When voters chose a particular party to vote for, did they do so on ideological grounds?

Are the voters of the main parties - Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin -  very different from each other on the broad economic left-right policy dimension?

Or on a social dimension stretching from liberal to conservative?

And how distinct, if at all, are the parties' voters on how they see the long term constitutional future of the State? If there are ideological differences between parties' voters are they so great as to scupper the chances of forming a government?

Professor John Garry of the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast analyses the exit poll results

The exit poll allows us an insight into the possible ideological motivations of the Irish voter.

Respondents were asked on a 0 to 10 scale whether they thought the government should "cut taxes a lot and spend much less on health and social services" (0) or "increase taxes a lot and spend much more" (10).

The average position of the Irish voter is 5.9,  somewhat towards the economic leftist side of the debate.

There are no significant differences between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour voters on this policy area. The only noteworthy differences relate to Sinn Féin voters (6.2) being, on average, more left wing on this issue than Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (both on 5.7).

A second economic left-right question sought to measure attitudes to inequality and here there were much greater differences between the voters of the main parties.

Voters were asked, again on a 0-10 scale, whether the government "should act to reduce differences in income and wealth" (0) or not (10).

Sinn Féin voters have the most left wing position (3.8) and Fine Gael voters are further to the right (4.9), while Fianna Fáil are no different from the overall average voter position (4.3) and Labour voters are marginally to the right of this.

To capture the broad liberal-conservative distinction a question was asked about abortion: there "should be a total ban on abortion" (0) or abortion "should be freely available in Ireland to any woman who wants to have one" (10).

The average voter position (6.05) is on the liberal side of the debate. There are significant differences between party supporters. The four main parties clearly break into a liberal block in which Sinn Féin and Labour share the same position (6.7 and 6.9) and a conservative block of Fine Gael and Fianna Féil (5.8 and 5.6).

The question of the possibility of a united Ireland was also asked to assess voters’ nationalist outlook. 36% of all voters preferred that Northern Ireland would in the long term 'unify with the Republic of Ireland'.

The big difference is between Sinn Féin voters and the rest: 58% of Sinn Féin voters favour unity while the pro-unity percentages of  Fianna Fáil and Labour are much lower (34 and 32%) and Fine Gael voters are particularly unenthusiastic (27%). 

In terms of the implications for the creation of a government, it would be a challenge to match Sinn Féin's support base up with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael's, and particularly the latter.

In contrast, matching Fianna Fáil's and Fine Gael's would perhaps be much more straightforward.

Indeed, there appears as much similarity between the voters of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as there is between the voters of Fine Gael and Labour.

Read more from this author: Voters not in favour of old enemies becoming friends of necessity