Has Sinn Fein reached its electoral peak?
As I said in our pre European elections review (Belfast Telegraph – 30th April) Sinn Fein is probably the easiest party to predict in terms of the result in the Euro election. They would top the poll and have their candidate elected – as the saying goes, the dogs on the street knew this. I mentioned in my previous review about the UUP having a sizable core vote, people who vote for that party regardless, well Sinn Fein are the party with the largest core vote in NI. However, although their core vote is huge, have they reached their peak in NI in terms of growing their vote? And is the South of Ireland where they are going to see any further real growth in their vote in the future?
Sinn Fein’s all-island performance in the Euro elections was impressive with 3 candidates elected in the South and one in the North. They consistently polled 26-29% in our 2012-2013 NI Assembly election polls, and equally strongly in our recent Opinion Panel survey (April 2014). Our pre election prediction model forecast them coming in at 26.2% for the NI Euro election (Belfast Telegraph – 30th April), and the actual result was 25.5% - a 0.7% difference, so not a bad forecast!
Just to repeat our commentary that accompanied our euro election prediction: ‘.....Yes, there has been a slight downward trend over the last two years, but our models are still predicting Anderson (Sinn Fein Euro candidate) will get elected on the first count, with a % vote of around 26-27%, and a small surplus. Unlike the last Euro election, we expect that this time this surplus will be transferred as the second stage of the count process – see Table. This is because, unlike in 2009, there is a larger field of candidates, so it’s likely that there will be candidates at the bottom of the first count score sheet whose first preference votes are close, hence leading to Anderson’s, probably small surplus (at least according to our predictions), being transferred first...’ (Belfast Telegraph, 30th April).
As we forecast, there is a small downward trend in Sinn Fein’s vote, - this in itself is nothing for Sinn Fein to worry about because the trend is small. However, if they want to grow their vote, they need to start thinking about how they can broaden their appeal across the wider nationalist/republican family in order to gain more votes from urban middle class nationalists, and (like all parties) from the large bank of non-voters. There are also signs that it’s getting more difficult for the Sinn Fein party machine (canvassers, party workers etc.) to get their NI (or six counties!) vote out on Election Day to the efficient level that they used to show at previous elections. However, that said, Sinn Fein still has the most powerful political machine on the island of Ireland, probably only rivalled by Fine Gael and the DUP.
Sinn Fein, like the DUP, maintains a ruthless focus on elections and they have the party political machine to keep up their sizable vote score in the future. However, the polls and recent election results show they are in danger of stagnating around the 25-28% vote share mark, but this sizable % vote still keeps them as one of the big political forces in NI politics.
Bill White is managing director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk, polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph