Greater support for Sinn Féin among under-34s shows challenge facing FF and FG

The ongoing housing crisis is one likely factor behind Sinn Féin’s support levels among younger voters

Illustration: Paul Scott

Sinn Féin’s support among younger people is significantly higher than the combined backing for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, according to the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll.

The poll results, continuing a trend, will add to Sinn Féin’s confidence heading into the next general election.

They also reinforce the huge challenge faced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin in the efforts by their parties to appeal to younger voters.

Sinn Féin’s support level stands at 44 per cent among those aged 18 to 24, a group comprising of students and young workers, many of whom will be voting for the first time in the next general election due.


That vote is due, at the latest, by March 2025 but there has been much speculation it could happen late next year.

This support level in first preference voting intention for Mary Lou McDonald’s party is almost twice that of the other two ‘big three parties’ with Fine Gael on 11 per cent and Fianna Fáil on 12 per cent.

In the 25 to 34 age group – perhaps the cohort most worried about finding their own home amid the ongoing housing crisis – Sinn Féin’s support is at 43 per cent with Fine Gael on 15 per cent and Fianna Fáil on 9 per cent.

In the same age group, Ms McDonald’s satisfaction rating is 46 per cent – far ahead of Mr Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, on 30 per cent, and Mr Varadkar, the Fine Gael leader, on 29 per cent.

The poll does not offer data on the reasons for the support levels among younger voters for the various parties.

One likely factor in Sinn Féin’s greater support among the young is the ongoing housing crisis.

It has been highly vocal on housing – a huge concern among a generation still living with parents or paying high rents, who feel locked out of the property market.

Highly critical of Government efforts to deliver in this area, Sinn Féin has been promising more social and affordable housing and lower rents.

The current Coalition parties will hope its Housing for All plan to tackle the crisis will have delivered enough tangible progress by the time of the next election to help boost their support among the young but that remains to be seen.

Sinn Féin’s focus on achieving a united Ireland may also appeal to many young people.

It was heavily involved in the peace process that led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement – which allows a path to a united Ireland with the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin’s defence for the Provisional IRA’s violent campaign during the Troubles is frequently highlighted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, but such criticisms perhaps do not always resonate with people too young to remember that time.

The Coalition parties point to their record in job creation and climate action (an area Sinn Féin is often accused of being weak on) and to measures such as free contraception and youth mental health initiatives as areas where they are striving to support young people.

Support for Sinn Féin is lower among older generations, but today’s poll shows that the party has grown its support right across the electorate. It even leads Fine Gael – though not Fianna Fáil – among over-65s.

Of the smaller parties, the Greens are doing the best in the 18 to 24 age group on 8 per cent, though its support is just 3 per cent in the 25-34 category.

Labour is on 4 per cent in that group but does not feature in the 18 to 24 category.

The Social Democrats – whose leader Holly Cairns, at 33, is the youngest of all the party leaders – are at 2 per cent among 18 to 24s and 4 per cent in the 25 to 34 group.

People Before Profit-Solidarity are on 3 per cent in both age groups.

If the overall results of the poll play out on election day there is no easy path to government either for Sinn Féin or the current Coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens.

Sinn Féin is on 34 per cent across all age groups, Fianna Fáil is at 20 per cent, Fine Gael is on 18 per cent and the Greens are at 3 per cent.

On these support levels it is highly unlikely that Sinn Féin would have the numbers to lead a Government with smaller left wing parties alone as is its preferred option.

The Coalition also would not have enough seats to return to power without other smaller parties or Independents.

The most straightforward path to power would be a Sinn Féin/Fianna Fáil coalition though Mr Martin and many in his party have long resisted this idea.

The voting intentions of younger people will be closely watched ahead of the general election and all of the political parties will continue their efforts to win their support.

Older people have traditionally turned up to cast their ballots on polling day in greater numbers. The prospect of any ‘youthquake’ result in the election will very much depend on turnout among the young.