SBP Jan 13 – Labour support down, FF and SF make gains

Published by: Richard Colwell


Is a Spiral of Silence effect building against Labour?

This month’s poll is dominated by a heavy swing in support away from Labour, while both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail made gains.


At first glance this may seem to be somewhat at odds with events over the last month as before the Budget, Labour appeared to have stabilised support at 14%. However, this stabilisation in support was helped by the fact that the poll was taken very soon after the recent debate on abortion in Ireland, brought about by the death of Savita Halappanavar. Labour is seen to be relatively aligned to the pro-choice side of the argument, and supporters also tend to be more pro-life in their outlook, as a result they received a lift on the back of the high profile nature of the debate.

The results from today’s poll continue the downward trend that we had been witnessing before this debate. However, part of the reason for the decline in this wave, may well also be due to the fact that other parties have performed well.

Sinn Fein has certainly had a “good poll”, with support rising by 2% for the party. Whether this is due to the coverage that Gerry Adams has received on his ideas for a national poll on a United Ireland, or for more local on the ground reasons is not clear. It is the case that this swell in support is driven by gains among younger 18-35 year olds, who have at the same time deserted Labour, and among who Sinn Fein is now at a similar level to Fine Gael. It is also important to note that Sinn Fein has overtaken Labour in its core Dublin heartland in today’s poll.

Fianna Fail is also steadily making gains at what appears to be Labours expense, securing 21% of the vote in today’s poll. Fianna Fail is potentially a greater longer term threat to the government parties, as they have seen a consistent upward trend in support since September last year, whereas Sinn Fein support fluctuates more wildly. At the same time the Fianna Fail brand is still somewhat toxic to many, and this could be hiding further support for the party who are still somewhat “shy” about telling pollsters they are considering going back to them.

The evidence that some voters are “shy” to tell pollsters how they might vote, was first measured by Professor Noelle Neumann in Germany, it is called the Spiral of Silence. The theory is that a party begins to be seen as somewhat negative, and as a result voters are less inclined to admit that they will vote for them in the future to a pollster, despite the fact that they may decide to do so come an election. It was clearly in action in the run up to the 2007 General Election in Ireland, when many people claimed they wouldn’t vote for Fianna Fail, but the party still won the election.

It is likely that this effect may still be under representing the current Fianna Fail vote. While it is clear that people are more inclined to admit they will vote for the party now, there are still some who may be thinking of voting for them, but would not like to admit it yet. It is certainly the case that almost half of all those who are currently undecided in today’s poll, voted for Fianna Fail in 2007. Suggesting there is more potential for growth in Fianna Fail support in the months ahead.

The question is now whether this type of shyness is beginning to enter the political sphere for Labour. That is not to suggest that Labour has done anything to be regarded as toxic, in the same way Fianna Fail has been regarded since we lost sovereignty. However there is some evidence that people are less inclined to say they will vote for Labour in the future, or even did vote for them in the past. In order to ensure our sample is not biased we compare how people say they voted at the last election, to the actual result. We then weight to hallway between recalled past vote and the actual result, in order to take into account both faulty recall and biased sampling.

The worry for Labour is that as we have moved further away from the election, less and less people recall having voted for the party. This doesn’t matter to our headline figures, because we take account of it in our analysis. But the underlying trend itself is an indicator of support for the party. At first there was a relatively small difference between the recall for Labour and the result, but in the past 6 months the difference has grown.

As our sampling has remained the same, and the other parties recall is relatively consistent; this suggests that people are less inclined to even admit they voted Labour in 2011. It is possible evidence that there may in fact be a spiral of silence effect starting for Labour, that we need to monitor carefully in the months ahead.

Downlaod full report below:
SBP- GE Tracking Poll – 27th Jan 2012