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DUP ministerial merry-go-round irritates voters, while unionists approve more of McGuinness than Robinson

By Liam Clarke

Nationalists are keener for Stormont to survive than unionists, a new poll has revealed.

The research also shows that the popularity of Peter Robinson and Dr Alasdair McDonnell has fallen.

As the all-party talks become more intensive, with government proposals on winding up paramilitaries expected, there are signs that unionists are becoming disillusioned with the institutions.

Just over half (56%) of unionists surveyed said they thought the institutions were either important or very important. In contrast, almost 80% of nationalists and republicans gave the institutions an approval rating.

The online Lucid Talk Big60 poll had 2,517 respondents who were weighted by gender, age and religion to reflect the population.

Nearly four out of five people (78.43%) interviewed felt that, valuable or not, the institutions would survive the current crisis. This held steady across religion, gender and age. Less than 7% thought it would fall. Mr Robinson's personal rating was more worrying with 84% of people thinking he made the wrong decision to withdraw his ministers from Stormont.

That followed the arrest and questioning of Bobby Storey of Sinn Fein about the murder of Kevin McGuigan. Mr Storey was released without charge and the ministers have returned to post.

Just over a third (35%) of DUP voters approved of the move while 54.4% thought withdrawing ministers was a bad idea, of which 28% were "totally against it."

Among party leaders, Mike Nesbitt had the highest approval ratings (37.2%), followed by Martin McGuinness (53.5%), David Ford (34.8%), Peter Robinson (21.7%) and Dr Alasdair McDonnell (17.5%). Taking unionist voters, Mr Nesbitt scored 46.5%, Mr McGuinness 25.5%, Mr Robinson 24% and Dr McDonnell 14.5%. Among nationalists, Mr McGuinness was top on 53.3% compared to 28.3% for Dr McDonnell. The SDLP leader fared worse than Mike Nesbitt or David Ford among nationalists. He faces a leadership contest at his party conference next month. It is also gloomy reading for the DUP but they can console themselves that if they succeed in reaching a deal at the talks, their stock may increase again.

Some 28% now say they will actually vote DUP in next May's Assembly election compared to 30% in 2011. The UUP showed modest gains, 15% compared to 13.2% in 2011. Supporters will point out that three MLAs defected since the last election, two to NI21 and one to Ukip.

Sinn Fein's score of 25.4% is close to the DUP and, if they are surpass them, Mr McGuinness will become First Minister. This is something the party can use to campaign against rival unionists.

At 10.8% predicted, this would be the SDLP's lowest ever vote and there will be fears on the unionist side that any further collapse will only help Sinn Fein.

How the poll works

Polling was conducted online by LucidTalk between Monday, October 19 and Wednesday, October 21, 2015. It used a combination of participants from the established LucidTalk Opinion Panel (1,200 members) which is demographically balanced. Some other respondents were either invited or volunteered to participate. After auditing, 2,517 completed responses were included. Data was weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland. Results are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.9%, at 95% confidence.

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