Polls in northern Ireland are very rare creatures, not least because they have a rather poor record. There is a strong tendency for them to under-report the proportion of people voting for parties at the more hardline ends of the political spectrum, and over-report those in the centre.

I am not aware of any recent published polls, however, in the run up to the vote on the devolution of policing powers this week two polls were released, one commissioned by the Northern Ireland Office, the other by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). No figures for party support were officially released, but Mark Devenport the BBC’s Northern Ireland political editor has them “unofficially”.

These come with HUGE, TOWERING caveats. We don’t know if they are true, we don’t know if what the companies involved did to get them, and the record of polling in Northern Ireland really isn’t great to begin with. For what it’s worth though:

Red Circle/OFMDFM
TUV 2%
DUP 30%
All 11%
SDLP 19%
SF 16%
Others 4%

Northern Ireland Office
TUV 1%
DUP 26%
All 8%
SDLP 21%
SF 17%
Others 9%

I would not put too much trust in them. Sinn Fein look very low indeed, the Alliance very high. Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice is almost completely absent despite managing 13% in the European elections. However, unless someone commissions a proper poll in Northern Ireland, it is all we have.

UPDATE: I haven’t managed to track down the proper poll Ruairi mentions in the comments, but I have found another proper voting intention poll commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph. A face-to-face quota poll by Inform Communications, weighted by age, gender, community background and class (and it does at least have Sinn Fein ahead of the SDLP). NB – it’s Assembly election voting intention, not Westminster.

Inform/Belfast Telegraph (5th-9th Feb)
TUV 6%
DUP 18%
Alliance 7%
SDLP 13%
Sinn Fein 21%
Others 6%

43 Responses to “Northern Ireland polling”

  1. The Red Circle figures total 101%. Is this the personating element? Vote Early – Vote Often!

  2. These polls aren’t worth whatever they are written on. Being from the province I can assure you they are wildly overstating DUP suppot and understating TUV support. SF is likewise under represented and the Alliance Party over represented.

    It’s fairly standard reasoning to do with the spiral of silence theory. The most conciliatory party is Alliance so people like to say they are uber tolerant, but of course fall on one side of the sectru in reality which is why Alliance polls closer to5% on election day.

    SF used to be the political wing of terrorism and is still filled with terrorists so people are slighty hesitant to state their support, but it is seen as being a champion of nationalism.

    And obviously ther are a huge number of peope anxious about power sharing which takes chunks out of the DUP and puts it into the TUV.

    The only accurate ones I should say are the SDLP and UUP, who have long had a reputation fr moderation so have been able to rebuild since their eclipse years ago

  3. SDLP to beat SF?!? TUV to get 1%… aye right

    I mean what there are 18 seats so very very roughly ignoring turnout differences each seat must be worth 5-6% of the overall northern irish vote. so the total level of TUV support is equivalent to what 20% for Allister in North Antrim and not a person more. No anti-agreement Unionists in Mid Ulster or Armagh? None amongst the Orangemen of County Londonderry? None in the border areas Fermanagh, South Down, Tyrone? As for the SDLP beating SF…

    All in all away n bile yir bum

  4. Caveat, caveat, but still worth looking at.

    1. Anthony, are there other NI polls for comparison with actual NI election outcomes, eg from last year’s Euro elections, or the GE2005?

    2. In his blog, Mark Devenport writes: ‘I gather that in the OFMDFM poll 26% of those who were interviewed over the phone refused to say which party they backed, whilst 13% gave no affiliation.’ So the OFMDFM numbers are based on c.610 respondents of the 1000 questioned, suggesting a significant MOE. There are no comparable ‘refusal’ or ‘no affiliation’ data for the NIO poll.

    3. Compared with 2001 and 2005, the poll figures are:

    *2001: DUP 22.5; UUP 26.8; SDLP 20; SF 21.7; Other 9.1
    *2005: DUP 33.7; UUP 17.8; SDLP 17.5; SF 24.3; Other 6.7
    *OFMDFM, 10/3/2010: DUP 30; UCUNF 19; SDLP 19; SF 16; Other 17 (incl Alliance 11%)
    *NIO,10/3/2010: DUP 26; UCUNF 16; SDLP 21; SF 17; Other 18 (incl Alliance 8%)

    4. Looking at these together, a few things jump out:
    – DUP % in both polls is of same order as 2001/2005
    – UCUNF % in both polls is of same order as UUP in 2005 (ie well down on 2001)
    – SDLP % in both polls is of same order as 2001/2005
    – SF % in both polls is well down on 2001/2005
    – Alliance % in both polls must be well up, given how low the whole of ‘other’ was in 2001 and 2005.

    Overall, these polls don’t seem very wayward, but comments from posters in NI would be really welcome, eg about whether the Alliance figures is likely to be a true reflection of the growing profile of the Alliance Party lately; and, eg, how much higher real Sinn Fein support is likely to be.

  5. Dear all,

    These polls do not bear up at all with conventional wisdom.

    A would gestimate that shy Séiners and shy TUVs are in plentiful supply.

    A recent Lurgan council by-election saw 700+ votes for TUV alone.

    There may be a case for arguing that a new leader for the SDLP has provided a boost.

    There may also be a case for arguing that SInn Féin’s previously high vote in 2007 was to urge them to do a deal.


    with MPs in Mid Ulster, west Tyrone, west Belfast, South Armagh and Fermanagh, the figures for Sinn Fein are very low indeed.

    Given that the weekend saw a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis it would be interesting to know if these polls were conducted beforehand?

  6. It’s also worth saying that it’s Jim Allister not Jim McAllister…

  7. @Lucius

    In the interests of being non-partisan can we have less use of the T word.

    After all we are talking about democratically elected politicians

  8. I do not doubt that they are democratically elected politicians Eoin, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t committed murder and terrorism. The Deputy First Minister and his Junior Minister being examples.

    Of course I am no apologist for the other side either, for forty years Ian Paisley and his gang represented little more than sectarian hatred.

  9. @Lucius

    You have probably heard well rehearsed arguments to the contrary before so I am willing to leave it. Although a quarter of the region would be less happy to do so.

    Most of your points of analysis are a fair summation, I think.

  10. I didn’t think the two things were necessarily mutually exclusive in NI?

  11. There are no indications of how likely the respondents are to vote.

    Sinn Fein is very good at getting out its vote, having been an Alliance voter when living in the North, I was very aware of like minded people who simply did not go to the polling stations.

    A friend in Strangford constituency – the seat of Iris Robinson – tells me that the key factor there will be how much of the vote just stays at home. There is deep disillusionment with the DUP, but rather than transferring to TUV voters are likely to abstain.

  12. Sinn Fein’s strategy is the bullet and the ballot. I don’t doubt TUV have a few bullets around as well.

  13. Sinn Fein’s strategy is not the bullet anymore, in fairness.

  14. Thanks for fair comment Lucius.

    Please could all of us refrain from casting demonising aspersions on people running for political office. This is a site for discussion about polls and polling, not for yah-boo political mudslinging.

  15. Yeah, this poll isn’t accurate, to put it lightly. There was a poll done a couple of weeks ago that was in the Irish News – it had SF on about 25% of the vote and the DUP on about 18%. I

  16. if you add SDLP and Sinn Féin together we are 3-6% off what nationalists normally poll.

    The main point, which in fairness to Lucius he made, is that there are shy Shinners out there.

    Another possiblity is that the dissident threat is growing. Thi smay cause people to switch support from Sinn Féin to RIRA or CIRA

  17. According to the linked article, the UCUNF figure in the NIO poll is 14, not 16.

  18. Sorry my mistake, UUP14, Con2. I see what you did there.

  19. If you have no trust in this poll, why on earth waste people’s time posting this article?

  20. @Bert,

    One of the reasons there is so little little turst is the limited examples we can compare it to.

    This could be the first of more in which case its necessary to post as a post of refernence.

    A bit like and opinium or a harris shall we say?

  21. Gerry Adams is the real deal -Arthur Scargill talked the talk but Gerry walked the walk.

  22. I don’t suppose we will get many posts on this but salutary to think that a group of these people could hold the key to which government we get.

  23. @Howard,

    “these people” shocking phrasology.

  24. On the detail of the “others”:

    NIO commissioned poll

    PUP 1% – Progressive Unionist Party (associated with the UVF; generally considered left-wing and more pro-Agreement than any of the main unionist parties)
    Green 4%
    Conservative 2% (counted with UUP in Anthony’s summary)
    Workers Party 2% (left-wing Marxist party, formerly associated with the Official IRA)
    RSF 1% (rejectionist republican party which split from Sinn Féin in 1987, opposed to taking seats in Stormont or Leinster House (Republic of Ireland parliament), associated with the Continuity IRA)
    UKUP 1% (Robert McCartney’s split-prone party, anti-Agreement and integrationist – not sure if it actually still exists)

    OFMDFM Commissioned Poll

    PUP 1%
    Others 3%

    As other people have said, opinion polls in Northern Ireland – especially ones asking for party preferences – have been notoriously inaccurate, with the SDLP, Alliance and UUP figures traditionally being inflated at the expense of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

    To judge by last year’s European election results in comparison with 2004, there doesn’t seem to have been any great swing back towards either the SDLP or the UUP, although both parties actually managed to hold steady in terms of support.

    TUV won’t run candidates in all constituencies, and not all of the ones they do run may be particularly credible as alternatives to the DUP.

    If I was making a guess at the moment, I would expect the DUP to hold what they currently have (although Paisley Jr will have a close run thing in North Antrim and they may slip badly in Strangford), SF will hold all their seats assuming that there isn’t a single unionist candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, the SDLP will hold Foyle and South Down, and Sylvia Hermon will hold North Down if she stands. In South Belfast, it depends on what way a unionist vote in a slow long-term decline splits.

  25. Well, in a strange sort of way, I think the place that may be least affected by the vote shares in a GE is Northern Ireland. For a change it may matter more in Westminster than in Ulster how these seats break.

  26. Eoin I gather you are an Ulsterman – I used the words unconsciously so apologies if I offended. I suspect that way is how the majority of people on the mainland think of Ulster – as foreign as Eire itself. Over the last 40 years I never saw a poll on what we in England think of what should have been done with Northern Ireland. Note I say England. If truthful,it’s how my family look upon the other Celtic countries too. Perhaps it’s a taboo to hold a poll on such a subject. I never saw one as I say.

  27. Many thanks for those figures Anthony. You are right – they do not tell us a great deal.

  28. Anthony,

    given the difficulties of polling in NI isn’t there an opportunity for an on-line pollster as people who might be reluctant to give answers on the phone, let alone open their door might give a freer answer on line.

    After all on line pollsters tend to believe they can overcome the shy tories problem.


  29. Ruairi – I don’t suppose you’ve got a link or more details? It would be good to have some proper figures rather than unofficial leaked stuff.

  30. Anthony – Your front page has gone pear shaped, gone all grey and all the graphics have gone, however when you go onto a topic it goes back to normal….or is it just my computer?

  31. Anthony – Just gone back to normal

  32. Red Rag – there’s a mobile version of the site that is supposed to automatically detect if you are using a mobile phone to browse the site. I think it occassionally decides you are on a mobile when you aren’t!

  33. @Howard

    A question on “long term policy for Northern Ireland” is included annually in the British Social Attitudes surveys, which cover Great Britain rather than just England. In 2007 they had 32% for NI remaining in the UK and 40% for a united Ireland. When the series started in 1983 the figures were 29% and 58% respectively.

  34. Paddy,

    I can’t see the DUP holding all their seats on a 26% showing.

    I think the Unionist Part would be disappointed not to recapture South Antrim, where the DUP majority is only 3,000, and I think Mike Nesbitt, with his media profile, will pick up Strangford.

    Not too many extra seats for Mr Cameron, though

  35. @Howard,

    I guess you knew no better, in which case I cannot be offended :)

    They do say than a Northern Irish, Ulster, Tuascairt na h-Éireann, 6 County, N’orn Iron, Northerner is way too politically aware. Maybe the are right

  36. If the 16% for the UUP is correct does that mean they will struggle to iprove on their 1 seat from 2005, which still means they need 325 seats to gain a majority. What will be the position of TUV, SDLP, DUP and Sinn Fein in the new parliament.

  37. Has anyone read that article connected to the last poll? If not, may I say one word


    It’s a poll asking FPV for the Assembly elections in 2011 not Westminster 2010

  38. Ian:

    I can’t see the DUP holding all their seats on a 26% showing.

    I’d really take those support figures with a barrel of salt. I’d expect the UUP to be doing better than 15-19% in an opinion poll, though, if they were really making any impact (given that opinion polls are generally reasonably kind to them).

    I think the Unionist Part would be disappointed not to recapture South Antrim, where the DUP majority is only 3,000,

    It depends a number of things – who’s actually selected to run for UCUNF there (the UUP have nominated a candidate but he hasn’t yet been ratified), whether TUV run a candidate, and whether Willie McCrea has suffered any collateral damage from Irisgate.

    and I think Mike Nesbitt, with his media profile, will pick up Strangford.

    Maybe, maybe not. It has always been a strong area for the DUP at local level, and although Nesbitt should be able to attract Alliance and SDLP tactical votes (as David McNarry did in 2001), the DUP seem to have recovered their composure since January.

    Both seats will be close (I can’t at the moment see the DUP being troubled in any other of their seats apart from Jim Allister’s challenge in North Antrim) but I’d think the chances are shifting away from the UUP.

  39. It looks like it is going to be an intresting election in Northere Ireland looking at the polls I wonder if the DUP and the UUP and going to do a pact in some seats like south Belfast and will the SF and the SDLP be doing the same ?

  40. Looks very dodgy, unless there has been a swing in both communities towards the centre.

  41. The general dubiousness (low vote shares for SF and TUV, high for Alliance and SDLP) have been analysed to death now.

    Looking at the “Others” figures quoted above in Paddy’s post (just for fun – of course the numbers sampled are almost certainly too low to mean anything):

    PUP 1% – sounds plausible; may well not stand in the GE, and only have a presence in some part of Belfast these days.

    Green 4% – probably inflated as they are seen as another centrist party. Although their profile and vote share have picked up recently, they are likely to be squeezed in the GE in the best seats.

    Workers Party 2% – received a little publicity recently when the Official IRA decommissioned their weapons, but this sounds implausible – are there really dissatisfied SF or SDLP voters going over to them? Perhaps some people support them in principle, but it never translates into a significant vote anywhere – they struggle to manage 2% in their very best seats.

    RSF 1% – may be suffering from the same issues as SF and TUV; people don’t want to state they will vote for a more “extremist” party. May well not stand in the GE, and even if they do won’t change the result anywhere.

    UKUP 1% – has deregistered and disbanded; its more active members have joined TUV, so this may well translate into a little extra support for them.

  42. Looking at the “Others” figures quoted above in Paddy’s post

    The detailed figures are from Mark Devenport’s blog linked to by Anthony.

    RSF 1% – may be suffering from the same issues as SF and TUV; people don’t want to state they will vote for a more “extremist” party. May well not stand in the GE, and even if they do won’t change the result anywhere.

    To judge by the last Assembly elections their vote is minimal anyway (Nicholas Whyte’s website has Peggy O’Hara in Foyle listed as RSF but as far as I remember she was an independent). I don’t think they went beyond 1% in any seat.

  43. Wonder whether the rumours of a “Celtic Bloc” with the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, DUP and SDLP will turn out to be true. If those four parties (with about 20 seats between them) could agree on a few core policy demands and coordinate their voting at Westminster they might actually wield quite a bit of influence in a hung parliament.