Liverpool University have a new poll out in the Irish News and it makes better reading for SDLP and UUP supporters than the last two LucidTalk polls.
Unlike LucidTalk, which asked about voting intentions in an Assembly election, the focus of the Liverpool poll was on the coming Westminster election. Whether that distinction means much to the people sampled is a very open question, it is perfectly possible that most interpreted the question as being about which party they support in general. In any case no poll, particularly one this far out, is going to tell us much about the next Westminster election in Northern Ireland where pacts have not yet been negotiated, or made public, and voters have not been exposed to the calculations that they must make if they intend to vote tactically.
With that caveat, here are the figures:
Sinn Féin 31%
Of course, you will have already spotted that the TUV did not stand in the 2019 General Election, and have given no indication that they intend to do so this time either.
The margin of error for Liverpool polls is generally 3%, since it has a smaller sample size than LucidTalk. As with other polls the results are rounded up or down to the nearest whole figure.
Comparison with May’s council election results and last year’s Assembly vote are shown in the charts below, as is the published result of the two LucidTalk polls taken since the Council elections.
I wrote about the different factors which need to be taken into account when analysing an opinion poll for its Westminster implications in my piece last week DUP and Alliance up, UUP down: Latest LucidTalk poll… – Slugger O’Toole (sluggerotoole.com) I also discussed the potential swing constituencies in some detail, which I will spare you from repeating.
Both polling organisations are in agreement on where SF support stands, well placed to improve its wafer-thin majority in Fermanagh South Tyrone and to hold North Belfast even if the SDLP stand. It would also have a chance of making a gain in Foyle.
Liverpool do not see the DUP as having recovered as well from the last Assembly election as LucidTalk, nevertheless the trend is positive for the party in both sets of figures. Comparison with the 2019 election is badly skewed by the absence of the TUV from that contest, and to a lesser extent by standing down in favour of the UUP in Fermanagh South Tyrone. A better picture can be gained by looking at the combined DUP and TUV figures.
The two polling organisations agree on Alliance support. The LucidTalk figures suggest that they would probably be neck and neck with the DUP in North Down, which they won last time, and also be competitive in East Belfast. The slightly weaker showing for the DUP in the Liverpool figures would tip expectations a little more in their favour in both constituencies, and also put more pressure on Jeffrey Donaldson in Lagan Valley, where Alliance could have some hopes of a surprise win if unionist turnout fell below expectations, as they did in the Council elections, and if there were to gain especially high levels of tactical voting support.
The UUP leadership will be relieved that this poll puts leaves their support undiminished since the Assembly and Council elections and try not to dwell on Liverpool’s previous overestimation of their standing. It does give them more reason to hope that the 8% figure from LucidTalk was just a statistical blip within the margin of error. If they hit 11% in an Assembly election their current seats should be safe, with the possible exception of Upper Bann, which could be vulnerable if total unionist turnout were to fall, depriving them of essential transfers.
Liverpool got the SDLP level of support right before this year’s Council elections. It is worth saying that the difference between the two pollsters is within the margin of error. We will just have to wait and see whether a consensus emerges after future polls. Today’s figure will certainly bolster calculations which suggest that while their Foyle seat is in danger, the SDLP are probably more likely than not to retain it on the back of considerable levels of tactical voting which would probably not be well reflected in this poll.
The poll tells us nothing about their chances in the new South Belfast and Mid Down constituency where their prospects rely entirely upon retaining believe among enough non-DUP voters that Claire Hanna is the best placed non-DUP candidate.
9% in an Assembly election would probably see all of their MLA’s returned, with the possible exception of East Londonderry which was exceptionally marginal last time and would probably remain so.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.