A new poll has seen support for the DUP slump to just 16%, posing a major challenge for incoming leader Edwin Poots.
Sinn Fein is by far the largest party on 25%, giving it a 9% lead on its nearest challengers and putting Michelle O’Neill on course to take the role of First Minister at the next election in May 2022.
The DUP and the Alliance party are now level on 16%, while the Ulster Unionist Party has risen to 14%, overtaking the SDLP, down one point to 11%, according to the LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph.
There were also gains for the TUV, up one point to 11%, in what is perhaps a sign of fracturing support among unionist parties.
The polls will make troubling reading for incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots.
In addition to falling well behind its Sinn Fein rivals, Mr Poots’ personal rating among DUP voters is low.
The survey found that his leadership rival, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, was more popular among their supporters by a three-to-one margin.
Two thirds backed Sir Jeffrey to replace the outgoing Arlene Foster, while only a fifth backed the man who ended up taking the job.
When asked which candidate they would back if they had a vote in the DUP leadership contest, 64% of the party’s voters said Sir Jeffrey, while just 21% opted for Mr Poots.
Update on relaxations agreed at today’s Executive meeting.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) May 20, 2021
This is a day of hope and optimism as we continue to make great progress.
There are brighter days ahead, we will come through this! pic.twitter.com/JpqCj1JPYv
Mr Poots will now be tasked with arresting his party’s decline, which has tumbled from 31% at the 2019 Westminster election.
A Belfast Telegraph poll four months ago put the DUP at an all-time-low of 19%.
Another drop of 3% represents a new nadir for the party.
Other unionist parties are set to profit off their falling support. Among those who voted DUP at the last Assembly election, 29% say they will now vote TUV, while 10% will vote UUP.
Another 4% said they would now vote for the Alliance party.
Things are looking considerably better for Sinn Fein, whose support has steadily climbed since 2019.
The party secured 23% of the vote that year, rose to 24% in January, and 25% in the latest survey.
The Alliance is level with the DUP as the second-most popular party in Northern Ireland, but that support is down 2% since January.
The UUP has enjoyed the leadership bounce that seems to have evaded the DUP.
It increased support by 2% to 14% after Doug Beattie succeeded Steve Aiken in the top job.
It's the Beattie bounce. They're both only in the job days but it's UUP leader, not Edwin Poots, enjoying a political honeymoon. @LucidTalk poll shows his approval ratings higher than any other NI politician's bar 1 - Robin Swann. Together, can they revitalise the UUP next May? pic.twitter.com/tOFeOLCgyt— Suzanne Breen (@SuzyJourno) May 22, 2021
Meanwhile, Jim Allister’s TUV are up one point to 11%, perhaps reflecting unionist fears over the Northern Ireland protocol.
The Green party is unchanged at 2%, People Before Profit is up a point to 2%, while Others & Independents were up one to 2%.
The online poll was carried out from May 14 to 17 among 3,072 people and was weighted to reflect the population of Northern Ireland.
The survey opened immediately after Mr Poots became DUP leader, at a time when Mr Beattie was the only declared candidate for the UUP leadership.
Mr Poots was ranked by voters as the worst-performing party leader in Northern Ireland, behind the outgoing Arlene Foster.
He was rated as bad or awful by 62% of voters, compared to 50% who said that of Ms Foster, and just 22% about Mr Beattie.
Among unionists, he was viewed as bad or awful by some 43% of voters, with 36% saying the same about Mrs Foster.
For Michelle O’Neill, close to half of voters, 49%, viewed her performance as bad or awful.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis both remain deeply unpopular, with 71% and 66% of voters rating them as bad or awful respectively.