As we move into an election year, how solid is Sinn Féin support?

There is nothing like an upcoming election to focus the mind on political issues.

With local and European elections due next June, much talk has revolved around the possibility of the government calling an early election in 2024. Reports also suggest that Fine Gael’s own candidate nomination process is well underway, adding further fuel to the fire that the general election may not be as far away as originally anticipated.

The reasons given for an earlier than expected election revolve around the possibility of more difficult economic times being around the corner, coupled with lower corporation tax receipts in recent months on the back of weaker exports, means a giveaway budget in 2024 is not a given, so the government can’t necessarily be able to rely on this to bolster support before going to the polls. Plus no one really wants to campaign in the dark again in the early months of 2025.

If an election happens soon, who would win?  The dominant party in the polls as an election inches closer, is Sinn Féin, but how secure is this support?

Massive gains made by the party in the weeks running up to the last election, were consolidated and built on in the time since the election, as the party took on the mantle of leading the opposition in the Dáil.   At its highest point, the party has seen support among well over a third (36%) of the likely voting electorate, some 17% ahead of the nearest government party at that time.

Today sees Sinn Féin support stand at 29%, dropping by 3%, from the 32% secured in October.  Taken in isolation, you would be forgiven for suggesting that this change, while quite chunky, is within the margin of error.  Also, despite this drop in support, Sinn Féin remain the most supported party in the state, with a 9% lead over the nearest competitor, Fine Gael on 20%.

It is also true that the fall in support seen for the party this month doesn’t necessarily benefit the government parties very much.  Fianna Fáil do see a gain of 1% support since October, but the rest seems to be taken up by smaller parties and independents.

However, it does underline a longer-term seep in support for the party, from the mid 30s in late 2021 and early 2022, to low 30s in late 2022 and early 2023, and now twice under 30 in the last 6 months.  So, does this suggest that Sinn Féin support might not be as solid when we move closer to an actual election?

The decline in support this month is very much being driven by younger voters aged 18-34, particularly those in more upmarket social groups and in Dublin.

The 18-34 year old was once a key voter for Sinn Féin, but now support for the party among this group is actually lower than those in mid 35-54 year old age groups.  This could be written off if it was just over one month, but further examination of the data shows that there has been quite a steady decline in this group since April of this year.

There is little evidence that a specific event or negative publicity has caused the drop this month, and coupled with the longer-term trend, it certainly appears that this is more serious than a once off reaction.

We do know from previous analysis that many of those who now support Sinn Féin in the polls, are not necessarily great advocates of their policies or their politics, but rather are lending their support to the party because they don’t want to vote for the establishment.

Many of those that have dropped away from Sinn Féin in recent months, voted for the Greens at the last election, as at the time this was seen as the best place for a vote that wasn’t for the government parties themselves.

This means their support is more vulnerable, and when an election approaches, the minds of those less loyal voters could be swayed to vote elsewhere.

The protest votes against the establishment, and possible questions about actually supporting Sinn Féin,  could be an opportunity for the likes of the Social Democrats (already polling quite strongly at 6%).  It could also be an opening for more far-right parties, of which there are early signs of some ground gained in today’s poll with support for Irish Freedom Party and National Party in our “other party” mentions.

For Sinn Féin this might not be a major issue yet, but gradual trends suggest it could become one, and that they need to double their efforts to retain claimed future support when voters are at the actual ballot box.

Business Post RED C Opinion Poll Report – November 2023