Exclusive: Sinn Féin extends lead over DUP in new poll
SINN Féin remains on course to be Stormont's largest party after May 5, having extended its lead over the DUP according to a new poll.
Today's Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool/The Irish News opinion poll shows that since a corresponding survey in February, Sinn Féin has widened the gap on its nearest rival, standing on 27 per cent of first preference votes.
Close to seven points now separates it and the DUP.
Based on the findings of the survey, which was carried out between March 11-26, Sinn Féin would be close to maintaining the 27.9 per cent share of the popular vote it received in 2017.
The DUP has clawed back some ground since February, increasing its share by 0.8 points to 20.2 per cent.
However, the figures confirm the findings of other recent polls which suggest Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party will be surrendering the first minister's post in a month's time, having been Stormont's dominant party for almost two decades.
Alliance remains on target to be the assembly's third largest party, despite some slippage in support since February.
Naomi Long's party has dropped one point over the course of a month and is now forecast to take a 14.6 per cent of the popular vote.
However, elsewhere in the survey, Alliance is shown to be by far the most transfer-friendly of Stormont's parties, which is likely to boost its overall seat quota.
Support for the Ulster Unionists has dropped by half a point since February's poll, leaving Doug Beattie's party with a 13.5 per cent share, a marginal increase on its 2017 performance.
The SDLP has gained a little ground since the last poll, adding 0.4 points to its first preference tally, which now stands at 10.3 per cent compared to its 11.9 per cent showing in the 2017 assembly election.
Jim Allister's TUV, once forecast elsewhere to claim more one-in-10 votes, has a 5.4 per cent share in the latest poll, having slipped one point since February's corresponding survey.
The Greens have fallen back by a whole two points compared to February – representing almost a third of the party's overall vote – to 4.3 per cent, a figure that would still respresent an almost doubling of its 2.3 per cent at the last Stormont election.
Support for People Before Profit too has slipped marginally since the last survey, leaving it on 2.1 per cent.
Both the NI Conservatives and Aontú's vote share remains unchanged compared to February, with each standing on 0.9 and 0.3 respectively.
The number of those undecided on who to vote for still remains significant at 17.2 per cent, though it represents a 1.5 per cent drop on the previous survey.
Institute of Irish Studies director Professor Peter Shirlow said that while support for the DUP had lifted "slightly", it looked very much like Sinn Féin would be Stormont's largest party.
"The DUP may be aided by the decline in support for the TUV and the significant share of unionists yet to decide," he said.
"The SDLP and UUP are pretty much were they were 2017, while Alliance seems to be holding the 2017-19 electoral surge – these three parties need to transfer between each other to ensure seats are gained or at least not lost."
Prof Shirlow said younger and more socially liberal voters were "seeking an electoral home that is not divisive constitutional politics".
"They are the community from which to capture votes – the ones who are those most likely to state that politics is too sectarian and tied to the past," he said.
:: The poll was conducted by Social Market Research Belfast and has a margin of error of 3.1+/-.
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