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The Death of Conservative Ireland? The 2018 Abortion Referendum


  • Johan A. Elkink

    (School of Politics & International Relations, University College Dublin)

  • David M. Farrell

    (School of Politics & International Relations, University College Dublin)

  • Sofie Marien

    (Center for Political Research, KU Leuven)

  • Theresa Reidy

    (Department of Government, University College Cork)

  • Jane Suiter

    (School of Communications, Dublin City University)


The outcomes of two recent Irish referendums - on marriage equality in 2015 and abortion in 2018 - have placed contemporary Irish voters in sharp contrast with their long-standing conservative Catholic reputation. These referendums also stand out internationally because of the associated deliberative innovation. This paper aims to explain the watershed abortion vote drawing on theories of generational change, issue-voting, cue-taking and deliberative democracy, using data from an exit poll at the 2018 abortion referendum. We show that age and cleavage effects are key to understanding the referendum outcome. These results offer insight into how societal processes such as rapid secularisation, generational replacement and democratic innovations shape politics. Moreover, voters who were aware of the deliberative innovation were more likely to support the liberal referendum option. To increase willingness to deviate from the status quo, engaging citizens actively in the debate is a fruitful approach.

Suggested Citation

  • Johan A. Elkink & David M. Farrell & Sofie Marien & Theresa Reidy & Jane Suiter, 2019. "The Death of Conservative Ireland? The 2018 Abortion Referendum," Working Papers 201911, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucd:wpaper:201911

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sascha O Becker & Thiemo Fetzer & Dennis Novy, 2017. "Who voted for Brexit? A comprehensive district-level analysis," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 32(92), pages 601-650.
    2. Becker, Sascha O. & Fetzer, Thiemo & Novy, Dennis, 2022. "Who Voted for Brexit? A Comprehensive District-Level Analysis," CEPR Discussion Papers 11954, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Lupia, Arthur, 1994. "Shortcuts Versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 88(1), pages 63-76, March.
    4. Sascha Becker & Thiemo Fetzer & Dennis Novy & Sascha O. Becker, 2017. "Who Voted for Brexit?," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 15(04), pages 03-05, December.
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    referendums; voting behaviour; abortion; generational effects; deliberative democracy; Ireland;
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