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Poll: Arlene Foster's leadership rating plummets from 49% to 29%

By Jonny Bell

Public confidence in Arlene Foster's leadership has slumped since the Renewable Heating Incentive debacle erupted, a poll suggests.

Prior to the eruption of the RHI scandal, Mrs Foster's leadership was rated the best of all the five parties in a representative poll of the Northern Ireland public. Today, she is rated as the worst.

More: Sinn Fein unveils plan for RHI independent inquiry - no agreement with DUP

After surviving a vote of no confidence in the Assembly over the heating scheme controversy, Mrs Foster's leadership rating went from 49% to 29%.

A Lucid Talk online poll of Northern Ireland voters rated 0% as a disaster, up to 100% as excellent.

Crucially, among solely unionist voters, her rating also plummeted 20 points with Mike Nesbitt overtaking the DUP leader as the politician thought to be performing best.

Before the RHI crisis, unionist voters rated Mrs Foster at six out of 10 for her leadership. After the green energy scandal hit the headlines, that dropped to four out of 10.

And when only "broadly unionist" voters were considered, her pre-RHI 63% leadership rating slumped to 43%, with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness the only leader to improve their rating. Among nationalists, Mrs Foster's rating plunged from 37% to 11% - and for neutrals that went from 39% to 17%.

Yesterday, in the wake of former DUP MLA David McIlveen's claims that Mrs Foster had become an "electoral liability" to the DUP, the party was keen to point that support for its leader from right across Northern Ireland had been "overwhelming".

DUP MLA Edwin Poots said it was the press and political rivals that were only out to claim a scalp, saying the public were "much wiser and smarter than the media" which had "overblown" the matter.

He said she had "hardly put a foot wrong" as First Minister, and following an investigation into her role in the RHI controversy when she was Enterprise Minister "people will wonder why there was such a fuss and obsession" made.

Mr Poots did concede Mrs Foster would suffer some damage, but not significantly in the long-term, asserting that she was "no electoral liability to the DUP".

"Sometimes this swings the other way," he said. "People were coming to me over Christmas and saying 'don't you be letting Arlene go anywhere'.

"The media don't get it. They tried to sway people over Brexit, over Donald Trump, but the public's instinct for what is right and what is wrong is much greater than the media's efforts.

"The public want a solution, the media want a scalp."

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