One year since what was described as an 'earthquake' election in the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Fein remain the most popular party. How and why this has happened is commonly misunderstood as being a result of young voters uninitiated with the atrocities of the Troubles. However, what the RTE/Irish Times exit poll revealed last year was that the party was the most popular even among those aged 55-64.
So what happened? How did Sinn Fein emerge as a prominent force and the most popular party south of the border?
The answer has two parts to it. The first relates to demographic changes that opened up the country to the rise of left-wing political parties. For many decades the south was sui generis in the context of European democracies due to the comparative lack of support for left and centre-left political parties.
Although the Labour Party would typically receive 10-15% in a national election, they were underperforming their European peers by an average of 20%. The reasons commonly given for this are threefold: a lack of industrialisation undermined the rise of trade unionism; secondly, the dominance of the Catholic church sustained support for the status quo among working class voters, and thirdly, a relatively high share of the population owned their own home in Ireland.
Until the early 1980s, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael consistently won over 80% of the vote in elections. However, since that point support for the two parties has declined at a relatively steady rate of just under 10% per decade.
That 40-year period follows the long decline of both the Catholic church and homeownership - two central anchors of conservativism, which we recognise from the impact owning your own home had for support for Thatcher's government in the 1980s.
The second part relates to how exactly Sinn Fein has come to dominate opposition to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in the south.
The answer to this must focus on the election itself. A UCD/Ireland Thinks exit poll asked respondents approximately 40 different questions on their attitudes and demographics to try and understand what it was that caused voters to vote in the way that they did.
What is quite clear from this data is that support for Sinn Fein is a function of economic disaffection. Among those that earned under €20,000 per annum support for Sinn Fein was over 30%, whereas among those that earned over €60,000 per annum, support for Sinn Fein was less than 8%.
Income is of course relative to one's circumstances. At the last election 40% of voters reported that their economic situation had disimproved in the preceding six months and Sinn Fein won 40% of these voters. By contrast, Fine Gael dominated (45%) those that had felt that their economic situation had improved of the same period.
Looking at the tally data one can see that Sinn Fein dominates with upwards of 80% of the vote in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Dublin.
Since the election it is these two tribes that have emerged as dominant in Irish politics, Fine Gael benefited from a significant increase in support over their handling of the first wave of Covid-19 at a time when many governments, even Donald Trump, benefited with what political scientists termed a 'Rally Round the Flag' effect. In a political system in which there was much stability this seems to have cemented the establishment of two tribes in Irish politics - a working-class left led by Sinn Fein and middle-class right led by Fine Gael.
While many believe that Sinn Fein is likely to lead the next government there is a fly in the ointment for the party.
In its rise to dominating working-class Ireland, it is also dominating two incohesive groups of people. Much like the British Labour Party's recent troubles in keeping it's coalition together in the context of Brexit, Sinn Fein is also likely to struggle to contain a party that might be broadly on the left economically but has a mix of people from a social policy perspective quite differentiated.
Indeed, in relation to Covid-19, Sinn Fein is the party which contains the most people who want the government to open up the economy immediately - a position normally adopted by people with a right-leaning perspective. It is also the party which contains the most who want the government to introduce greater restrictions to contain the virus - a position normally adopted by people with a left-leaning perspective.
Indeed, when asked "why" they voted for Sinn Fein, voters typically asserted that they were merely opposed to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, or that they wanted a change, rather than having any specific admiration for Sinn Fein.
In that context the party may lose support to the Social Democrats or Labour from the left and perhaps Aontu from the right. However, in opposition to Fine Gael, they may even consolidate their position further.
We will have to wait and see.
Dr Kevin Cunningham is a lecturer in politics in TU Dublin