One of the usual questions in any poll is what political party you plan to vote for at the next election and our recent BIG60 Poll was no exception! You may have seen in previous reviews of our NI-Wide October BIG60 (i.e. 60 Hours) online poll that we received a whopping 2,642 responses, and after data auditing (eliminating duplicates etc.) we considered 2,517 in terms of the final results and analysis. All responses were balanced and weighted to be reflective of Northern Ireland as a whole.
However, before we asked the key 'Who are you going to vote for at the next NI Assembly election?' question, we first asked a preliminary question: 'Up to and including the 2015 Westminster election which Northern Ireland (NI) political party did you mainly support and vote for'? This was to allow us to get a feel for trends up or down.
NB we followed normal poll presentation standards and excluded 'non-voters' i.e. people who responded that they didn't vote, or hadn't voted. Here are this results for this question:
This came out pretty much as expected with UUP up slightly, DUP down slightly, SDLP down one point i.e. compared to our previous polls. Because there was a Unionist seats pact in place for this year's Westminster election in May, we had to ask the question in the format shown i.e. 'Up to and including the 2015 Westminster election which NI political party did you mainly support and vote for?'. Although even though we asked the question in this way, this 'confusion factor' could still have skewed the results.
The poll question we then asked was: 'At the next NI Assembly election (currently scheduled for May 2016), who are you likely to vote for as a first preference?'. And here is how the results turned out for this - our party preference poll for the next NI Assembly election. Please note, that for these results we also excluded 'non-voters' i.e. people who responded that they weren't intending to vote.
Note the DUP have dropped about two points to 25.8%, and the UUP have jumped two points to 15% i.e. from our first poll question above. These are pretty sizable changes for an online poll of this type. The TUV also improved, but not to the same extent as the UUP. The SDLP and Sinn Fein both dropped slightly. Looking overall at the figures it could be said that the UUP should be scoring higher than this at this stage, as the DUP will/may improve from this before next year's Assembly election - particularly taking into account their up-coming new leader announcement. A new leadership always allows a party to re-brand, and re-launch. The same point applies to the SDLP with their leadership change - they may also get a boost. We'll see what our next online poll says in January.
Interestingly in our first party political preference poll question above i.e. the 'up to and including May 2015' question, the No. of people who said they hadn't voted came in at 8%. In our follow-on question about intentions for next May's Assembly election this 'non-voter' No. jumped to 14%. Both these figures are high. But why do we say this is high when the non-voters in 'live' public elections are increasing and averaging 35%-45%? This is because you have to take into account that our poll participants have taken the bother to log-on, participate in our survey (at least the other poll questions), and then decided not to click a choice on their screen for a particular political party. Plus remember there's a lot more effort and bother to vote in real 'live' public elections e.g. travel to the polling station, ID, etc..! Taking all this into account 14% 'non-voters' is high for an online poll of this type, and doesn't auger well for an increased turnout at next Mays Assembly election.
Another point about the 8% - 14% jump in 'non-voters' is that maybe there are former DUP voters who are not switching to e.g. the UUP, or TUV, but are just disillusioned and are currently intending not to vote. These votes are there to be won back by parties like the DUP, or won by the UUP or TUV. This is because people who have voted before, but have become disillusioned, can be won back again more easily to vote, than people who never vote (or never have voted).
This is as published on the Belfast Telegraph's DebateNI Blog site. Bill White is Managing Director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk.
You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter: @LucidTalk.