Red C poll reveals: No SF surge and FG collapse after all

A few weeks ago I got some entirely predictable stick from readers when I wrote that a Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitudes poll showing a dramatic surge for Sinn Fein and a dramatic collapse for Fine Gael was probably wrong.

At the time I wrote:

In any case, the sensible thing to do when an opinion poll produces such a shocking result is to wait, rather than to assume it is true. For example, if the poll was indeed an outlier, than we would expect a reversion to the mean next month, and for Fine Gael to gain support in the poll at Sinn Fein’s expense. Such a result would not mean that Fine Gael had an excellent month and Sinn Fein fumbled the ball – it would simply mean that yesterday’s poll was a bit of a dud, as sometimes happens.

If on the other hand the results of this poll are not an outlier, and are real, we will not have to wait long to find out: We should see the same or very similar patterns in the next polls from Red C, Ipsos MRBI, and Ireland Thinks. If we do not see similar results, then that will again suggest that yesterday’s Sunday Times figures were a bit of an aberration.

We did not have long to wait for the next poll from Red C: Just under three weeks, as it turns out.

The Sunday Times figures had Sinn Fein fully six points higher, and Fine Gael seven points lower. Red C finds that Fine Gael is actually 13% better off relative to Sinn Fein than that much ballyhooed poll from the Sunday Times suggested. More importantly, it suggests that there has been very little recent movement between the two parties. It is that lack of movement which is most notable.

Different polling companies may have different methodologies which explain different results: For example, one polling company might assume that young people will vote in an election in greater numbers than another polling company assumes. If that were so, then polling company A would probably project a better result for Sinn Fein and a worse result for Fine Gael than polling company B might. But crucially, since both are using constant methodologies over time, both should detect a shift in the population if such a shift has occurred: In other words, while the topline numbers might be different, the swing should be similar. So, if Sinn Fein really had gained at Fine Gael’s expense in a dramatic way, we would expect Red C to detect it.

Reader, they did not detect it. Nor, to this point, has any other polling company detected it. In fact, Red C finds a miniscule shift towards the Government and away from the opposition, with the government gaining two points over the opposition parties. That change is so small as to be probably just statistical noise, however.

The nature of polling and human consumption of news is that this poll will get far less attention than the Sunday Times poll showing a massive shift: Massive shifts are newsworthy, while as-you-were really isn’t that newsworthy.

What should be newsworthy though were the other questions asked, which tend to confirm a thesis I’ve had for some time about the electorate: That the Government’s very sturdy support in the polls is being propped up not by confidence in the Government, but by fear of Sinn Fein:

Close to a majority of people do not trust Sinn Fein with housing, or crime. A slight plurality trust them with health, and 46% of people think Mary Lou McDonald would personally do a good job as Taoiseach. But on no question to do with Sinn Fein are a majority of voters comfortable with the party. All of this tends to confirm my suspicion that more people are voting against Sinn Fein than are voting for the present Government, which may well lead to the next election ending up suspiciously similar to the last one, albeit with SF gaining seats from the smaller opposition parties through better candidate strategy.

Elsewhere in the poll, the Holly Cairns bounce for the Social Democrats seems to be dissipating, Labour are still stuck, and people before profit continue to struggle to turn 20% of the total media coverage into more than 2% of the vote.

It is very hard, based on these figures, to conclude that Irish politics is anything other than frozen in place for the moment.


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