The Irish News has the first opinion poll since the Assembly elections, conducted for Liverpool University’s Institute for Irish Studies.
The results will leave Sinn Féin supporters cock-a-hoop: unionist parties with their heads in their hands; and Alliance supporters quietly confident.
Sinn Féin 30.9% (up1.9% since the Assembly elections)
DUP 20.1% (down 1.2%)
Alliance 15.3% (up 1.8%)
SDLP 10.0% (up 0.8%)
UUP 9.6% (down 1.6%)
TUV 4.7% (down 2.9%)
Green 2.9% (up 1.0%)
First the drama:
This is the first time SF have topped 30% in an opinion poll since February 2018 when Lucid Talk had them on 32.4%. They can look forward with confidence to a new Assembly election if no Executive is formed.
The DUP’s anti-Protocol strategy looks in trouble. It has gained nothing from the decline in the TUV share. Indeed the combined DUP and TUV share has dropped 4.2% in less than three months. While the three main unionist parties between them have shed 5.8%. Another Assembly election would be a disaster for them on these figures. A second election would not give the DUP the chance to regain the First Minister position, it would cement their Deputy status more firmly.
It would also be very, very embarrassing for a Liz Truss led government, in the thick of a major confrontation with the EU, to have the anti-protocol parties going backwards. While conservative critics of a Sunak premiership might well use it as ammunition against him.
Under these circumstances another Assembly election could well be postponed until the May Council elections.
Now the cold water:
It’s only one poll! Margin of error! Liverpool polls have been somewhat erratic previously!
More importantly we must remember the golden rule of interpreting opinion polls. Dramatic figures are often wrong. It’s a really big deal if the three main unionist parties have lost nearly 6% of their vote. It’s very unlikely. Certainly, it is not impossible. But is would be wise to wait for further confirmation before assuming it is correct
Fortunately, there is another poll due in three weeks, from Lucid Talk. If they come up with similar figures that will be the time for jubilation or recrimination.
Let’s wait and see.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.