General Election 2020: Momentum with Sinn Féin

Published by: Richard Colwell


Last week I signaled that I thought the gains for Sinn Féin this time were different.  Today’s poll confirms that theory.  The crucial campaign momentum is with Sinn Féin, founded on a desire for fundamental change in the established order.  With Fine Gael continuing to suffer as a result.

If you think Sinn Féin being left out of the head to head leader’s debate was a bad thing for the party?  Think again.   Many voters saw this as a clear signal that the establishment was denying them a voice, and cosying up together with the two main parties to retain the status quo.   There is a real anger seen among some voters, who appear fed up with a constant shift in government between the two main parties, who they don’t feel represent them and have failed in government.

These are the findings from qualitative questions in an online poll RED C conducted, alongside our standard telephone survey.  The benefit of polling online, is that it gives us the opportunity and time to ask people in their own words to express why they plan to vote as they do, and so gather a huge amount of information that explains voters current behaviour.

If we focus attention on those that now say they will vote Sinn Féin on 8th February, and who haven’t in the past, the message is clear.  These people are desperate for change, away from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and this is the overriding reason for their change in vote behaviour.  They also believe that Sinn Féin is more likely to “stand up for ordinary people”.  Underlying this is good support for the party’s policy positions on housing and pensions; and a high regard both for local candidates and prominent party members, including Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty.

Last week we saw that support for Sinn Féin was very strong among the under 35 age group.  The main finding today, is that this has spread to the next age band of 35-54 year olds, where support has increased most for the party.

A week ago support for Sinn Féin among this age group trailed behind both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.  Now Sinn Féin have the largest share, at 29% of all those aged 35-54, while retaining strong levels of support among younger voters. We also see marked gains in support among men, blue-collar workers and in Connaught and Ulster.

The question now arises as to whether the party can really capitalise on this groundswell of support, right into election day?  Commentators often refer to the fact that Sinn Féin have underperformed in past elections vs. poll results.  This is not however generally the case in RED C polls.  In 2016 for instance, our last poll had Sinn Féin support at 15%, and they ended up securing 14% first preference.

Sinn Féin does appear to have benefited from those somewhat less likely to vote. Those now saying they will vote when they haven’t in the past, and those that were not eligible to vote at the last election.  This could mean Sinn Féin don’t perform quite as well as the polls suggest.

This poll is also a little earlier in the campaign, and with a week to go until polling day, there is still plenty of room for late swing.  Our qualitative feedback suggests there are certainly some voters who express a desire to vote for anyone but Sinn Féin.   The insight this poll delivers is that many more voters are now prepared to vote for Sinn Féin. This finding could prompt some anti Sinn Féin voters, to vote more tactically, changing who they will vote for to stop Sinn Féin being elected.

But there are clearly fewer anti Sinn Féin voters than there were, with the party having gained more credibility as a vote option across the electorate.  Instead of a negative impact in the final week, we could therefore see the party do better in transfers than they have done historically, and momentum continue to move towards the party.

The final week of the campaign is likely to bring about further change, given this shift to Sinn Féin has been so sudden, and it isn’t completely clear what that change may be.  What is apparent is that on these numbers it is going to be difficult for any party to form a government, unless they go into coalition with each other.  The alternative is that we could be having another election pretty soon.

Download the full report below

SBP 2nd February 2020 Poll Report