In this first general election poll, following seismic results in the local and European elections, RED C have reviewed our approach, as we always do post elections, and made some tweaks.  Firstly, fine tuning our approach to both inviting and selecting respondents, and secondly implementing the use of much better recall among voters of how they voted at the more recent local election results, to help calibrate and weight our sample.

The results of the poll show that while vote behaviour in the local elections does appear to have had an impact on general election vote intention, vote intention for both local and general election should not be conflated as there are different variables at play

The myriad of candidates at both the local and European elections mean people tend to be drawn to candidates they know or have heard of working hard in the local area, rather than focusing as much on party. Canvassing, name recognition, community ties, and therefore incumbency also all have a major impact on how people vote at local elections.

For general elections, while candidates are of course still important, party politics at a national level have much more influence on people’s vote behaviour.  This makes it much easier to poll based on party support and is why polling for general elections has been much more accurate as a result, as local nuances have a far smaller impact.

This helps somewhat to explain why, despite general election polls showing a steep downward trend in support for the party in the run up to the recent local elections as anti-establishment voters remove their support being unhappy with their belief that the party didn’t support their views. Sinn Féin did much more poorly even than anyone anticipated.

The theory also somewhat underpins why, when voters are asked now how they would vote in a general election, Sinn Féin support is much better than those local election results.  In fact, the party secures 20% of the first preference vote in this general election poll, vs. just 12% secured at the local elections.   Of course, this is still a long way down from the highs of 36% in polls a year or so ago, and a good chunk below what the party actually achieved at the last general election.

At the same time, Fianna Fáil secures 19% of the first preference vote in this poll, which is a significant boost vs. general election poll tracking in the past year.  Clearly buoyed by strong local election results, but still 4% below what they achieved at those local elections.  While Fine Gael secure 21% of the first preference vote, some 2% behind what they achieved at the local elections.

So, can all these differences between general election polling and local election results all be put down to the local candidate vs. party effect?

There is also evidence that Fianna Fáil gained because of strong campaigning on the ground and due to well-known local election candidates. In 2019, Fianna Fáil outperformed Sinn Féin by over 3.4/1 in terms of seat achieved affording them a considerably advantage in terms of building up name recognition and demonstrating work at a local level. Conversely, Sinn Féin likely suffered for the opposite reasons, with weaker local issue campaigning, a low number of sitting councillors and as such relatively unknown candidates.

Data also suggests that those intending to vote Sinn Féin at a general election were less likely to vote in the local elections, with turnout in some more disadvantaged urban areas being particularly low Moreover, younger voters, who make up a significant proportion of Sinn Féin’s base, typically are less likely to show up in second order elections. Assuming they do get out to vote in a forthcoming general election, the Sinn Féin vote will be boosted again as a result.   Don’t forget that in 2019 Sinn Fein only secured 9% of the vote at local elections, but just 8 months later secured 25% of the vote at the general election in 2020.

Thirdly, voters have been shown to be less likely to vote for independent or smaller party candidates at a general election than they might be at a local election.   In this poll, they secure just 20% vs a very high 28% secured at the local elections.  With Sinn Féin, Social Democrats, Green Party and People Before Profit-Solidarity all making gains as a result.

It is clear then that while local election results are not a predictor of general election performance, they have had an impact on the political landscape, and set the tone and momentum for the months preceding the General Election. With the three big parties now practically neck and neck in voters’ minds when margin for error of a poll of this nature is taken into account, all is to play for in the run up to the main event.

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Business Post RED C Opinion Poll – June 2024

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