Sinn Féin success in the North, helps drive support in the South
Sinn Féin has regained the very high levels of support it last saw during summer 2022. Support for the party rises by 3%, securing 34% of the first preference vote.
The gains for Sinn Féin appear to be very much at the expense of government parties, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil seeing support fall back. Fine Gael support drops by 2%, leaving the party with 20% of the first preference vote, while Fianna Fáil also sees a marginal drop of 1%, leaving them at 15% of the first preference vote.
As such, support for Sinn Féin is now almost the same as for the two government parties combined. Green Party support is stable at 4%, leaving all government parties securing just 39% of the first preference vote.
Gains for Sinn Féin appear to be due, to some extent, to the considerable success they had in the local elections in Northern Ireland, much of which was covered in the news just before the poll was taking place. The respectability obtained by the party doing well in actual elections, gives voters here the social proof that it is acceptable to also express their support for the party.
In behavioural economics, social proof is a key driver of influence to encourage behaviour. If people see or are told about other like-minded citizens doing something, they are more likely to find making that choice acceptable themselves. This social proof factor appears to be influencing undecided voters.
In RED C polls, we ask how people might vote if an election were held tomorrow; if people say they are undecided, we prompt a further question asking who they would be most likely to vote for. Since the last election, this prompt for undecided voters has generally seen many undecided voters say they would most likely go back to government parties, resulting in small gains for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. For the first time this month the opposite occurred, where many floating/undecided voters when pushed to make a most likely choice, suggested they would vote for Sinn Féin, further strengthening their position.
There also appears to be significant backlash against the government with regards to how it is dealing with asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Ireland, and in particular how it has reacted to the concerns of people in the local areas where refugees are being placed. This month, protests have been seen in several areas of the country where refugees have been housed, with residents expressing anger at the lack of consultation and suitability of the accommodation chosen.
The government line, as expressed in the media and in feedback from protesters, appears to have been to show limited sympathy with this point of view. Rather the response from government has been to suggest that locals have no real right to protest about who moves in next door, and that perhaps the protests are being orchestrated or highjacked by far-right groups. While elements of the government view may be technically correct, the tone of the response has not gone down well among voters who clearly expect much more empathy with protesters.
Concern among the public about the rehousing of refugees and the suitability of accommodation given to them is widespread with three quarters of the electorate suggesting that they believe Ireland has now taken in too many refugees. A figure that rises to almost 8 in 10 among those over 35 and is a strong view of those in more downmarket areas and those more likely to vote for Sinn Féin.
While a similar majority express sympathy with the anger of people in local areas where refugees have been placed. Over half (55%) also suggest that they too would be concerned about asylum seekers being relocated to their local area.
At the same time, the majority of voters (64%) do expect the government to do better at processing international protection applications for asylum seekers and half are also not happy about the state’s inability to house asylum seekers. So, voters expect the government to be better at housing asylum seekers, but preferably not in their local area.
As I raised in January, the immigration issue has certainly become far more important to the political fortunes of the government than it once was. They need to find a way to both solve the issue of housing asylum seekers, while also making sure they are seen to appreciate voters’ concerns. More consultation and understanding are key, as well as perhaps a greater focus on the positive contribution of asylum seekers and immigrants generally to Irish society.