That must be the least exciting headline you will read today. But with the poll showing Sinn Féin still sitting on a very healthy lead; the TUV retaining the lumps it carved out of the DUP in a three horse race to be biggest unionist party; and Alliance still poised for significant gains, the pattern is very much the same as it has been throughout most of last year.
The full results in today’s Belfast Telegraph are:
Sinn Féin 25% (+1 from Nov)
DUP 17% (-1)
UUP 14% (n/c)
Alliance 14% (n/c)
TUV 12% (+1)
SDLP 11% (-1)
Green 3% (+1)
PBP 1% (-1)
A change of 1% has no statistical meaning when all figures are rounded.
Politically it will greatly increase the pressure on Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP. Six months ago supporters could still comfort themselves that as the election drew nearer support would drain away from Jim Allister as DUP supporters returned home to stop Sinn Féin walking into the FM office.
Well, that hasn’t happened yet. And with time now rapidly running out, it still shows no sign of happening. And don’t forget that the recent Ashford poll showed only 1 potential TUV voter in 20 put “Stopping my least favourite party from winning” on the list of their top three priorities in this election.
For Doug Beattie the tantalising prospect of challenging the DUP’s 20 year dominance of unionism is still alive. Although that will bring with it continuing and closer questioning on his position on taking the Deputy FM position if the UUP win more seats than the DUP.
All that having been said it is important to remember that things can still change. The Ashcroft poll showed that many voters are still giving very serious consideration to alternative choices for their first preference vote. Events, as Partygate has so graphically reminded us, can shift the political barometer. And many (most?) voters only start to pay a lot of attention to party politics once the campaign proper forces its way higher up the news agenda.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.