Time for Sinn Fein to work out what it stands for now the Armed Struggle is over…

I’m not sure what kind of subliminal message Mairtin is trying to send with his latest post (Pete Baker was right about Policing and Justice all along – ed?), if it’s an intimation of some serious reviewing of Sinn Fein’s forward strategy, so much the better for the party. Below the fold, Eoin O’Broin points out in no uncertain terms that even after the good showing in the Lisbon Referendum, the party is holed and listing in the polls… First Brian Feeney offers his explanation:

…it seems that when the issue is the famous Clinton slogan, ‘It’s the economy stupid!’, Sinn Fein don’t have an answer. If the economy has fallen into a black hole then it’s likely to meet SF’s economic policy in there because no-one has a clue where, or what, the policy is and that includes many in Sinn Fein.

By Eoin O’Broin

Last weeks Irish Times/TNS MBRI opinion poll was bad news for Sinn Féin. The numbers were troublesome from a number of perspectives.

Of course polls should be treated with caution. However they should never be ignored. The trick is in the reading. They offer a rough snapshot of public opinion at a given moment while mapping out the longer-term trends. Though not always right, they are rarely wrong.

There value is that they help us gauge how the public is responding to our message. They are another piece of political intelligence to throw into the mix.

Whatever way you look at the most recent poll Sinn Féin is not doing well.

We are sitting steady at 8%. In the three other TNS MRBI polls this year we held a similar position, with 8% in June, 6% in May and 8% in January.

More worrying is the drop in Gerry Adams satisfaction rate, down 12 points to 33%. Some comfort can be taken from the fact that he is more popular than Brian Cowan and John Gormley. However the drop is a sharp decline after several years in the high 40s and low 50s.

However the most troubling of the numbers is the party’s performance in Dublin. While at first glance our 9% in the city looks promising it is significantly behind Fine Gaels 20%, Labour’s 16%, Fianna Fails 15%. With seven months to go till next years European Parliamentary election these figures should make us very nervous.

The bottom line in all of this is that the party is stagnating. While we have managed to regain some of the ground lost in the 2007 general election, there is no indication that we are returning to the February 2004 high of 12%.

Of course the polls don’t tell you the reasons behind the numbers. That bit we have to work out for ourselves.

Sinn Féin had massive media exposure during the Lisbon Treaty campaign. Our position was distinct from all the other major parties. Our message was coherent, well presented and well received. Yet the Irish Times polls suggest that we gained only 2%.

Since then Fianna Fáil have fallen to an all time polling low of 27%, with Cowan’s personal approval rating down to 26%. Unemployment is at an all time high, the economy is in recession, and Fianna Fáil’s economic Midas touch has been exposed as the sham it always was.

Yet despite all of these shocks, Sinn Féin is not gaining ground. You would think that that section of Fianna Fáil’s base, who are suffering most from the current economic crisis, would find Sinn Féin the most attractive alternative. After all, these are the people who ensured the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Yet the polls suggest otherwise.

Next years local and European elections can be good news for Sinn Féin, but only if we understand the causes of our current stagnation and respond accordingly.

First published in An Phoblacht 20th November, 2008

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty