ELECTION RACE 'NECK AND NECK'
The latest election poll shows that the four largest parties
are virtually neck and neck.
According to the poll results, which exclude undecideds or
confirmed non-voters, David Trimble's UUP leads the field with
26% support. The nationalist SDLP follows with 22%, while Sinn
Fein and Ian Paisley's DUP are both at 20%.
But when adjusted for the traditionally low ratings for the
DUP and Sinn Fein in polls, they show that the parties are
even closer, and that the race for the positions of Firwt and
Deputy First Ministers in the new assembly is a virtual dead
While the two unionist parties are likely to edge out the two
nationalist parties -- due to the built-in unionist majority
in the North -- the difference is now within the margin of
error for such polls.
The survey results leave the possibility that the Belfast
Assembly will be split into four, with incredibly tight voting
for the First and Deputy First Ministers' Office.
Today's poll findings show Sinn Fein and the DUP slightly
behind their respective rivals for the nationalist and
unionist votes, but both parties traditionally tend to
register lower support in the polls than they actually receive
in the ballot box.
Sinn Fein and DUP voters are thought to be more committed, and
therefore more likely to turn out on a cold November day to
support their parties.
Detailed analysis of the figures shows that turnout could, as
expected, be an important factor in settling the differences
between the parties.
A poll question dealing with firm voting intentions shows the
nationalist parties in a dead heat and the unionist parties
Sinn Fein traditionally suffers from relatively few
lower-order preferences -- but that pattern could change in
Under the proportional representation system, transfers will
be crucial in deciding the fifth and sixth seats. And with the
four main parties running close to each other, those final
seats will determine the overall shape of the Assembly.
Respondents to the poll were asked to which party they would
give their second preference.
The SDLP received the most secondary support at 14%, with the
DUP and UUP at 7% of voters and Sinn Fein at 6%.
But less than 4% of voters will transfer votes across
community lines, the poll revealed.
Just over 80% of those questioned said they were certain (53%)
or very likely (29%) to vote - with only 7% saying they were
certain not to vote.
But the main reason those who will not come out gave was that
they do not trust or like the candidates or the parties - and
regard politicians as useless, incompetent or no good.
Tony Blair is given a "very good" rating for his performance
over the last two years by just 6% - but 22% of Protestants
and 7% of Catholics rate him "very poor".
Secretary of State Paul Murphy fares even worse. Only 1% give
him a "very good" rating - but 37% said they did not know.
When poll respondents were asked to consider individuals who
might occupy the First Minister's Office after the election,
UUP leader David Trimble - who held the post before last
year's Assembly collapse - came out on top with 22% support.
A sample of 1,058 adults were interviewed at 50 locations
across the Six Counties.