Majority in support of 8th amendment

Majority in support of 8th amendment
Photo by Steve Houghton-Burnett / Unsplash

The latest poll by Ireland Thinks for the Irish Daily Mail indicates that there is a majority in favour of a change to the constitution on abortion. Respondents were asked "If a referendum were held to repeal the 8th amendment that is to make abortion unrestricted during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy how would you vote?"

This question is what we understand to be the important question ahead of a referendum on abortion provisionally scheduled for this coming 'May or June'. While the Taoiseach has indicated that there will be a basic proposal to remove the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child from the constitution he has also stated that the government will publish legislation in parallel that would set out how the law would be changed. This poll is the first poll since the Dáil committee on abortion has made its recommendation as to what that legislation will be - that is to allow unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is therefore likely to be in effect the topic on which the public would vote on in a referendum on abortion.

In response to the question a majority of 53% said that they would vote in favour while 27% said that they would vote against. 13% stated that they 'Don't know' how they would vote and 7% stated that they would 'rather not say'.

Our question explicitly prompts for 'rather not say' and 'don't know' responses and we report those responses as they are. We do so cognisant of social desirability bias -- variously known as the 'bradley effect' or the 'spiral of silence' -- which can sometimes appear in public opinion polling and as evidenced in previous referendums and elections (see the 1992 UK general election for the classic example).

An analysis of demographics reveals how support and opposition is related to age. A large majority, 71%, of those aged between 18 and 24 support the change whereas just 39% of those aged 65 and over support the change.

Party support is also closely related. Green Party, Social Democrats and Solidarity-People Before Profit supporters are most in favour of the constitutional change whereas those that support Fianna Fáil or those that Don't Know which party they prefer are the least in favour of constitutional change. Referendum campaigns sometimes have a habit of aligning voters (i.e. the Scottish Independence referendum). With that in mind the relative pro-life position of those that 'Don't know' which party they will vote for is rather curious.

In any referendum campaign it is not just which side people prefer but whether they actually turn out and vote that is important. This we call 'differential turnout'. As we have observed in referendums such as the UK's membership of the EU and here the Seanad abolition referendum it is often 'who wants it more' that determines who is more likely to turn out and vote. In previous referendum campaigns the polls have often been quite incorrect as a result of misinterpreting which individuals have been more or less likely to turn out. Notably in the referendum to abolish the Seanad those that cared more about the Seanad were by definition more likely to turn out to save the Seanad whereas those that cared little about the Seanad did not turn out. As such, a significant majority in favour of abolishing the Seanad was overturned. In relation to the same sex marriage referendum and indeed this referendum there are many strong supporters on both sides, however there are also many people that care very little about the issue but will still be heavily influenced by social desirability bias in a poll such as this.

Ireland Thinks interviewed a random sample of 1,144 adults aged 18 and over by telephone between Thursday December 14 and Friday December 22.