Monday, August 08, 2005

Poll shows SF is set to make political gains

Pat Leahy:

Almost half of voters say they would be “happy to see Sinn Féin in a coalition government now" and almost four out of ten voters say they are “more likely to vote Sinn Féin" as a result of the IRA statement.

If these sentiments were replicated in a general election, they would lead to several more Sinn Féin TDs being elected to the Dáil. The survey was conducted by telephone among 1,000 adults across the country early last week. There is still a substantial minority of voters - rising to almost half on certain questions - who remain hostile to Sinn Féin, and these numbers rise when voters are questioned about the IRA.

Some 51 per cent don't believe that IRA members will give up all criminal activities and nearly as many (47 per cent) want the state to pursue the IRA for the proceeds of past criminal activity. However, a large majority (71 per cent) believe that the IRA should be given time to decommission its weapons and wind down its organisation.

The acceptance of the prospectof Sinn Féin in government by almost half of the electorate represents a significant softening of public attitudes towards the party from earlier in the year, when the period after the Northern Bank robbery and the killing of Robert McCartney led to enormous political and media pressure on the republican movement.

In a Sunday Business Post poll published in March,only 20 per cent of voters said a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin coalition would be “acceptable". Now, 45 per cent of voters would be happy to see them in a coalition government. Half of these voters agree strongly with the prospect; the other half agree slightly. According to a series of published opinion polls, Sinn Féin's support currently rests at about 10 per cent of the electorate nationally. Previously, non-Sinn Féin voters were very hostile to the party and showed an unwillingness to give the party any voting preference at all. This placed a huge handicap on the party's candidates in multi-seat constituencies.

What today's figures show is that the party is eliminating the “transfer repellency" outside the party's core base of supporters. If this is carried into a general election - even on 10 per cent of the vote - it will return many more Sinn Féin TDs.

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