New opinion poll puts Sinn Féin in pole position
SINN Féin would emerge as clear winner in May's election, securing almost a quarter of the popular vote, according to a new opinion poll from the Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool/The Irish News.
The party is forecast to take 23.2 per cent of first preference votes, representing an almost five percentage point slide in its share when compared to the 2017 Stormont election.
The survey, reproduced exclusively in The Irish News today, makes Michelle O'Neill clear favourite to be first minister.
The DUP's vote is forecast to slump by up to a third compared to five years ago, with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party taking 19.4 per cent of first preference votes in the survey, leaving it almost four percentage points behind Sinn Féin.
Alliance emerges from the poll with 15.6 per cent of the popular vote, a figure that would likely establish it for the first time ever as Stormont's third largest party.
The results of the Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool/The Irish NEws opinion poll, conducted over a 10-day period from January 24, would indicate that the Ulster Unionists' vote will enjoy a one percentage point-plus lift under Doug Beattie, with a 14 per cent share, compared to the 12.6 per cent secured under Mike Nesbitt at the polls five years and four leaders ago.
However, the poll makes disheartening reading for the SDLP, which on the basis of the research would be relegated from third to fifth place in Stormont's pecking order, with a popular vote share of just under 10 per cent.
The double digit percentage vote share forecast for the TUV in other opinion polls last year is not reflected this time around.
The survey suggests Jim Allister's party will still improve significantly on its 2.6 per cent vote share last time out, with 6.4 per cent of respondents giving the party a first preference.
The Green Party would enjoy their best election yet based on the data, securing 6.3 per cent of first preferences compared to 2.3 per cent in 2017.
People Before Profit's 1.8 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 becomes 2.3 per cent in the survey.
:: The Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool study in conjunction with The Irish News was conducted by Social Market Research Belfast from a sample of 1,002 people between January 25 and February 7. Margin of error: 3.1 per cent +/-.