Featured Special Northern Ireland report

Sinn Fein gains in popularity at the expense of the DUP

A LucidTalk poll commissioned by the local Belfast Telegraph newspaper in November showed Sinn Fein’s rise in popularity. It suggested that DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) support has fallen again, contrary to the Sinn Féin, which is opening up an 8 percents lead over its rival. The nationalist party could, in the next Northern Ireland Assembly Election, win a majority of the votes.

The last polls for the Assembly elections in Ulster showed a growing vote intention for the Sinn Fein. The assembly, which is composed of 90 members, is currently politically well balanced with 26 members of the DUP and 26 members of Sinn Fein, but it could change next May. The nationalists of Northern Ireland are gradually rallying more and more supporters to become independent from the United Kingdom and thus join the Republic of Ireland, which could have a considerable impact on the country’s political, economic and social future in the coming years or even coming months. 

At the question :  » If a NI Assembly Election was held tomorrow, which political party would you vote for as first preference ? « , 24 percent of the Northern Irish population would vote for Sinn Fein, whereas the DUP is only reaching 18 percent of the votes. Not far from him, the Alliance party, which is a moderate unionist party, reaches 15 percent. 

The Sinn Fein is more and more appreciated in the country, according to a supporter who recently joined the Republican party.  » The mentality of many Northern Irish people has changed in recent months because of the situation due to the Brexit and the health crisis. I think it has consequences on political convictions.  » Sinn Fein’s current deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill looks also very well-placed to become, after May’s election, the Northern Ireland’s First Minister, while this position is currently held by the unionist Paul Givan since June 2021.  » Having a member of Sinn Fein like Michelle O’Neill as head of government can be a big opportunity for Northern Ireland to finally leave the United Kingdom « , says the recent supporter of the Sinn Fein.

Demographic changes in Northern Ireland

But why more and more people are withdrawing from the DUP, the other favorite party of the country ? The reason for the decline of unionism’s popularity over time is first of all is due to demographic changes in the country. The Catholic population and families have expanded more in the country than the Protestants, so today there are a few more Catholics, whereas a few years ago it was more equal, according to the British civilization specialist Emma Bell. The second reason is very specific to the DUP and the post-brexit context. The Democratic Unionist Party has difficulties to handle the recent protocol which resulted in problems with Great-Britain concerning economic barriers on Irish Sea trade with Britain. Misunderstandings and policy problems within the unionist parties could reduce their influence and cause the people of Northern Ireland to change their voting intentions. While the DUP and Sinn Fein parties have been neck and neck for many years, the gap may soon widen and highlight intra-ethnic differences.

The Sinn Fein, beyond Northern Ireland, is also a very active and important party in the politics of the Republic of Ireland, advocating the reunification of the two countries. An Ipsos opinion poll, made in December, also proved that the support for Sinn Fein reaches new records in Ireland. Mary Lou McDonald’s party has risen his popularity by three points since October. The increase of the party now puts Sinn Féin 15 points ahead of Fine Gael, which dropped 2 points to 20 percents, and Fianna Fáil, which stays at 20 percents.

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