Northern Ireland news

Opinion Poll: Sinn Féin poised to become largest party in local government

First preference vote share. Graphics: davidbixter.co.uk
John Manley Political Correspondent

Sinn Féin is poised to secure a record number of councillors and become the largest party in local government, according to a new opinion poll.

A survey conducted ahead of the May 18 council elections shows Sinn Féin with a near seven-point lead on the DUP, which is forecast to lose votes but only marginally. 

The Alliance surge, first evident in the corresponding election four years ago, looks set to continue with the party's growth mirroring that of last year's Stormont election, according to the The Irish News-University of Liverpool-Institute of Irish Studies survey.

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Conducted between April 11-21, the poll predicts more electoral misery for the SDLP, with support for Colum Eastwood's party set to slide by 3.7 percentage points compared to 2019's local government election, leaving it with an 8.3 per cent vote share.

The survey suggests Sinn Féin will consolidate its position as the north's largest party, securing 29.8 per cent of first preference votes.

Support for the DUP, which four years ago retained its place as the largest party with a 24.1 per cent share of the popular vote, is forecast to drop by 1.1 points, well within the margin of error but leaving the party languishing almost 7 points behind its main nationalist rival.

The Ulster Unionists too will shed support, the survey indicates, but only 1.3 points, leaving it on 12.8 per cent. The TUV is forecast to pick up votes from both its bigger unionist rivals, securing a 5 per cent vote share, more than double its 2.2 per cent first preference showing in the 2019 council elections.

The Green Party, which lost its two seats at last May's assembly election, including that of its then leader Clare Bailey, is forecast to increase its vote share by 0.6 points to 2.7 per cent.

The poll shows a marginal drop in support for both People Before Profit and Aontú.

Dr Sean Haughey of the Institute of Irish Studies said Sinn Féin topping the poll would "solidify the party’s status as electoral top dog".

"It would also give the party some latitude to navigate potentially difficult questions from its base in terms of the leadership’s intention to attend the coronation of King Charles," he said. 

"The figures make for depressing reading for the SDLP, which looks set to underperform by a considerable margin compared to its local election tally in 2019 – if this transpires, and the SDLP incurs further losses, an existential crisis looms."

Dr Haughey said it was "pretty much as you were" for unionism's two largest parties.

"Things could be a lot worse for the DUP – the party’s response to the Windsor Framework has not been one of outright rejection, and perhaps that position is resonating with its base," he said. 

"By further growing its vote, Alliance will put to bed any idea that recent electoral victories have been mere blip – the party’s vote share looks set to overtake that of the SDLP and UUP, cementing the party’s position as Northern Ireland’s third largest party." 

:: Carried out by SMR on behalf of The Irish News-University of Liverpool-Institute of Irish Studies, the survey sampled the opinions of 1,013 Northern Ireland adults aged 18+ between April 11-21. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent.