The Sinn Fein Factor on Calling a General Election

Published by: Richard Colwell

2017.11.27

Overall this month’s poll would suggest that no one has anything much to gain from forcing an early election. Both the main parties are within spitting distance of the same level of support, suggesting that we would be likely to end up with a situation that is pretty similar to the one we have now, were an election to be called and these numbers hold out.

But what about the Sinn Fein factor? At last week’s Ard Fheis, Gerry Adams, the current leader of the party announced that he would be standing down as leader in 2018.  For many years we have seen the impact that reminders of the past and the party’s connections to the IRA can have on support for the party. Historically when serious issues to do with the past, in particular that of Gerry Adams, have surfaced in the media, the party has suffered in the polls.  It is fair to assume therefore that the party could generally be being somewhat held back by having a leader that is so clearly associated with its past.

It is widely accepted that Mary Lou McDonald is the front runner to become the parties next leader, and she provides a very different platform for the party.  A change of leader it is suggested may well remove the stigma for some of voting for the party, and allow them to make real gains at the polls as a result.  This is a very real fear for Fianna Fail, as they are the party perhaps most likely to lose support as a result.   While Gerry Adams has already announced that in the event of a snap election he would step aside and allow Mary Lou McDonald to lead the party in that campaign, it is likely that any impact of a change of leader might be better for the party if they have a little time for the new leader to shine.

To tease this out a little more in today’s poll we asked voters about their reactions to a change in leadership for the party, and the results back up the more positive picture for the party.  Firstly 41% of the population say they would be more likely to vote Sinn Fein with Mary Lou McDonald as leader, and while this includes current Sinn Fein voters, when they are removed a third (34%) of those who wouldn’t currently give Sinn Fein a first preference still agree they would be more likely to vote Sinn Fein.  Those most at threat from this possible move toward Sinn Fein are Independent candidates, with 37% of supporters suggesting they would consider voting for Sinn Fein.  While Labour, Solidarity-PBP and Fianna Fail are also in the possible firing line.

While not as quite as big a threat to Fianna Fail as the others, there must be some concern to the party that still 28% of supporters would be more likely to consider voting for Sinn Fein, with a change of leader to Mary Lou McDonald.  Particularly when compared to the possible impact on the Fine Gael vote, which is more limited, with just 19% more likely to vote for Sinn Fein.  Given that both the major parties current support levels are so close, any possible loss is critical to which has the upper hand in post-election government forming.

Those more open to voting for Sinn Fein come from the younger under 35 age groups, where as astonishing 60% say they would be more likely to vote for the party. This is a very fertile hunting ground for Sinn Fein to grow its core vote, as currently just 20% of this age group gives the party a first preference vote.  There does however remain a Dublin bias, with 51% of those in Dublin suggesting they would be more likely to vote for the party, while this falls to low 30’s outside of Dublin.

A significant proportion of the population (40%) also claim that they would be happy to see Sinn Fein in government, were a change in leader to take place. While this of course includes all those that say they will vote for the party, it also includes a quarter of both Fianna Fail and Labour supporters, and even 1 in 5 Fine Gael supporters.

It is clear then that the upcoming change in leadership for Sinn Fein opens up very real possibilities for growth for the party, a factor that both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will be acutely aware of.  Fianna Fail in particular would appear to have more to lose to wait and have an election having allowed some time to pass after a change in leadership for Sinn Fein; and maybe, just maybe, this is also a factor impacting strongly on their desire to push things to the brink and force and election sooner than had previously been expected.

Download the full report below

SBP November 2017 Poll Report – GE16

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