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Northern Ireland Assembly elections: Which party are people voting for?

By Bill White

Published 29/02/2016

Graph 1: At the Northern Ireland Assembly election in May 2016 which political party are you planning to vote for as a first preference?
Graph 1: At the Northern Ireland Assembly election in May 2016 which political party are you planning to vote for as a first preference?
Graph 2: October 2015 poll.

One of the 'big' questions to ask in any poll is what political party the respondent is planning to vote for at the next election and our recent February BIG100 (100 Hour) poll was no exception.

If you read our first report from our Northern Ireland-Wide BIG100 poll covering the big issue of the upcoming European Union referendum then you will have seen that the 'BIG100' ran online, over a 100 hour period, from February 8 to 12 and achieved a huge 3,023 full responses.

After data auditing - i.e. to determine only the genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses - we considered 2,886 in terms of the final results and analysis. All responses were balanced and weighted to be reflective of Northern Ireland as a whole.

Graph one shows how the results turned out for the question: 'At the NI Assembly election in May 2016 which Political Party are you planning to vote for as a First Preference?'

We followed normal poll presentation standards, and polling best practice, and excluded 'non-voters', i.e. those who said they weren't intending to vote, plus 'don't knows' - as this best reflects a real election situation.

Of course the main benefit of polling on a regular basis is to see the trends up and down - which political parties are improving, and which parties are declining.

We have included our previous poll scores for the political parties (October 2015) as graph two above - so that you can compare.

Compared to last October the party support changes are: DUP +0.8%, Sinn Fein -0.8%, SDLP +0.4%, UUP -0.5%, Alliance +0.6%, TUV +0.3%, UKIP - no change, Green Party +0.2%, NI21 +0.2%, NI Conservatives -0.6%, PUP +0.1%, People-Before-Profit +0.3%, Others/Independents -1.0%.

So we can see that there have been relatively small changes since last October, but a few of the changes are noteworthy.

The UUP advanced by well over 1% point in our previous poll, but this has now been reversed, with the party declining by 0.5% point since last October.

In comparison the DUP has reversed their drop from our October poll, which was a chunky 2% points (ie from 27.8% to 25.8%), and have added 0.8% points from October and are now at 26.6%.

It has to be assumed that a large part of this is due to the DUP's change of leadership from Peter Robinson to Arlene Foster.

Certainly this leadership change has had a big impact on the individual leader ratings scores - report to come.

A leadership change always allows a party to rebrand, and relaunch, and the DUP seem to have made good use of this. This also seems to have applied to the SDLP with their leadership change, albeit in a smaller way.

The UUP should note that a number of the comments picked up from poll respondents during our polling (we record all comments) indicated that some current, as well as potential UUP voters, were confused as to what the UUP's policy was in terms of taking - or not taking - seats on the Northern Ireland Executive, after the May election.

They also seem to be creating an image of indecisiveness around their position on the EU Referendum.

It would be wise for the UUP to clarify their position on both these issues as soon as possible. All polling shows that electorates don't like political parties who dither on decisions - they like to know where politicians stand one way or the other.

The SDLP can be pleased that they've advanced 0.4% points, and that their change of leadership from Alasdair McDonnell to Colum Eastwood has allowed them to do a bit of a relaunch which has given them a small boost.

However, comments picked up from SDLP supporters during our BIG100 said that they thought Eastwood had a low profile since his election as leader, and that they'd like to see more of him in the media.

Sinn Fein have dropped by 0.8% points, perhaps due to the SDLP Leadership change having a small affect, and also People Before Profit advanced 0.3%, which shows that PBP may be eating into Sinn Fein's core vote in north and west Belfast.

The TUV also improved by 0.3% which is a fairly sizable jump for what is a small party - and comments from respondents show that Jim Allister is obviously their main asset.

Interestingly he also receives positive comments from non-TUV poll respondents, indicating perhaps that there is a wide base of people who have a good regard for Allister as a politician, even if they disagree with his politics.

The Alliance and Green parties both recorded poll score increases at 0.6% and 0.2% respectively, showing what is loosely termed the 'middle ground' is gaining some growth.

Again this seems to all be in the Belfast conurbation, and both these parties still have a problem getting traction in rural areas and especially west of the Bann.

Although, quite properly, the results presented here don't include non-voters.

We did note the total non-voter 'no' which was 9%. This is high for an online poll of this type - taking into account respondents only have to click a button, and not travel to a polling station as in a real election.

However, this 'no' is lower than what is was in last October's poll - Perhaps the EU referendum campaign is re-energising some people to re-engage and participate with their vote?

We will be running regular monthly tracker polls with our Northern Ireland opinion panel during the build-up to the Northern Ireland Assembly election and the EU Referendum. So it will be interesting to see the up and down trends of our political parties as election day approaches.

Bill White is managing director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk. You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter: @LucidTalk.

Project – Background Information

Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk. The project was carried out online for a period of 100Hours from 4pm Monday February 8, to 8pm Friday February 12, 2016. The project used a combination of participants from the established LucidTalk Opinion Panel (1,200 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. In addition, a selection of respondents were either invited or volunteered to participate. In total 3,023 completed responses were received and after data auditing 2,886 completed responses were included in the data and results analysis. The data auditing process was carried out to ensure all completed surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses.

All data results have been weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland. NB Because the sample is partly based on those who initially self-selected for participation rather than a probability sample, sampling error can be higher than a standard targeted sample poll. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-4.0%, at 95% confidence.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. In addition, all surveys and polls may be subject to sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, and measurement error. All reported margins of sampling error will include the computed design effects for weighting.

LucidTalk Professional credentials:

LucidTalk is a member of all recognised professional Polling and Market Research organisations, including the UK Market Research Society (UK-MRS), the British Polling Council (BPC), and ESOMAR (European Society of Market Research organisations). The BPC are the primary UK professional body ensuring professional Polling and Market Research standards. All polling, research, sampling, methodologies used, market research projects and results and reports production are, and have been, carried out to the professional standards laid down by the BPC.

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