An Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to announce the polling day for the upcoming general election tomorrow, further delaying the decision. The decision comes down to a choice between Thursday 25 or Friday 26 February, with Friday being considered as the most likely outcome by the majority of government members.
According to RTÉ, Kenny’s chose to announce the polling date tomorrow instead of today in order “to allow for an orderly dissolution” of the Dáil. He has confirmed that he has already made a decision on the date.
The final decision will come following weeks of speculation and reported tensions between government parties. Speculation grew that Fine Gael voters would be among those travelling to the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England, scheduled for the following Saturday in London, leading strategists to favour a Thursday vote.
Simon Coveney, Fine Gael TD, denied on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live that the choice of date for the election would be influenced by the rugby match that weekend.
Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment and Labour TD, spoke out in favour of a Friday election: “I believe elections should always be on a Friday”, with TD’s such as Jan O’Sullivan and former minister Willie Penrose also expressing preference for a Friday vote. Their responses have been rumoured to be based on the fact that workers and students, who are more inclined to vote Labour, will be put off by a Thursday date.
Tánaiste Joan Burton, on the other hand, has insisted that the day of polling will make no difference to the voter turnout. Speaking to the Independent, the Tánaiste stated: “Looking at turnout it doesn’t matter markedly whether it’s Thursday or Friday”.
Both the Union of Students Ireland (USI) and the National Youth Council of Ireland (NCYI) came out in opposition against holding the election on Thursday, fearing it could exclude many people attending colleges outside their own constituencies.
In a statement to the Irish Times Ian Power, NCYI President, said that efforts taken to get young voters on the register, in particular prior to the same sex marriage referendum, would be undermined by a mid-week election date: “For the 2011 general election, the youth voter turnout was 62 per cent, up 12 per cent on 2002 levels. If we want to maintain and enhance youth turnout, we need to support it through Friday or weekend elections.”
Kevin Donaghue, USI’s President, reiterated these sentiments in a statement: “We have registered tens of thousands of young people to vote in the last year and this kind of behaviour is exactly the reason young people are so disenfranchised with politics”. USI’s Make a SmartVote campaign and their recent general election hustings roadshow have both sought to encourage students’ engagement with politics. Among the colleges that have hosted the events are UCC, WIT, TCD and NUIG.
Dr. Stephen Quinlan, from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems Project at the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Germany, said that turnout in Irish elections has not been significantly affected by the day on which they were held. As a guest on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland, he stated that the turnout for these elections was 68% for Wednesday (1992), 63% for Friday (2002) and 67% for Thursday (2002).
Though he neglected discuss the demographic proportions of these turnouts, he stated that the three most important factors that decide whether somebody will exercise their right to vote is their age, education and their level of political engagement.