I do not know enough about the treaty and would not want to vote for something I am not familiar with" as a reason for voting 'No'.
The Irish Times poll conducted on 3 and 4 June, before the referendum, has 30 per cent of 'No' voters saying that a reason for voting 'No' was either "I don't know what I'm voting for" or "I don't understand it", so the decrease across the two polls is interesting.
On the question of immigration in the Gallup poll only 1 per cent said they voted 'No' "To avoid an influx of immigrants. Interestingly, on the 'Yes' side, 1 per cent of those surveyed said they voted 'Yes' because "It makes the EU more able to fight cross-border crime, illegal immigration etc." This shows perhaps that was not an issue for either side in the referendum but raises a further question of why didn't Gallup and the European Commission ask the same question to both sets of voters, as you cannot directly compare the results.
Other interesting findings of the Gallup survey were that 68 per cent of all voters thought that the 'No' campaign was "the most convincing" with 57 per cent of 'Yes' voters thinking the 'No' campaign was more convincing compared to 81 per cent of 'No' voters.
55 per cent of all voters made their mind up in the last weeks of the campaign with little difference between the 'Yes' and 'No' voters on this question. 21 per cent of all voters polled changed their mind during the election. This translates into 25 per cent of 'Yes' voters had their minds changed during the campaign and 17 per cent of 'No' voters changed sides during the referendum campaign.
Women were slightly more likely to vote 'No' than men with 56 per cent of women voting 'No', compared to 49 per cent of men.
The largest disparity in voting intention is registered by age. Of those people surveyed, 65 per cent of the 18 to 24 age group voted 'No'. 59 per cent of the 25 to 39 age group voted 'No', falling to 52 per cent of the 40 to 54 age group. The high percentage of young 'No' voters prompted Fianna Fáil Foreign Affairs Minister Mícheál Martin to admit: "We have lost a generation in terms of engagement with Europe."
Also noteworthy was the 69 per cent 'No' vote from those who were still in education - so expect the next referendum to be held right in the college exam period, in the middle of the week. The self-employed voted 'Yes' 60 per cent to 40 per cent 'No', while manual workers were 74 per cent 'No'.
89 per cent of all voters supported Irish membership of the EU, with 'Yes' voters coming in at 98 per cent compared to 80 per cent for the 'No' voters.
76 per cent of 'No' voters believed that the Irish Government could renegotiate the treaty compared with 38 per cent of 'Yes' voters.
The Sunday Business Post poll asks some similar questions to the Gallup EU Commission survey. The Business Post devoted two articles to immigration in its Lisbon coverage last weekend along with a front-page headline which read "Abortion, tax and jobs fears boosted Lisbon No vote."
In the Red C poll those surveyed were asked more direct questions such as "If the treaty had been passed, do you think it would have made the practice of abortion more likely in Ireland." 58 per cent of 'No' voters agreed compared with 28 per cent of 'Yes' voters.
77 per cent of 'No' voters believed the treaty would have led to a change in tax on business compared to 38 per cent of 'Yes' voters. 75 per cent of No voters believed the treaty would have reduced Ireland's influence on EU decisions compared to 37 per cent of 'Yes' voters.
On the question of jobs, 58 per cent of 'No' voters believed that the treaty would "cause even more unemployment" compared to 14 per cent of 'Yes' voters.
When asked did they agree that "There should be much stricter limits on the number of foreigners coming into Ireland" 56 per cent of 'No' voters agreed compared to 44 per cent of 'Yes' voters. According to the Business Post, 65 per cent of 'No' voters agreed that immigration was an issue in the campaign. However, they stress that this view is "held across all demographics and political allegiances; half of all those who voted for the treaty supported this view".
Here is where the Business Post Red C analysis becomes questionable. They say that this view on immigration is strongest among working class voters and those who voted for Sinn Féin in the 2007 Leinster House elections.
Red C say that 78 per cent of Sinn Féin voters agreed with the stricter limits question compared to 60 per cent of Fine Gael and Labour voters and 57 per cent of Fianna Fáil supporters. However, these assertions are being made off very small samples. In the case of Red C, 1,000 people were interviewed which according to their poll, 10 per cent, or 100 people, were Sinn Féin voters. A much larger sample of each party's voters are needed to accurately back up the claims in the Business Post article.
Then there is the crucial difference where 1 per cent of 'No' voters say immigration was an issue in the Gallup poll compared to 65 per cent of 'No' voters agreeing with the need for "stricter limits on the number of foreigners" in the Red C poll. In the Irish Times poll, only 8 per cent of 'No' voters unprompted said they were voting 'No' "to prevent too much immigration to Ireland". Someone has their figures wrong here.
For now we can say that both the Red C poll and the EU Commission surveys are the preliminary findings of larger studies which will make interesting reading when published.
So we need to tread carefully. The authors of the Red C poll only claim that they "can highlight what differentiates the 'Yes' and 'No' sides". The Irish Independent and Business Post journalists have decided to go a step further. For now, it is a case of 'don't believe the hype' and it won't change the fact the 'Yes' vote lost!