Opinion poll: Stormont's 'big three' consolidate dominance of the assembly
STORMONT'S leading three parties have consolidated their dominance of the assembly in the nine months since the last election, a new opinion poll shows.
Sinn Féin, the DUP and Alliance have all demonstrated increased support, with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party enjoying the greatest lift.
Today's Irish News-Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool survey reinforces Sinn Féin's place as the assembly's largest party, while Alliance has also increased its support since last May.
The Ulster Unionists have enjoyed modest growth but support for the SDLP, the assembly's second largest party at the time of Good Friday Agreement, continues to slide.
The poll, conducted between March 3-14, shows an 1.6 point increase in support for Sinn Féin, giving the party a 30.6 per cent share of the vote and reinforcing Michelle O'Neill's place as first minister in waiting.
The DUP, which last May relinquished its place as Stormont's largest party, has increased its vote share by 2.6 points to 23.9 per cent.
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However, support for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party remains significantly lower than in 2017, when under his predecessor Arlene Foster, the DUP secured a 28.1 per cent share of the popular vote.
The Alliance surge shows little sign of abating, according to the survey, with Naomi Long's party securing 15.4 per cent of first preference votes, an increase of 1.9 points, and bolstering its position as the assembly's third largest party.
There's little evidence of any 'Beattie Bounce' for the Ulster Unionists but the polling shows support for the party that once dominated Northern Ireland politics has remained stable, increasing on last May's showing by 0.1 points.
The poll's findings paint a dispiriting picture for the SDLP, which has seen its share of the popular vote drop by 2.4 points since the assembly election.
However, it is Jim Allister's TUV which has experienced the greatest fall in support, with its vote share reduced by 2.8 points – the equivalent of more than one-third of its overall vote last May.
The Greens and NI Conservatives have increased their first preference votes by 1.3 and 1.29 points respectively, while People Before Profit has doubled its share to 2.2 per cent.
Aontú, the all-Ireland anti-abortion republican party, has seen its vote share fall by 1.1 points, leaving it on 0.2 per cent.
Professor Peter Shirlow of the Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool said the survey indicated no change in the party's overall positions but that the trends apparent from last May's election were continuing.
"Sinn Féin would remain in first place and Alliance at the very least hold their recent growth," he said.
"The DUP seem to be clawing back some TUV voters, who may now realise voting for Jim Allistair led to Alliance victories and Sinn Féin emerging in poll position."
:: Polling was carried out between March 3-14 by and has a margin or error of +/- 3.1 per cent.