26 May 2018

Victory in Ireland

Yesterday the Republic of Ireland held a historic referendum on repealing the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which prohibited abortion under practically all circumstances (no exceptions for rape, fetal non-viability, etc.).  While polling had pointed to a narrow win for repeal, two exit polls show a landslide result, 68% to 32%, for repealing the amendment and thus legalizing abortion.  The margin was even more lopsided among younger voters, 87% to 13% among those under 24.  These are exit polls, and the actual vote counting won't be finished until later today (The Irish Times will have ongoing coverage), but even if the actual margin is somewhat narrower, this is a stunning win in a country that was totally in the grip of the Catholic Church a generation ago and had been one of the strongest bastions of the Church for fifteen centuries.

Ireland has been changing.  Three years ago it became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular referendum (as opposed to court rulings or legislation), by a margin of 62% to 38%.  The current Prime Minister is openly gay.  78% of the population still identifies as Catholic, but weekly church attendance among Catholics is down from 91% in 1972 to 30% in 2011 (14% in Dublin), and many of those who still go do so only for family or social reasons.

Life under the abortion ban was marked by degradation and hypocrisy.  Many women needing abortions traveled to nearby Britain to obtain them, or resorted to unsafe illegal methods.  For some, yesterday's vote was a chance to strike back at oppressive tradition and its enforcers.

Based on what I've been seeing on hard-line Catholic websites, many opponents of repeal followed a strategy of mumbling to themselves, fiddling with beads, and not eating (or as they describe it, praying the Rosary and fasting).  For some reason, this apparently did not prove effective in changing the outcome.  One wishes our opponents would entirely confine themselves to such methods, but I suppose it's too much to hope for.

There is a lesson for Americans here.  Polling before the vote predicted a narrow win for repeal, while the exit polls show the actual result was around two-to-one.  There are a variety of reasons why polling can fail to predict a vote accurately.  In a case like this, where interest and emotion are running high, one possibility is failure to predict turnout.  Pollsters must guess at which groups will actually vote and in what numbers; if actual turnout patterns are different, the actual vote outcome may be far different from what the poll predicted.  In Ireland, by all accounts, turnout was astonishingly high.  The increased victory margin may reflect high turnout among groups that usually vote in only meager numbers, such as young people, or the pro-repeal side may have been more energized relative to its opponents than pollsters expected.  Here in the US, Democrats have often done better in special elections over the last year than polling suggested, and this too may reflect an especially motivated Democratic base.  But in November, the Trumpanzees too may be energized by fear of Trump being impeached if Democrats win the House.  In the polarized and intense politics of the US today, we can't let polls push us into overconfidence or despair.  Turnout will be everything, and every battle must be fought hard.

Update:  The official result is in -- 66.4% for repeal, 33.6% against.


Blogger Martha said...

That is great about Ireland! Women should be in charge of their own bodies.

26 May, 2018 11:11  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

That as a hell of a turn out. Good for them.

26 May, 2018 11:37  
Blogger Les Carpenter said...

Turnout will be everything, and every battle must be fought hard.

Indeed! Overconfidence and a resulting low opposition (Democratic) turnout will likely result in a continuation of the current and disasterous trend in national governance. The Democratic party if certainly not ideal but the alternative is a fiasco.

Kudos to Ireland for choosing reason over religious tradition and mysticism on this issue.

26 May, 2018 14:37  
Blogger Adam said...

And sadly, many in the USA want that same bullshit imposed on us

26 May, 2018 16:04  
Blogger Harry Hamid said...

Good for Ireland. I never would have guessed it.

26 May, 2018 20:46  
Blogger Ami said...

I've ranted about polls for years. (HEY!! How can they say that? They never called me and they never asked anyone I know personally.) Also, I can make a poll say anything I want it to say. I just have to ask the right people.

I'm glad to hear that Ireland is going to allow women to control their own reproduction. Which is as it should be.

26 May, 2018 22:07  
Anonymous Arvind Rao said...

Yay Ireland. In today's day and age, why a modern nation would prevent a person from making a choice about their own body astounds me.

27 May, 2018 01:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for your interest, everyone.....and indeed we have to remember that while Ireland is moving forward so dramatically, we have people here in the US wanting to drag us backward.

27 May, 2018 12:03  

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