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Irish Times poll: Sinn Féin's move to the mainstream seems inexorable

Party consolidates support among working class and attracts wealthier and older voters

As the first anniversary of the formation of the Coalition Government approaches, it is the Opposition that makes the news today, as Sinn Féin establishes a clear polling lead with the highest level of support ever measured for the party in the long series of Irish Times Ipsos MRBI polls.

With 31 per cent support, the party enjoys a clear lead over its nearest rivals in Fine Gael, which sees a three-point drop in support today to 27 per cent. And Sinn Féin has a commanding 11-point advantage over Fianna Fáil, which is at 20 per cent today.

Look at the way Sinn Féin has grown its support, not just among young and the working-class voters, but also – albeit to a lesser degree – among wealthier and older voters. The move to the mainstream seems inexorable.

This is one of the most important trends in political support since the last election – and it is always wise to look beyond any one poll to ascertain the medium-term trends. Sinn Féin has not just consolidated the support of its new 2020 voters, it has added to their number substantially. There is a strong sense that the party is solidifying its support. Even though Irish politics is marked by a high degree of volatility, that makes it less likely that Sinn Féin’s new voters will desert the party.


As politics moves beyond the pandemic – and today’s poll shows how health, the economy and housing are likely to return as central issues – that is an important finding for the party.

But if all that makes sobering reading for Fianna Fáilers, it could equally be said that this is the best poll the party has seen since the far side of the last election. The party moves up six points since the last poll in February of this year, when the country – and its Government – was languishing in lockdown under the third wave of the pandemic. This is the strongest we have seen Fianna Fáil support in well over a year. Taoiseach Micheál Martin sees his personal rating increase (from 42 per cent to 49 per cent) to its highest ever level and there is a 10-point jump (to 53 per cent) in satisfaction for the Government.

‘Vaccination bounce’

Allied to the strong public approval of the Government’s handling of Covid-19 there is some evidence in this poll of a “vaccination bounce” for the Coalition. The public’s view of how the Coalition has handled the pandemic has completely turned around since February, with 70 per cent of people now saying it is “doing a good job”. How enduring any bounce proves to be is another matter. Still, it will give encouragement to people in Government as they head into the summer, and an important byelection in a few weeks.

A black spot for the Coalition, however, is that the vaccine uplift – if indeed that’s what it is – has not applied itself to Fine Gael, which sees support fall by three points today to 27 per cent. But some context (as ever) is needed for those numbers – Fine Gael had been on a run of very high poll numbers since the general election and may be reverting to its norm in the high 20s, rather than the 30s. One bright point for the party, however, is the personal rating of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, which rises today by four points to 56 per cent. Varadkar remains the most popular party leader, showing an ability to command the approval of voters well beyond his own party.

The Green Party is holding up. At 6 per cent today, it maintains its position, although leader Eamon Ryan sees a bit of a slump in his personal rating, down from 35 per cent 26 per cent.

Overall, the combined support for the Government parties accounts for more than half of all voters, at 53 per cent. In February it was 50 per cent; in October of last year it was 56 per cent. Being in government is not destroying anyone.

What about the rest of the parties? The jump for Fianna Fáil today restores the picture of a political landscape with three big beasts, and a scattering of smaller animals.

Independents lose out

When the big parties gain support, they squeeze out the minnows. The big losers today are the independents, who see support slump from 13 per cent in February to 8 per cent today. Among the smaller parties the Social Democrats slip from 3 per cent to 2 per cent, while the Solidarity/People Before Profit edges in the other direction – rising from 1 per cent to 2 per cent. Aontú remains on 1 per cent. But as ever it’s important to realise that national polls are not the best vehicle for measuring the progress or otherwise of smaller parties, which require strong candidates in individual constituencies to outperform their national numbers.

That's the situation for Labour – unchanged on 3 per cent today – which hopes Ivana Bacik can trump anaemic national support levels to challenge for a seat in the Dublin Bay South byelection. But while it's clearly better to be up than down, extrapolating local messages from national numbers is more wishful thinking than analysis.

We should exercise some caution in considering the results of this poll compared with others, as the relaxing of pandemic restrictions enabled researchers to conduct in-home interviews again, while the February poll was conducted via telephone. Nonetheless, it is clear some things have changed since then.

In summary, there are three big messages from today’s poll. First, Sinn Féin is powering ahead. Second, the Government is holding it together, and benefits to some degree from a bounce related to vaccination, or reopening, or both. Finally, the poll shows that pandemic politics is receding and a new phase is beginning – in which health, housing and the economy will be the most important issues. Politics is returning to basics.