Virtual Politics 1: Hearts and Minds Poll

The last opinion poll was carried out by Hearts and Minds in October 2006, its findings on party support are applied to the possible March Assembly election. Full poll details here (pdf file).The party scores and projected number of seats were:
UUP 17.7% – 19 seats (down 5)
SDLP 16.8% – 18 seats (no change)
DUP 30.6% – 33 seats (no change)
SF 20.1% – 21 seats (down 3)
Alliance 3.5% – 4 seats (down 2)
PUP 1.6% – 2 seats (up 1)
UKUP 1.8% – 2 seats (up 1)
NIUP 1.4% – 2 seats (up 2)
RSF 2.4% – 3 seats (up 3)
32 CSM 0.6% – 0 seats
Cons 0.5% – 0 seats
Greens 2.1% – 2 seats (up 2)
2 remaining seats could not be determined but would most likely go to the largest two parties, the DUP and SF.

Apart from a drop in support for Sinn Fein and Alliance and growth for the smaller parties, the Hearts and Minds poll closely mirrors the party support levels in the 2005 local government elections, reinforcing the case that it should be the indicator of choice for the upcoming elections. The drop in SF’s vote seems to be going to RSF and 32 CSM and the drop in Alliance seems to be going to other small parties in particular the Greens. 30.6% is a drop from the DUP’s score of 33.7% in the Westminster election but this 3% can be found in the UKUP and NIUP scores. If a fair reflection, it would indicate that the large shifts in voting patterns have occurred and we will see little movement in coming elections.

The combined UKUP and NIUP score is interesting. They are essentially the same political platform and the poll has them in the race for 4. This would be comparable with the the UKUP’s 1998 performance and we now that this vote is concentrated in east Ulster. However, the figures indicate their gains would be at the UUP’s expense not the DUP’s but they would act as a barrier to DUP growth.

In the past two Assembly elections, a party scoring more than 0.7% of a vote have gained a seat (with the exception of the UDP in 1998) so even at such levels a party can be competitive. A barrier to the smallest parties is they need a concentration of their vote to be in contention for seats, such support levels spread evenly across 18 constituencies will not deliver seats.

Important notes on this and other polls:
1. The similarity between the names of Sinn Fein and Republican Sinn Fein could have caused respondent confusion so overestimating RSF support. I am not aware of any other opinion poll giving RSF such a rating before so it seems to be an unusual outcome. However, there is a some correspondence between RSF and 32 CSM combined ratings and the % of SF voters implacably opposed on policing.
2. Any shifts in party support from previous elections are pretty much within the error of margin in the poll.
3. Seats were allocated on a round-up/round down basis with the exception of parties scoring less that 0.7% (32CSM and Conservatives). No party with a score less than 0.7% has gained a seat in the NI Assembly.
4. The lack of opinion polls since SF and DUP became the dominant parties in their respective communities mean it is difficult to assess whether or not their historical under-polling continues or not.

Poll Details
1. 1,100 persons in total responded to the survey.
2. Interviews took place across all 18 Constituencies and 26 District Council Areas of Northern Ireland (43 sampling points in total).
3. Fully representative results of Northern Ireland adult population in terms of age, gender, religion, geography and social class.
4. Sex breakdown – Male (49%), Female (51%).
5. Age breakdown – 18-24 (19.7%), 25-34 (20.2%), 35-44 (20.1%), 45-59 (20.7%), 60+ (19.1%).
6. Socio-economic groupings – ABC1 (38.8%), C2DE (60.7%), refused (0.5%).
7. Religion breakdown – Protestant (56.2%), Catholic (43.8%).
8. Polling took place during the 27th – 30th October 2006.
9. Margin of Error ± 2.95 %.