In life something can often seem inevitable until it isn’t. And that’s a lesson which Sinn Féin might have to come to grips with if recent polling trends continue.
While the party still remains the most popular choice nationally for voters by a decent margin, it’s starting to seem like their rise may not be as inexorable as previously believed.
On Sunday, just a few days ago, an Ireland Thinks poll found that the party has dropped from a high water mark of 37% in October, to 32% now. In addition, there has been a 10% drop in those who believe that Mary Lou will be Taoiseach after the next election.
Kevin Cunningham, managing director of Ireland Thinks, explained the findings in a bit more detail:
“Back in October we reported 51pc of those who identify as working class supported Sinn Féin. This figure remains unchanged in today’s poll. However, of the remaining middle class (and those with no identity), support for Sinn Féin has declined from 23pc to 15pc.”
Cunningham went on to explain that a significant amount of support for Sinn Féin was coming from “disaffection” with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, particularly as regards the cost of living crisis.
However, as the government parties begin to implement policies attempting to address the crisis, Sinn Féin’s support drops, as people perceive that their concerns are being met. You don’t need a protest vote if what you’re protesting about has been addressed, right?
Critically, Cunningham adds that at the current rate, Sinn Féin would not be able to form a coalition without the help of a bigger party like Fianna Fáil:
While senior Fianna Fáil members have floated the idea of a coalition with Sinn Féin recently, and Sinn Féin has said they would be mutually open to the idea, the plan seems unlikely for one simple reason: it would be about as popular as herpes with both parties’ core bases.
“No-one is ruling out any party at the next election, I’m not and my party leader is not either and I support him in that approach."https://t.co/Vup6KkD24a
— Irish Daily Mirror (@IrishMirror) December 28, 2022
— The Irish Times (@IrishTimes) June 5, 2018
After all, think about it: people vote for Sinn Féin, generally, because they are sick to their back teeth of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If Mary Lou then turns around and puts Fianna Fáil back into government, her voters will have a conniption fit and would be likely to mutiny.
It’s also likely that, because of her former association with Fianna Fáil in her youth, people would use it as a club to beat her with personally. I can just imagine the memes now.
Similarly, Fianna Fáil’s base is largely middle class and of a like mind to Fine Gael – as Cunningham says in the article:
Perhaps the only event that might stem such an eventuality would involve Fianna Fail forming a coalition government with Sinn Féin. However, in doing so it would also inevitably lose a large section of its now middle-class support.”
In other words, it would be mutually destructive for both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil to go into government together – both parties’ supporters would hate it passionately. “Why are you associating with the likes of them?”
The much more natural fit would be for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to stay together, as they essentially agree on everything anyway.
While some might float the idea of some kind of far-Left socialist coalition of Sinn Féin and some of the other Leftwing micro parties, this doesn’t look likely to work either.
Even if you could convince all of said parties to set aside their differences and go into coalition – which would be a monumental challenge in and of itself – it’s not at all clear that they would be able to form a majority, even put together.
For example, based on RedC polling from last November, assuming each party got the same percentage of seats as they have support, a coalition of Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats and People Before Profit would add up to a total of 65 seats.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens would come back with 70 seats.
Obviously that’s just based on poll results and might not reflect the votes on the day. But if the real result was anything like what we’ve seen recently, even an unlikely grand coalition of socialist Left factions would not have sufficient numbers to unseat the traditional governing parties.
The Ireland Thinks poll isn’t the only recent poll which returned a worrying result for Sinn Féin either.
In November at the end of last year, the party dropped 4 points to 31% according to RedC, which was their lowest result since September of 2021.
Sinn Féin support drops in latest opinion poll https://t.co/gBKUitkQkf
— breakingnews.ie (@breakingnewsie) November 27, 2022
Therefore, while each polling company recorded a slightly different figure (as one might expect – polling isn’t an exact science), they both agree on the party’s downward trajectory lately, and that Sinn Féin’s support has slipped in recent months.
While it was unclear what the exact cause of this was, it may be worth pointing out that this took place amid the East Wall asylum centre protests, which were in Mary Lou McDonald’s own Dáil constituency of Dublin Central.
During said demonstrations, protesters from the predominantly working class area held up an edited 2020 election poster of McDonald in front of the crowd. Where it had previously had the slogan “Working For You,” the poster was modified to read “Not Working For Us – Working For Herself.” As it was held up, it was met with loud boos by the crowd.
While it’s not clear if this is a widely-held attitude among East Wall locals generally, or simply the views of those present on the day, it’s worth noting that a 2015 Irish Times/Ipsos poll from during the last migrant crisis found that a large majority of Sinn Féin voters were opposed to Ireland resettling migrants.
Sinn Féin's youth wing has implied that locals protesting an asylum centre in East Wall are "racist", despite the fact that over 70% of Sinn Féin voters share the protesters' views according to polling.#gripthttps://t.co/36ub3ve46t
— gript (@griptmedia) November 23, 2022
Sinn Féin voters were found to be the most strongly opposed of any party to Ireland taking in asylum seekers, with more than 70% against the move.
It’s at least worth considering if this attitude among the party’s base, and Sinn Féin’s pro-mass migration stances, contributed to the dip in November, and may play a factor in the future.
No doubt Mary Lou’s claim last year that “you can’t limit numbers” of Ukrainian refugees that Ireland accepts, even despite the ongoing accommodation crisis, will not have helped with more immigration sceptical voters.
At the end of the day, all of this should tell us one thing: as strong as Sinn Féin might seem in recent polls, their victory at the next election is far from a foregone conclusion.
It turns out it’s never too late to blow a solid lead.