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The Irish Times view on the referendums: poll shows Yes side well ahead but nothing is assured

A notable feature is the very high number of people who do not feel properly informed as yet

There may be some relief this morning in Government circles and among the groups campaigning for Yes votes in the two upcoming referendums at the results of the Irish Times/Ipsos B&A poll of voting intentions on March 8th.

The poll shows strong majorities in favour of both proposed amendments to the Constitution among those who have made up their minds. The removal of the passage relating to the duties of women in the home, along with the addition of an acknowledgment of the role of carers, is supported by 59 per cent and opposed by 12 per cent. The replacement of a reference to the family being founded on marriage by a description of it as being based on a durable relationship has the support of 52 per cent, with 15 per cent opposed. There are some marginal variations in support across social groups, with rural and older voters slightly less enthusiastic. But if these results were replicated in four weeks’ time, both amendments would pass with overwhelming majorities.

On the face of it, therefore, it will require a remarkable shift in public sentiment within a relatively short space of time for the result to be in any doubt. But the Yes side would be wise to remain cautious. History shows that referendums on issues which do not engage the electorate, or which voters do not regard as relevant to their day-to day-lives, often result in disappointingly low turnouts. That in turn can contribute to results which differ significantly from opinion polls taken during the campaign. And last-minute swings are not unknown. Such was the case in 2017, with the surprisingly close vote on the Thirty-Seventh Amendment on children’s rights. It was also true in 2013 when the Thirty-Second Amendment on the abolition of the Seanad was rejected by the electorate, despite most advance polling showing a majority in favour.

A notable feature of today’s poll is the very high number of people who do not feel properly informed as yet about the issues. Only 8 per cent agree they know “a lot” about the proposals, with 36 per cent knowing “a little” and 53 per cent acknowledging they know “hardly anything at all”. Those numbers will give No campaigners some encouragement and a sense that there may yet be a lot to play for. They also suggest a low turnout is likely. And it remains to be seen if either side manages to capture the attention of a disengaged electorate.

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Given all of this, the referendum campaign presents a demanding first test for the newly-formed Electoral Commission. The proposed amendments are not without complexity, with legal experts differing profoundly on their implications. The commission faces a real challenge in fulfilling its mandate of ensuring that voters are fully and impartially informed on all these questions by the time polling day comes around.

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