Same sex referendum could still be lost

Despite a number of polls suggesting that voters will support the referendum for Same Sex Marriage equality, and the seemingly universal support for the measure among the political parties, there remains clear warning signs in our research once again this week that the referendum could still potentially be lost. The hard facts are that, once the various opinions of voters are analyzed, we can ascertain that at present less than half of the electorate is currently “certain” to support the referendum, without any reservations.

All too often pollsters have been attacked in referendum campaigns for suggesting some way before the vote that the electorate are generally in support of the change to the constitution, while in the event the results have been far closer or even lost. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that voters simply don’t start to properly evaluate the pros and cons of a change to the constitution until the campaign starts properly. So when we poll on their views some time out, they provide a top of mind response which often reflects the mood of the coverage. The second is that the Irish electorate do not change the constitution lightly. Voters generally need to be persuaded that any change to the constitution is really going to be for the better, and if there is any suggestion or uncertainty that change might make things worse, they will retain the status quo and vote no to change.

To combat the potential that the topline poll figures on how people will vote may again oversimplifying issues surrounding a referendum, RED C looked at the possible issues that may be raised in the campaign, in order to determine at this stage if these arguments could sway voters away from their current topline support.

To begin we asked voters how strongly they supported the idea of voting yes at the Same Sex Marriage referendum. While overall the great majority (77%) agree that they will vote to support the change to the constitution, in line with most recent polls that ask about vote intention directly, actually only 59% agree strongly that they will do so, with 18% only agreeing more tentatively. This already suggests that the scale of support for passing the referendum is somewhat less convincing than the headline figures suggest. This is before the campaign has started properly, and historical evidence of previous referenda suggest that the campaign will if anything most likely raise further doubts to more voters and see the yes support fall back during.


Over and above the strength of support then we need to try to understand the possible impact that the campaign might have. As such we looked at voter’s possible reservations with issues surrounding the vote that will almost certainly be brought to bear during the campaign. The first of these was concerning reservations that voters may have about adoption by gay couples, an issue which 38% agree that they do have reservations with. In itself this appears to match those who earlier said they would not vote in support of the referendum.

However, the reality is that over a third of those of had claimed they would support the referendum, still have reservations about gay couples adopting. It is entirely plausible to suggest that those with reservations around issues that will be used in the campaign are not sure to vote in favour of it, and as such only 48% of voters can actually be described as “secure” yes voters.

This view is further emphasized when we raised the issue of whether voters despite saying they will vote yes in favour of the referendum, had any reservations about the idea of same sex marriage. An even higher proportion of voters (42%) who had previously suggested they would vote yes, claim to still have reservations with the basic concept of the referendum. While it is not certain that this means those voters will change their mind as the campaign begins, it certainly suggests that they cannot at present be relied upon to vote in favour come the referendum day.

Once this analysis is taken into account, and as an extreme measure all those with reservations about same sex marriage and gay adoption are taken out of the yes camp, the proportion “certain” to vote yes at the referendum collapses from the reported highs of 77% to just 44% of all voters. This is far different prospect for those looking to pass the referendum, and suggest there is still much to be done to secure those who currently claim they will vote yes, but also currently harbor reservations about that decision.

Download the full report below:
SBP January 2015 Poll Report