General Election 2020: Younger Voters Flock to Sinn Féin
This poll may well be a signal to a real change in the political landscape in Ireland.
For the past few years we’ve seen Fine Gael support ranging anywhere between 26% and 30%. That support has fallen back heavily in this poll, mainly due to something that we haven’t seen before in RED C polls, a significant and dramatic rise in Sinn Féin support across a wide demographic.
So where on earth have these Sinn Fein voters been hiding? The party did relatively poorly in the European elections. Since then it has also been polling below average since the last election, securing just 11% support in in our last poll. Today they see gains of +8% to secure a first preference vote of 19%, well ahead of where they have been polling.
Of course, the party have been in this territory before, but somehow this feels different. Why? Mainly due to the supporting data that we have alongside vote intention, which suggests that young voters are looking for a radical shift in government.
Young voters in Ireland have of course been involved in radically changing the Constitution twice during this term of government. Now, there is a feeling that they are not happy with the pace of change current and historical government produces. As a result, they appear to be deciding that the old order of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are no longer for them. Instead, they are pinning their hopes that electing Sinn Fein potentially provides a radical change in the way that the country is governed.
The starkest findings from the poll revolve around the big differences in support and trust between those aged under 45, versus those age over 45.
Among those over 45, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue to perform strongly, with Fianna Fáil particularly strong among the oldest age groups aged over 55. But among younger voters, Sinn Fein has seen a level of performance that we haven’t seen for some time. Not just in the very young age group, where we have seen strong support in polls not materialise in votes in the past; but even among those aged over 30 and under 45, who are much more likely to ultimately do end up voting.
Behind the growth appears to be the belief that Sinn Fein has the answer to some of the issues that are most worrying voters at the present time. Housing has been seen to be the most important aspect among voters at this election, and among those under 45 Sinn Fein are seen to be the party that they believe has the best policies to solve the housing crisis in the next five years. Likewise, when we look at health, Sinn Fein also performs very well in this age group. We are even seeing Sinn Fein nominated as the best party among voters under 35 to manage the economy.
Among those over 45, a very different picture emerges, and here we see that older voters are less inclined to support Sinn Fein. Instead older voters are more likely to believe Fianna Fáil has the best policies on health and housing, while Fine Gael is seen to have the best policies on the economy and Brexit.
There is a feeling, however, that the economy and Brexit, just aren’t as relevant or important to voters in this election. Perhaps it’s that voters think the economy is generally in a good place, and that in their minds the real pressures of Brexit are somewhat over. The result is that the core strengths that Fine Gael have relied on to see itself lead in the polls for the last number of years, have simply become less important to voters as the election was called.
It leaves Fine Gael in a very difficult position. Clearly, their support is under severe pressure. And whereas, Fianna Fáil supporter’s stronghold is chiefly among older age groups, Fine Gael’s support actually spanned across the age groups. In the past the party did well among younger voters, perhaps due to goodwill from the change referendums that were held and passed?
But now, those younger voters have moved away to Sinn Fein and to the Green Party. So Fine Gael finds itself in a position where it’s being attacked on many levels, from Fianna Fáil among older age groups, from Sinn Féin younger age groups and from the Green Party.
So, can this rise for Sinn Fein hold or even build during the campaign? Well, it is true that in 2016 the party also did very well in the early polls of that election, taking 20% of the vote in some of the early campaign polls, but as the election unfolded that vote fell away. So there is a possibility that this rise in support will again dissipate as we go through the election campaign. The other issue for Sinn Fein, is that younger voters are far less likely to turn out than older voters.
RED C adjustments however take a very tough view on claimed and past vote behaviour in our final published numbers. In fact, Sinn Fein support in our core figures before adjustment stands at 21%, and due to lower turnout among its voters gets adjusted down to 19%.
So there certainly appears to be evidence that the shift to Sinn Fein this time is more sustainable, the next few weeks will be crucial for all the larger parties to try and break through and create a gap from the others. If Sinn Fein do get close to 20% support the election it will also be very hard for the other parties not to include them in any coalition discussions.
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