Thursday’s snap election for the Northern Irish Assembly was inevitably going to punish the province’s largest party, the Democratic Unionists, after their First Minister Arlene Foster was tarred with suggestions of scandal around funding a renewable energy scheme.
However the second and final opinion poll of the brief campaign, published today by Lucid Talk, shows limited losses in voting intentions for Ulster’s largest party. They remain fractionally ahead of the biggest nationalist force, Sinn Fein, albeit by just one percentage point. Rival unionist parties the UUP and TUV seem set to achieve modest gains within that community of voters.
In a commentary on the results, Lucid Talk note that the combined unionist vote has dropped from 47.9 to 46.6 per cent compared to the May 2016 election result. Meanwhile the total nationalist/republican score has edged up from 39.3 to 39.9 per cent.
The advance of explicitly cross-community forces is also apparent: together the Alliance Party and the Greens are credited with nearly 13 per cent support, compared to their actual score of 9.7 at the ballot box last year.
Only very minor changes are seen in the parties’ support levels compared to Lucid Talk’s previous poll published on 30 January, with no party’s total shifting by more than 0.6 percentage points.
Early elections in Northern Ireland come just eight months into a planned assembly term of five years and against a backdrop of warnings that the power-sharing administration at Stormont may not survive, potentially leading the UK government to re-impose direct rule from London.
That, however, would be a last resort. In the meantime, interest will centre on whether Sinn Fein can profit from the DUP’s disarray and gain the psychological victory of becoming the largest party. Differential turnout with the two communities may be the key to closing the small gap reported in this poll. It should also be emphasised that this gap between the two big parties, and indeed changes in every party’s support since the May 2016 results, are within the +/-3 per cent margin of error reported by the pollster (95 per cent confidence interval).
Whatever the outcome, all will be losers in one sense: the number of Assembly seats will be reduced from 108 and 90, causing a loss of elected members all round. Seats are allocated proportionately in 18 multi-member constituencies using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system.
First preference voting intentions in per cent (change over May 2016 election result in brackets):
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 26.3 (29.2)
Sinn Fein (SF) 25.3 (24.0)
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) 13.9 (12.6)
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) 12.2 (12.0)
Alliance Party (APNI) 9.5 (7.0)
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) 4.4 (3.4)
Green Party 3.4 (2.7)
Others 5.1 (9.3)
Fieldwork: 24.02-26.02.2017. Released: 28.02.2017. Respondents: 1580. Methodology: Online.
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