27 January 2005 Edition

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Poll positioning

Percentages are a powerful weapon in modern Irish politics. This week's series of polls conducted by TNSmrbi on behalf of the Irish Times have given an interesting snapshot of not just the state of mind of voters but also and more importantly the perceptions and interpretation powerful voices in the Irish media and political establishment have of the poll process.

At the heart of the poll results last week was the fact that after months of personalised vindictive attacks on Sinn Féin by other political the parties, which were amplified by some media outlets, core party support was unchanged, at 9% of voters and total poll support had slipped marginally from 12% to 11%.

This, though, wasn't the story for many news bulletins. They chose to focus on the fall in satisfaction ratings for Gerry Adams from 51% to 42%. There was no mention that no other Irish political leader has come for such undeserved and unproven but relentless criticism in recent months, or that this is part of a now annual strategy to undermine republican political support.

In October 2002, Adams recorded a 52% satisfaction rating, which fell to 44% in February 2003. It climbed back to 48% in May 2003, falling to 43% in September. The Adams satisfaction rating hit 51% in February 2004, falling to 42% in May and rising once again to 51% in October 2004.

Of the three rises in ratings, two of them came off the back of positive elections such as October 2002, after the Leinster House elections that elected five Sinn Féin TDs or February 2004, after the Assembly elections where Sinn Féin extended its lead over the SDLP. The May 2003 figure was taken in the week when there should have been an Assembly election and national politics had been dominated by peace process issues.

The three downswings are all related to periods when a series of personal attacks were made against Adams and blanket attacks on the party, its spokespersons, ideology and policies, all usually led by Progressive Democrat President Michael McDowell. In particular, the collapse of peace process talks last December and the Northern Bank raid have led to an open season on Adams and the party, yet the core party support has remained unchanged.

Even more interesting in the polls was the finding that more than half of voters either do not think the IRA is responsible for the Northern Bank raid, don't know or have no opinion.

39% of 26-County voters think it is acceptable for Sinn Féin to participate in a coalition government, while 39% don't. Remarkably, 95% of Sinn Féin voters think coalition is acceptable, which should make for interesting internal discussions.

When you add in the 62% of voters who think that there should be a continuation of peace process negotiations with the party, it is clear that a large section of the electorate is not in the McDowell/media establishment vilification camp.

Finally, one of the more telling aspects of the poll survey was the finding that 87% of voters believe in God. Fine Gael has the highest amount of believers at 95%, while the godless Greens clock in at 71%. 82% of Sinn Féin voters are believers.

Voters were also asked about the Tsunami, with 14% saying that it would weaken their belief in God, 19% saying it would strengthen their belief, with 65% of voters saying the tsunami would make no difference to their belief in God.

It makes you wonder how long before the Irish Times will be printing poll satisfaction ratings for God and how will Michael McDowell react to that!

TNSmrbi poll results

Sinn Féin vote share

Adjusted support 11% down 1%

core support 9% unchanged

Gerry Adams satisfaction ratings 42% down 9%

Voter support for coalition

39% for Sinn Féin participation

39% against Sinn Féin participation

18% Don't know

4% No opinion

95% Sinn Féin voter support

for participation in a coalition

IRA responsible for Northern Bank robbery?

Responsible 47%

Not responsible 19%

Don't know 29%

No Opinion 5%


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