My old English teacher had one short rule “When writing always start with something interesting”.
But for once I feel I must ignore him. The dullest part of any opinion poll story is the list of caveats. But when considering the latest Liverpool University poll in today’s Irish News its very important to bear them in mind.
First, size of sample and margin for error. The Irish News poll has a sample about 1.000 people – half the size of the recent Lucid Talk poll. Now that is still – just – a respectable sample carrying a margin for error of 3.1% either side of the quoted figure. (The bigger sample only improves the Lucid Talk margin to 2.6%). But a small sample increases the difficulty the pollster will have when attempting to reduce the risks of sampling error.
Secondly, Social Market Research, who conduct the poll for Liverpool University, are not members of the British Polling Council – the gold standard for political opinion polling – and unlike Lucid Talk (and all members of the BPC) – I can find no record of them publishing the detailed tables to support their previous poll.
None of this, of course, necessarily prevents the poll from being accurate.
Most of its findings are similar to the LT poll.
SF 27% – ( Lucid Talk 26.3%)
DUP 20.2% (LT 18.6%)
Alliance 14.6% (LT 15.5%)
UUP 13.5% (LT 14.0%)
SDLP 10.3% (10.5%)
PBP 2.1% (LT 1.8%)
The big differences are:
Greens 4.3% (LT 1.7%)
TUV 5.4% (LT 9.4%)
That TUV figure has major implications. For the TUV even a gain in East Antrim could well be beyond their reach. Jim Allister would almost certainly be sitting alone. While the DUP could pick up an extra 4 seats on DUP transfers.
Sinn Féin would most likely emerge with between 22 and 27 seats. Aontú (at 0.3% in this poll) could not provide many transfers to anyone. Currently SF have 27. With some very tight three seaters to defend, even the drop of 0.9% since the last election could cost them more than one seat.
The DUP, meanwhile, would be occupying 20 to 26 seats. SoAn SF First Minister could no longer be taken for granted.
The biggest gainer would still be Alliance, up from eight seats won in 2017 to 12 to 14 – most likely at the upper end of that range.
The Greens could gain one or two seat, while PBP would probably gain Foyle.
The UUP would be on 11 to 13 (or possibly 10 to 12 if Clare Sugden the Independent Unionist wins again in East Londonderry). So. still with potential to improve from their current 10.
But it would be difficult to see the SDLP hold their current 12. This poll level could drop them down to 8 to 10.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.