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The geography of Irish voter turnout: A case study of the 2002 General Election

Adrian Kavanagh, Gerald Mills, Richard Sinnott


Turnout' is a key measure of participation in the democratic process. Specifically, it measures the proportion of eligible voters that turns out to vote on election day. Low (or declining) turnout rates are a cause of concern and are often taken as a measure of disaffection with the political decision-making process. In Ireland, turnout in the 2002 general election confirmed a downward trend in voter participation and represented the lowest turnout since the foundation of the State. However, turnout rates vary markedly across the State. Until recently, it was not possible to examine turnout at a sufficiently detailed geographical scale to allow systematic analysis of the potential causes of such variations. This paper reports on a joint project, involving the Geary Institute, UCD and the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA), NUI Maynooth, that is undertaking a comprehensive analysis of turnout in the 2002 general election at the lowest possible level of aggregation. Here, a cartographic description and introductory analysis is presented that includes the first ever electoral-district-level map of turnout. The resulting geographical patterns are generally coherent and explicable and provide important pointers for future research. In an unanticipated finding, this map shows that the phenomenon of low turnout in urban areas occurs beyond the main cities and their suburbanised hinterlands and shows up as a characteristic of most provincial towns.

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