Belfast Telegraph

How does the Northern Ireland public rate its political leaders?

By Bill White

We had our first Northern Ireland political leader ratings question in our last a poll in October, and in old school-day terms none of our main political leaders got over the 40% pass mark.

As you may know, in terms of this question we ask our poll participants to score each of our senior political party leaders from 0 to 100 in terms of their overall performance in recent months.

Compared to last October, our February BIG100 poll indicated that our political leaders have shown some improvement in their classroom scores, and two of them have in fact now scraped a 'pass'.

You may have seen that our Northern Ireland-Wide BIG100 (i.e. 100 hours online poll) received a whopping 3,023 responses, and after data auditing we considered 2,886 in terms of the final results and analysis. The data auditing process is carried out to ensure all completed surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses.

The party leader poll question we asked was: Taken 'in the round' - How do you rate each of the top five Northern Ireland political party leaders performance over the past two to three months considering leadership, decisions made, media performance, etc.?

Of course there have been two major leadership changes since our poll last October - Colum Eastwood has taken over from Alasdair McDonnell as the new SDLP leader, and of course Arlene Foster has taken over from Peter Robinson as the new DUP leader. So it was going to be interesting to see how this impacted the poll results.

Table one above, shows how our poll scored Northern Ireland's key political leaders, balanced and weighted to be reflective of Northern Ireland as a whole.

OK not spectacular results and 'room for improvement'.

However, it's the trends and patterns that are important.

Taking into account Peter Robinson scored only 22 in last October's poll, Arlene Foster has certainly had an impact taking the DUP - in terms of her leadership - from second bottom (the SDLP was lower than Robinson's score last October) to top.

This certainly seems to show the DUP made the correct leadership change to the right person, at the right time.

It's interesting to note that Mike Nesbitt who came out top in our October poll with a score of 37 - and was practically joint top with Martin McGuinness who scored 36 - has now gone to third place.

This isn't because his score has dropped (it's remained practically the same), but that Arlene Foster has take the DUP leader score from 22 to 45, and Martin McGuinness has jumped a bit as well from 36 to 43.

So how did unionist voters, on their own, score the political leaders - here's how: Arlene Foster 54, Martin McGuinness 31, Mike Nesbitt 43, Colum Eastwood 24, David Ford 19.

Mike Nesbitt will see that he certainly has a different DUP Leader to contend with now in Arlene Foster and not Peter Robinson.

Interestingly Martin McGuinness scores relatively well with unionist voters, and much better than Colum Eastwood and David Ford showing that unionists seem to have a sneaky regard for his leadership capabilities, if not his politics.

Remember, if you look at the actual poll question we did ask participants to disregard their own personal political views when scoring the political leaders.

Here is the way nationalists/republicans scored the political leaders: Arlene Foster 35, Martin McGuinness 53, Mike Nesbitt 28, Colum Eastwood 36, David Ford 32.

Not surprisingly Martin McGuinness leads, but probably even more surprisingly Arlene Foster comes third and nearly equal with Colum Eastwood in second place and ahead of David Ford and Mike Nesbitt.

Again like last October's poll David Ford scores noticeably more strongly with nationalist/republican voters than unionist voters.

It was notable that a lot of nationalist/republican respondents commented as part of their poll response that Colum Eastwood seems to have kept a low profile since his leadership election, and suggested he needs to 'up his game a bit' as one respondent put it.

Incidentally the unionist vs nationalist/republican analysis obviously didn't include non-voters/others, although their scores were recorded as part of the total results - hence comparisons may not always seem consistant.

So undoubtedly overall Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness are the winners in this leaders' poll.

In particular, the DUP can be well pleased that they seem to have reversed the poor score that Peter Robinson was registering, and they will certainly be aiming to use Arlene Foster as one of their main Northern Ireland Assembly election vote-winner tools in May's election.

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 100 Hours 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 Northern Ireland demographically representative and balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background. In addition respondents for this survey were also selected from among those who 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 has 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.

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 data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.9%, at 95% confidence. All reported margins of sampling error will include the computed design effects for weighting.


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 carried out to the professional standards laid down by the BPC.

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