The establishment parties of Fianna Fáil (on 20 per cent, unchanged) and Fine Gael (on 19 per cent, up one point) are not the preferred destinations for Sinn Féin switchers, who appear to have found new homes among the smaller parties.
Up two points each are the Greens (to five per cent) and the Social Democrats (to four per cent), while Labour (up one point to four per cent) and Solidarity/PBP (up one point to two per cent) also register marginal gains. Aontú, on one per cent, are unchanged.
The swing away from Sinn Féin has not been towards independent candidates who, when grouped together, are one point lower in this poll, on 17 per cent. Interviewing for today’s poll took place between Friday 2nd and Tuesday 6th February, among a national sample of 1,200 eligible voters aged 18 years upwards. Respondents to the poll were interviewed in home, across every constituency, by trained and experienced Ipsos B&A interviewers.
A lot has happened since the last Irish Times/Ipsos B&A poll in September. Riots last November in Dublin’s north inner city put crime and policing on the agenda, and may have sparked a national debate on immigration, which Ipsos B&A polling shows is what voters are talking about the most. In fact, immigration has pushed housing down the political agenda, for the time being at least, and has likely kept trolley counts off the front pages at a time of the year when hospitals are most at risk of overcrowding.
Today’s poll naturally raises the question, why has the Sinn Féin vote dropped so sharply in recent months? An analysis of where in demographic and geographic terms Sinn Féin has lost support is revealing.
Support for Sinn Féin has fallen precipitously in rural Ireland, slumping from 36 per cent in late 2023 to just 22 per cent in this latest poll. Issues that are firmly on the radar in rural Ireland, such as immigration and climate change, may be acting as a drag on the Sinn Féin vote.
Among rural voters, independent candidates have jumped six points to 24 per cent.
Losses are also registered for Sinn Féin among older and more affluent voters, with support for Sinn Féin falling among the over 65s (down eight points to 17 per cent) and the ABC1s/middle classes (down nine points to 21 per cent).
That older and more affluent Sinn Féin voters have proven less committed should come as no surprise. Much of the party’s recent gains have been among these groups, who are probably less entrenched than the traditional Sinn Féin (younger, working-class) voter.
Today’s poll has mixed messages for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Encouragingly, party support levels (Fianna Fáil unchanged and Fine Gael up one point) and leader satisfaction ratings (Micheál Martin up three points and Leo Varadkar up one point) are broadly moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.
Good news in Connaught/Ulster, where both Fianna Fáil (up five points to 22 per cent) and Fine Gael (up three points to 18 per cent) have made ground, at the expense of Sinn Féin who have plunged 15 points to 28 per cent.
On a less positive note, a combined gain of just one point for the two establishment parties when Sinn Féin have so obviously stumbled is a lost opportunity. Of the smaller parties, the Greens and the Social Democrats have made the most progress. Driving these gains are the ABC1s, where both parties have picked up votes - Greens are up three points to seven per cent and the Social Democrats are up five points to seven per cent among middle-class voters.
Even if the next general election is a year away, it is visible on the horizon, and in the meantime, there will be local and european elections, and referendums. The resolve of voters who would risk change will be tested. A significant drop in support for Sinn Féin may the first sign of cold feet, but it is far too early to say. It will be an interesting year.