A fascinating and potentially consequential article on the Red C blog by Richard Colwell, which appeared in mid-September, but which seemingly did not attract the media attention it deserved at the time, confirms the growing perception that in the South, Sinn Fein is a boat that may have missed the electoral tide.
Red C is a Dublin-based marketing and research company which carries out regular polling on support for the Dail parties.
Colwell argues that the polling data supports the proposition that the various and apparently endless series of scandals and crises endured by the party, from Mairia Cahill through to the continued existence of the Army Council, are chipping away at party support, perhaps as much as a percentage point each month.
More alarming for SF is Colwell’s suggestion that the greatest drift away from the party is by younger voters, usually considered SF’s most enthusiastic supporters.
This will make depressing reading for Sinn Fein since Colwell’s analysis points the party’s opponents towards the obvious strategy to see off the challenge from Gerry Adams and his colleagues: keep up the attacks on Sinn Fein’s credibility, honesty and transparency – and of course its links to the IRA.
You can read the entire article here, but this is the relevant extract:
The really interesting trend over the longer term however, has instead been the decline in support for Sinn Fein. Perhaps another sign of the move away from the protest vote at polling in the mid-term, back towards the more established parties.
The fall in 1st preference support for the party in this poll, is relatively small at 2% and well within the margin of error, so could effectively be discounted. The longer term trend in support however tells another story.
Back in December we were recording the highest levels of support seen for Sinn Fein in any RED C poll, reaching a high of 24% of the first preference vote. In today’s poll they secured just 16%, the worst level seen for the party since February 2014. That means that in effect the party has lost 8% support over the first 9 months of the year.
Over that period the loss in support hasn’t been a steady decline, with drops in January and March following scandals that were soon reversed to some extent in the months afterwards. The problem is that the gains haven’t been as strong as the losses, and so one scandal after another has seen a gradual seepage of voters away from the party at almost 1% a month for the past nine months.
The greatest declines are seen among younger voters, who of course are somewhat more flighty in their vote intention behaviour. In December last year almost a third of 18-34 year old voters claimed they were supporting Sinn Fein, but this has fallen to just over 1 in 5 (20%) voters now. A large chunk of these young voters have returned to Labour, while others claim they will vote for a variety of smaller parties.
The Labour shift is interesting, as it is also apparent that far less past Labour voters in general suggest they will now vote Sinn Fein, and offers the possibility that Labour could profit even more in the longer term from a further Sinn Fein decline in support.
For Sinn Fein the issues in the North in recent weeks appear to have done them no favours with voters, with declines in support occurring despite another high profile Anti-Water tax March in the past week, at which party figures were prominent. The gains they have made during the mid-term have been built on their support for the disenfranchised voters who feel let down by the government. In order to re-gain lost ground, they therefore need to move to settle matters in the North quickly, and so re-focus voters’ attention on the local issues they are fighting for on their behalf.
The question then is if this re-focus will be enough to regain voters, with the backdrop of an increasingly positive economic outlook, and an electorate who broadly believe that the country is currently on the right track.