With the results of the 2019 general election in, it is clear that the results of the local and European elections earlier this year were no fluke and the surge of the centre ground in Northern Ireland politics looks here to stay.
The chart above shows how the parties performed in terms of vote share at this election, compared with all Northern Ireland elections over the course of the decade.
The total unionist vote being at 43% is the “new normal”; the total unionist vote (including unionist independents at the local elections) across the three elections has been flat. The spike in the unionist vote seen at the 2017 general election failed to materialize.
The surge in the Alliance vote seen at the local and subsequently the European elections looks set to be permanent; the overall Alliance vote is only slightly down from Naomi Long’s performance at the European elections. Strong second place finishes in a number of traditional unionist heartland seats will give them a real chance of increasing their Westminster contingent at the next general election.
The SDLP are making solid progress; whilst flattered somewhat by cross-community support for Claire Hanna in South Belfast, the party polled their strongest result since 2010 whilst Sinn Féin recorded their lowest share of the vote at a general election since 2001.
Pollsters had a good night, too. The final LucidTalk poll got the Alliance and UUP vote shares spot on, and was only 1% out for the DUP and the SDLP. The Sinn Féin vote was 3% lower than predicted.
North Down provided perhaps the biggest shock of the night, with Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party emerging victorious ahead of the Alex Easton of the DUP.
Previously, I had tipped Alliance to be in an excellent position to win the seat, and in the end they did succeed in beating the DUP by 8 percentage points. The Alliance victory in the constituency can be chiefly attributed to the Green Party’s decision to stand aside in the constituency, which enabled the non-aligned (and small nationalist vote) to coalesce around Stephen Farry. The overall unionist vote was at the same level as at the local elections earlier this year.
Another big result was in South Belfast, where Claire Hanna of the SDLP defeated DUP incumbent Emma Little-Pengelly in a landslide victory.
With no candidates running from Sinn Féin or the Green Party, the pro-remain vote in the constituency coalesced around the SDLP candidate. The overall unionist vote fell below 30% for the first time in any election.
The other big story of the night was in North Belfast, where John Finucane of Sinn Féin defeated incumbent DUP MP Nigel Dodds.
In East Belfast Gavin Robinson of the DUP narrowly held his seat over Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. The overall unionist vote edged up slightly from the local elections, but is down by 5 points from the general election of 2017.
In Foyle, Colum Eastwood of the SDLP won an overwhelming majority against incumbent Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion. The dip in the unionist and non-aligned vote suggests that Eastwood obtained tactical votes from unionist and Alliance voters, as well as a substantial swing from Sinn Féin to the SDLP in the constituency.
Elsewhere, strong Alliance second place finishes in East Antrim, Lagan Valley and Strangford means that these seats can now be considered DUP/Alliance marginals, and along with East Belfast present the party with four opportunities to make gains in 2024 (assuming that the next election takes place then).
And finally, Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Féin retained her seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone by only 57 votes after a recount.
A qualified accountant and data analyst, interested in politics, economics and data. Twitter: @peterdonaghy