Immigration the big issue, as Sinn Féin support drops to lowest level since last General Election2024.01.29
In my article for our last poll in November 2023, I asked the question of “How solid is Sinn Féin support was”, as we close in on an election, having seen early signs of a declining trend in support. The answer today appears to be, not very solid at all.
A significant drop of 4% in support in January sees the party secure just 25% of the vote. Still some way ahead of other parties, but a long way down from the highs of 35% support seen occasionally since the last election.
While we can’t see exactly where the fall in support has gone directly, it’s clear that the drop is not a result of the government parties re-gaining ground. Fianna Fáil do see a small gain in support (+1%) securing 17% of the first preference vote, their highest poll rating since this time last year, but Fine Gael at 20% and the Green Party at 4% remain stable.
The main beneficiaries instead appear to be independent candidates, and smaller parties such as Aontú and “other parties”. Independent candidates’ rising support is in direct contrast to Sinn Fein’s decline, having gained in the last two polls, with gains of +2% in this poll, and total support now at 15%, higher than at any time since the last General Election.
It is pretty clear that immigration is the big issue, both damaging Sinn Féin support and benefiting those in smaller parties and those independent candidates who are more inclined to have an anti immigration stance. Some of whom have made their stance known by attending protests (e.g. Rosslare harbour, Roscrea, Carlow town).
This is further emphasised by Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú, who has also been critical of the government’s policy of asylum seekers, seeing support rise by 1%, to leave the party securing 3% overall, while “other parties” retain a high of 3%. Also, at least a third those that suggest they would support “other parties” (3% in total), directly mention far-right parties such as Ireland First; Irish Freedom Party; and National Party.
We again asked some questions about refugees and how we should accommodate them then in this poll, and the results to these questions also underpin the move in party support. When given the option, the majority (66%) believe that Ireland has taken in too many refugees, while only 16% believe that we have NOT taken in too many refugees. The rest (18%) remain neutral or undecided.
This majority opinion is held among all demographic cohorts, although it is more strongly held among those in more working class groups. It also appears to be a view held more so outside of Dublin, and in rural locations in particular. It is also an opinion tellingly most strongly held among those who suggest they will vote for Independent candidates at the next election and (while on a small sample size) those that support Aontú and other parties.
Voters are also unclear about how refugees should be housed going forward. When given the option of either using more direct provision centres for Ukrainian refugees or locating them in local communities across the country, little consensus emerged. Those who were more likely to feel that Ireland had taken in too many refugees tend to also support the use of large direct provision centres, while those who felt we hadn’t taken in too many are more inclined to keep to the current model of housing them in local communities.
For Sinn Féin, the issue of immigration doesn’t appear to have been solved, despite a move by the party in recent months to build a narrative that was more supportive of those that opposed immigration. The party is certainly more at risk from fragmentation of the vote to more anti-immigration and right-wing candidates and parties, given much of its support is built on a wave of anti-establishment sentiment, rather than one of support for its own policies.
We had initially seen that the loss of support for the party was being driven by younger voters, but today’s drop in support is across all demographic groups. This is exactly the reverse of how their support grew in 2020 and beyond, and must be of significant concern for the party, when they appeared to be on the cusp of power in the Republic of Ireland.
Of course, this is just one poll, but it does follow on from gradual drops in support for the party seen in several polls before Christmas. How they react now, to further try and stem the tide, and get those votes back, will be key to their success in the next general election that could well happen this year.
Make no mistake, immigration is now very much a key factor for voters and a concern for every party as we move towards the next General Election.