Big 3 parties consolidate: August LucidTalk poll…

It’s hardly surprising that the Belfast Telegraph led its reporting of the latest LucidTalk poll with the PSNI figures, leaving us to wait two more days for the voting intention results. Although the story they tell is important for Northern Ireland politics, it is a story which most will find predictable in its detail and unchanging in its implications.

According to the data the DUP continues to beat back the TUV threat, the SDLP continues to leak support to Sinn Féin and Alliance, and the implication is that if anything is going to end the DUP boycott of the institutions, it is not going to be the voters.

Of course, we must keep in the back of our mind the margin of error (2.3% in this poll) when analysing the results. But we have a further complication, that is the possibility that the political climate since the DUP first announced its intention to withdraw from Stormont and therefore not to nominate a Deputy First Minister, has increased nationalist motivation to vote and/or led some unionists to conclude that there is not much point. There was certainly some evidence for differential turnout in certain constituencies in the recent Council elections. And it would explain why polls overestimated the total unionist vote and underestimated the nationalist before both the Assembly and Council elections.

Although the published results leave 2% unaccounted for, it seems possible that the pattern may still be present.

We are likely to know more about the missing 2% when Lucid Talk publish their detailed tables in a few days’ time. But it is unlikely to add much to the nationalist total.

Holding those thoughts, here are the findings. LucidTalk asked how people would vote in an Assembly election.

Sinn Féin 31%

DUP 26%

Alliance 15%

UUP 10%

SDLP 6%

TUV 5%

Green 2%

Aontú 2%

PBPA 1%

Sinn Féin would be delighted with a 2% point increase on the last Assembly election, which was their highest Assembly vote to date. It would put them in with a chance of adding a further seat to their current 27. The race for the FM position would remain tight, depending on turnout, but with Sinn Féin holding a significant advantage.

But the biggest impact could be in the Westminster election in Foyle, where they would have an improved chance to take the seat. Fermanagh & South Tyrone should see slightly an increased SF majority. And even if the SDLP ran a candidate in North Belfast, SF would probably hold the seat.

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Since the large majority of TUV voters give their second preference to the DUP, and the TUV did not stand candidates for the last Westminster election, it is necessary to look at the combined vote for both parties to fully understand what the figures suggest for the DUP’s prospects.

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It appears that, provided all their voters turnout, the DUP should have no difficulty holding their current 25 seats, and might have the possibility of picking up one more, or even two with a bit of luck. However, they would have fewer first preferences than SF, which means that they would need one more seat than them to regain the right to the FM post. That looks a stretch too far on these figures, even if SF make no gain of their own.

They would still likely be in a tight race with Alliance for the East Belfast Westminster seat.

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Alliance has also put on support in this poll, probably mainly from the SDLP, but possibly with some contribution from the UUP. This would set them up for the Westminster election, where they could expect to gain tactical voters from other parties as they did in 2019. Their seat in North Down would continue to be marginal, and they would probably remain the under-dogs in East Belfast. See the SDLP section for discussion of South Belfast and Mid Down (the new name for the constituency with its new borders).

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This is the lowest figure the SDLP has ever recorded in an opinion poll and notably below their Council election share. There are three possible explanations:

  1. The poll has got their support wrong.
  2. Their Local Government (Council) result was bolstered by personal votes for popular SDLP candidates (there is precedent for that for both the SDLP and the UUP).
  3. Some SDLP voters have concluded that they would be better to shift their support to a more successful party – Sinn Féin or Alliance depending on their inclinations.

Of course, it could be a mix of these.

It would be very fluky for the SDLP to retain all 8 Assembly seats if its vote declined in line with this poll. They would almost certainly lose one. Two further seats would also be at risk.

But this point the next Assembly elections are almost irrelevant for the SDLP. Their first and only task must be to retain their two Westminster seats. If not their Assembly prospects could look bleaker.

I estimate that provided the SDLP held on to the tactical votes it takes in Foyle, there would need to be a swing of at least 1% from the SDLP to Sinn Féin since the Council elections for SF to take the seat. This poll is around 1% – leaving Foyle looking balanced on a knife’s edge.

For South Belfast & Mid Down it all depends who is on the ballot paper. The SDLP would be badly undermined if SF stand. That could open the way for a four-way contest between Alliance (which gained the most votes in the Council elections), the DUP, Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Claire Hanna will need to exploit her incumbency for all it worth.

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A 1% drop in their Assembly vote would probably leave the UUP holding on to their current 9 seats, although a loss of one is possible. Since that seat belongs to the party leader it would be significant.

For the record here are the other parties:

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It looks very like North Antrim will remain the only TUV Assembly seat.

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Coming after the Council elections, this finding does not suggest that the Greens are on their way back into the Assembly.

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PBPA holds one Assembly seat. The poll tells us nothing new about the party’s prospects of keeping it.

 


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