Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin on course for record performance in Westminster election

Poll puts party support on 31 per cent, up eight points on 2019 result

Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill (left) and President Mary Lou McDonald at Belfast City Hall as the results come in for the Northern Ireland local elections (Liam McBurney/PA)
Sinn Féin leaders Michelle O’Neill (left) and Mary Lou McDonald. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA

Sinn Féin looks set to consolidate its position as the north’s biggest party with fresh polling indicating that it will break the 30% barrier for the first time in a Westminster election.

The DUP by contrast is expected to see its support slump compared to the last general election in 2019.

The latest Irish News-University of Liverpool survey gives Sinn Féin a 31.1% share of the vote, more than seven points clear of its nearest rival.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party is on 23.5%, which would respresent the party’s worst performance in a general election since 2001.

The latest party polling compared to the actual 2019 general election performance

In 2019, Sinn Féin had a poor Westminster election, with voters seemingly punishing the party for collapsing the institutions some three years previously. However, republicans did manage to win North Belfast for the first time, with John Finucane ousting DUP veteran Nigel Dodds with the help of a pact.

Sinn Féin’s key target in the forthcoming election is Foyle, where Colum Eastwood won back the seat for the SDLP in 2019 with a majority of more than 17,000.

However, despite its strong polling, the party is unlikely to make gains in any other constituencies.

Meanwhile, the latest survey suggests the DUP will have a fight on its hands retaining its eight MPs.

Deputy leader Gavin Robinson is the most vulnerable in East Belfast but notably, the polling also indicates that Alliance has lost ground compared to 2019, though the reduction in its vote share is within the survey’s margin of error.

Naomi Long’s party is aiming to hold on to deputy leader Stephen Farry’s North Down seat and is targeting East Belfast, where the Alliance leader topped the poll in 2010.

The Ulster Unionists have seen a slight dip in support to 11.1%, though well within the margin of error, while the polling suggests the SDLP is facing a substantial challenge with its vote share forecast to be almost half that of 2019 on 8.1%.

Support for the TUV, which did not contest the 2019 general election, is at 4.6%, which exactly matches its share of the popular vote in the 2023 local government election.

Irish News columnist David McCann said seat projections in the north can be difficult because pacts can change expected result dramatically.

On these numbers, Sinn Féin is on a roll – it would be difficult to see where they would be under pressure in any of the seven seats that the party holds

—  David McCann

“However on these numbers, Sinn Féin is on a roll – it would be difficult to see where they would be under pressure in any of the seven seats that the party holds.

“At 31% of the vote, Foyle is in their sights as the SDLP are sitting on just above 8%.

“Alliance are holding their ground, which would give Stephen Farry something to smile about.”

:: The survey is based on 1206 respondents and was carried out by SMR Belfast between February 11-28. The margin of error is -/+ 3.1%.