Sinn Féin have been described by a number of political commentators as “government in waiting”, and it is not hard to see why. The party’s polling figures have been climbing steadily ever since last year’s General Election in February where Sinn Féin garnered 25% of first preference votes from the Irish public, seeing the party secure 37 seats in Dáil Éireann. A seemingly miraculous result when one compares their performance to that of the 2019 European Elections.
Meanwhile, while Sinn Féin’s polling has been rising somewhat consistently, parties opposite them in Government have seen their polling figures deteriorate. Latest polling of party support released this month pin both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on 20%. Fine Gael have experienced the largest drop off in support from highs of 37% in June 2020. Sinn Féin’s support, meanwhile now stands at 35%, and more importantly, now holds the most support of any party among middle class voters.
Sinn Féin’s being in official opposition has allowed them to effectively and skilfully attack the grand coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Even with the most experienced government figures, a coalition of this size will inevitably show cracks. Cracks that may be exploited by well-employed political tactics. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is aided by a pandemic weary public that is losing faith in the current government’s ability to solve major crisis affecting Ireland including housing and the cost of living.
Despite Sinn Féin’s large polling lead, Senior Government Ministers have been quick to play down the significance of the results that put Sinn Féin 15% ahead of its two primary rivals. Indeed, the Government may take solace in the finding that 57% of respondents to the recent IPSOS/MRBI poll still believe the Government is doing an effective job handling the pandemic. Although this marks a 17% decrease on the figures for the same question when asked in October.
Fianna Fáil Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien downplayed the poll results, stating that “we’re about three-and-a-half years away from an election”. He played up his confidence in the Government’s performance and the more positive takeaway regarding the public’s view of the Government’s handling of the pandemic. While Fine Gael’s Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris expressed disappointment in the poll’s findings, he nonetheless also downplayed their significance, arguing that the findings are unreliable in predicting electoral outcome. Particularly given we are three years removed from the next election.
Sinn Féin, however, see the result in a different light. Perhaps unsurprisingly. Sinn Féin’s Health Spokesperson, David Cullinane argued that the Poll demonstrated the continuing of a “seismic shift in Irish Politics”. As the prospect of potentially leading Government looms, Sinn Féin has attempted to reach out to middle-class Ireland. softening its previously hard-line economic stances on high taxation for individuals and businesses. Sinn Féin’s time in government in Northern Ireland since the good Friday agreement shows an ability to bridge the gap between anti-establishment to political establishment. It remains to be seen if Sinn Féin will have an opportunity to use what it has learned in the North in Government in the South, but current polling is in their favour.