So what do SDLP supporters really think?

Okay, I’m coming in late with this, but since its inspired so many off topic comments on other threads, it might be useful to focus on LucidTalk’s short form conference survey at the SDLP conference in a single thread.

I’ll let pass the question of how wise it is to let a newspaper do polling that might be better done yourself. Or the fact that a field survey is probably more useful since a properly ‘clubbed’ political party ought to have other means to acquire to figure what its members are thinking.

That 48% approval level for the leader looks poor, until you flip it and look at the other way. A 20% dissatisfaction level, with 30% neutral is actually not a bad result for a man it was predicted could split the party and turn it against itself.

When it comes to policy, there are some surprises. The idea that councils which currently don’t should adopt a designated days policy draws a 62% approval. 58% would wear a poppy if attending a Remembrance Day event and only 2% would refuse, with the rest undecided.

The figures on the abortion issue are also interesting:

The vast majority (84%) would allow it where the mother’s life was in danger and a smaller majority of 66% felt it should be available to rape and incest victims. Just under half (46%) would allow it if the foetus was unlikely to survive birth.

These figures aren’t entirely out of line of where the consensus is headed in the Republic. Irish Catholic society is probably still registering on the social conservative in comparison with Britain, but relatively speaking it is liberalising a fairly fast rate.

On the trusted figures, I think the party may have a bit of a long term problem. In effect the people it members place highest trust are not as yet at least viable partners in government:

Basil McCrea of NI21 came out top with 76%, something which will encourage NI21 to seek SDLP transfers in next year’s elections. Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable, was trusted by 64% and David Ford, of Alliance, by exactly half (50%).

There was evident suspicion of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness who scored dismal trust levels of 10% and 8% respectively. This was far lower than Jim Allister, the hardline unionist TUV leader (38%) or Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State, (34%).

Basil McCrea (76%) is a nationalist’s idea of the perfect unionist. And as Liam Clarke notes, it’s probably better news for NI21 than the SDLP. Basil is a long long way off being in any position of brokering power.

As Alex Attwood noted in his speech, the longer term aim has to be for a deep partnership with unionism. It’s notable that the figures for the UUP leader does not appear in Clarke’s reckoning.

By contrast, their party leader Mike Nesbitt got a much higher aggregate rating from his party, but that internal satisfaction may be coming at the expense of the leadership’s inability to broker a deal with anyone outside its own communal boundaries.

As Tom Kelly noted at the time of the UUP conference:

Nesbitt seems to miss the central point that for any chance of UUP recovery, he needs to foster a positive working and shared future strategy with a nationalist partner and not a rag tag bunch of loyalist political misfits, street agitators and rabble-rousers.

If the party is going to be able to kick up a bit of trouble for their rivals (thereby learning to sail their own boat, rather than taking a tow behind someone else’s), then the party needs to feel a little uncomfortable.

Now, perhaps, they need to start systematically asking what their voters (rather than just activists) think?

, , ,

  • toaster

    What does an SDLP supporter think? Ask yourself what does an invertebrate think, therein lies your answer.

  • A number of things ongoing….so SDLP members and supporters would be best advised not to enter into discussions in public. Most SDLP tend to think everything is going along nicely at the minute.
    No point in making life difficult for ourselves and easy for opponents.

  • quality

    The abortion in cases of ‘rape and incest’ always confuses.

    I’m sure it makes people opposed to choice feel better about themselves, ‘I’m only opposed to abortion on demand’, but step back for a moment and think about how it would be policed.

  • Mick,

    The Pro-Life movement in the U.S. regularly puts a “life of the mother” exception into any anti-abortion legislation that they sponsor. So, what you are saying is that in both jurisdictions on the island both sides are moving towards where the American Pro-Life position already is. And this is seen as a liberal advance. Of course, in Congress it is Evangelical Protestants more than Catholics who tend to champion the Pro-Life position. In America most ordinary people who self-identify as Catholics tend to be pro-choice.

  • Charles_Gould

    I think Alasdair deserves to be congratulated on some points.

    First of all he has been decisive on some key issues over the last year that have made the SDLP’s position clearer.

    Second, he has promoted good people. The decision to promote Mark H Durkan to ministerial level is a good one. He is doing a good job so far. Very likeable at the dispatch box, quite witty and able to think on his feet, he has a combination of skills that gives the party hope for the future.

    The SDLP seem more like a team than ever before.

  • Mick Fealty


    Your posts have a touch of the ‘glossy brochure for the people I like’ sort of feel to them. I don’t really mind that but it might help if you could engage a little more with others in the ‘conversation’?

  • Mick….you DID ask what SDLP supporters really think.
    I dont know if Mr Gould is actually a supporter but he certainly seems receptive to our views.
    Not exactly sure what the “conversation” is.
    You asked the question. He answered.

  • Charles_Gould


    I was just thinking the same thing :).

    I was just wondering whether Alasdair was doing a good job – which seems to be a theme of Mick’s piece – and it struck me that one of his decisions, the ministerial reshuffle, was rather successful. Mark H has impressed me so far in the way he has handled himself.

  • Also a pretty good statement on Coleraine tonight.

  • Wabbits

    I wouldn’t put an awful lot of faith in any of the figures of a random survey at a Party Conference. Either negative or positive. These surveys are not usually carried out in a particularly scientific way at Conferences.

    The approach usually goes something along the lines of:

    Girl stops random bloke having coffee/beer/lunch talking to friends colleagues.

    Question : “Would you like to answer a few questions in a survey about x y z and the SDLP etc ?”

    Bloke at bar/coffee table says, “Naw love. I’m busy”.

    Girl moves on and the routine continues until somebody can be bothered to answer her questions.

    Where this type of survey is lacking is that there is no apparent attempt to get a cross section of the Party demographic etc.

    What if she just stops the older men or older women. Or what if she just asks people of her own age because she feels more comfortable with people of her age (the survey was caried out by two female students btw). She might just ask women or she might just stop men.

    How many Councillors, MLA’s etc were asked. After all, they are the senior people in any party and usually a good barometer of what delegates might be thinking.

    In other words, how was the survey conducted ?

  • A SDLP Source tells me that they knew a survey would be carried out.
    Frankly nobody has told us how the survey was carried out.
    But yes “Wabbits” makes good points.
    If we assume that each student was charged with getting 25 views…the best way of getting five at one time would be in the coffee bar.where five are sitting together.
    More than likely a group is from the same branch or constituency.
    And then of course there was the readily identifiable SDLP Youth in their red Tshirts.

  • Wabbits


    That’s interesting. you are right in the asserton that asking five people sitting together would in all likelyhood be from the one constituency. Assuming that could be the case then, to all intents and purposes, we could largely be reading the opinions of the SDLP Youth or the views of people from South Belfast mixed with the views of people from Derry etc etc.

    It is not likely that it would have been possible to carry out a survey of this type in a methodical fashion at any Party Conference.

  • Well I simply dont know.
    I would assume that a scientific poll would have required a balance of age, gender and location.
    Otherwise it would be a straw poll.
    The Timeline suggests (or does it?) that the Survey was carried out quickly.
    We are not being told.
    But the Survey results dont seem to justify the way that the Belfast Telegraph have chosen to report it.

    And to emphasise….SDLP DID know a survey would be carried out.

  • Comrade Stalin


    A number of things ongoing….so SDLP members and supporters would be best advised not to enter into discussions in public.

    “Don’t tell ‘im, Pike. ”

    You must have a pretty low opinion of the SDLP support base if you don’t consider them mature enough to make their own judgements about whether what they discuss on a public forum could damage the party.

  • Comrade Stalin

    WRT the point about abortion, if the SDLP wish to deal with the matter while avoiding a divisive internal row, it should be a relatively straightforward case of downgrading the party policy to a conscience issue. This approach mirrors that of the UUP and Alliance as well as the UK and European mainstream. Individual MLAs are then free to advocate whatever pro-life or pro-choices they feel is appropriate.

    I am not sure what the present SDLP position on abortion is. The search engine on their website is broken. I can find assertions by representatives in recent years that the party opposes the 1967 Act being extended, but that does not in itself mean that they are in the pro-life camp.

  • Gopher

    If the suburbs wont go to the SDLP the SDLP will have to go to the suburbs.

    It reminds me of Scotts heroic failure in the Antarctic. The SDLP striking boldly out then suddenly realising Siberian ponies (or in their case 19th century nationalism, conservative superstition and student union socialism) don’t cut it in the barren wastes of suburbia. Forced to resort to man hauling, One foot forward three back in every election. Titus Oates (read Conal McDevitt) sacrifices himself so as Alasdair, Alex, Alban and Patsey can make it only to find the flags of Alliance, Greens and NI21 already there.

  • Mick,

    So why in the poll did they only ask people their opinion of unionist and Alliance leaders and not of SF leaders as well.

  • Mick,

    So why in the poll did they only ask people their opinion of unionist and Alliance leaders and not of SF leaders as well?

  • Morpheus

    It’s there in the report tmitch

    “There was evident suspicion of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness who scored dismal trust levels of 10% and 8% respectively. This was far lower than Jim Allister, the hardline unionist TUV leader (38%) or Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State, (34%).”

    Jim “I’m all about the victims – well kind of” Allister getting 38% with PR and MMG at 10% and 8% respectively is bizarre.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s not that bizarre Morph. I’ve heard hard core Republicans say that when Allister speaks above the fug of the Assembly debate, they have to listen.

    It’s akin to a finding we made back in 2003, that working class loyalists were more inclined to believe SF than their own leadership.

    That’s because as well as being an instinctive oppositionalist, he actually gets what an opposition is best equipped to do, which is to call the government of the day on its own shortcomings.

    Since he’s the only one consistently looking for rotten timbers (on the big ticket issues) and he cannot be embarrassed over his own weaknesses in govt, he makes for compelling listening.

    The problem is similar to that of trusting Basil, in that Jim cannot and probably will never be strong or popular enough within Unionism to be able to broker a positive government regime.

    That’s what the SDLP ultimate aim should be. McDonald has to build the party’s confidence in the political game that it can make deals with all other key players, SF and the DUP included.

    Counterintuitively perhaps that means seeking to build up trust in the very people whom you hope to displace at the top of the political game.

    Otherwise it just turns into a smokers corner of individuals who complain like Kevin the Teenager that “it’s all just so unfair”…

  • Morpheus

    I meant that it was bizarre for members of a nationalist party to trust an uber super Unionist more than another nationalist/republican (albeit MMG but they were well able to trust them enough to fall behind SF in Newry, much to their discredit) or someone who at least holds out the occasional olive branch.

    I have no problem with his politics – you know what you are getting – and I think Jim was treated really badly the other week in Stormont by PR when it comes to the whole Will saga but I also wouldn’t trust Jim after how he used the Travers situation to his own end. If he was truly Captain Victim then he would have no problem taking The Saville Report (no need for new legislation this time) and getting justice for those victims but we all know he wouldn’t touch them with a 40-foot barge-pole because they are the wrong sort of victims. That to me is duplicitous and would put him way, way down on the trust-ometer in my book.

  • Mick Fealty

    But surely the only thing that makes him ‘Capt Victim’ is the sheer inaction of the others?

    The fact that working class loyalists trust SF more than mainstream unionists does not make them Republicans. It makes them rivals to power within unionism.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Mick, I think you misread, “Capt Victim” was a custodial term of being a Champion of Victims, not a “Victimhood Superpower”.

    No two victims are all a like, I don’t think a single politician in the North would disagree with that. Others have differing views of what a victim is and what a victim is entitled to. There is a real fear of ignorance of suffering from those who were in the republican and loyalist paramilitary movements and a real fear of insensitivity to suffering from those outside of them.

    To me it is quite simple, anyone who suffered a family or personal life loss, torture, serious injury or psychological scarrage as a result of the Troubles is a victim, that is something that is written into the soul and nervous systems of the friends and families left behind. The people who defined what a victim was were the victim makers, they did that by inflicting suffering onto another human being. Quite simply a victim is an unfair, unjust and unreasonable term for a person who experienced unfair, unjust and unreasonable circumstances. No one aspires to be a victim, it is not a badge of honour, it is something endured by honourable and dishonourable alike. Rather than trying to tackle the impossible optics of trying to decide what a victim was in the past, we should ensure we give every victim an opportuntity to contribute to our future.

    Deep down I believe everyone’s revenge comes from movements like the Spirit of Enniskillen that have unfortunately fallen apart. There are still vital cross community projects fighting the good fight with that regard. Victims of all kinds could unite around a Never Again, and leave enduring hope for the next generation, those who were never a victim, like myself, need to empower them to do so, if they can.

    The civic society need to lead the way here, because ultimately it is the first line of defence. The state is limited in this regads.