Sinn Fein and SDLP candidates in east Belfast have urged supporters to resist the temptation to support Alliance in a bid to defeat unionism.
With the nationalist and republican parties having no realistic chance of winning the seat, the high-profile race between Alliance’s Naomi Long and the DUP’s Gavin Robinson does lend itself to the potential for tactical voting.
It is an option undoubtedly under consideration by at least some residents in the republican enclave of Short Strand and among a growing number of Catholic middle-class families living in suburbs on the outskirts of the constituency.
Sinn Fein candidate Niall O Donnghaile concedes voters who in the past have supported his party have raised the prospect of backing Mrs Long.
“I would be telling lies if I said it hasn’t come up – it has come up,” he said.
“People who are Sinn Fein supporters, people who are genuinely Sinn Fein voters have asked, but I wouldn’t over-egg it either.
“I am a political animal, I am not stupid, I know people are going to mull on things and it’s up to me to go out and rap the doors and have that conversation.
“I just don’t think a couple of dozen of extra votes from Short Strand are going to have a huge impact on who becomes the next MP for east Belfast.”
Mr O Donnghaile insists he only wants votes for Sinn Fein.
“Because of the negative alignment of unionism in east Belfast people are thinking of ways to try to counter that,” he said.
“I think the best way to try to counter that is continue to show a degree of support for Sinn Fein.
“For us right across the north, more broadly across the whole of the island I think it continues to show a trend of support for Sinn Fein and support for republican politics and the kind of change we are trying to bring about. So I am asking people to give me their vote.”
SDLP candidate Mary Muldoon also does not want to lose votes to Alliance.
“It is a difficult one because obviously we would be very anti-unionist but we still want to get a strong vote,” she said.
“We would still say if you are SDLP, vote SDLP.
“It would be hypocritical (to say otherwise) because why would we stand if we didn’t want people to vote for us?”
But the former Belfast councillor conceded some nationalist voters were in two minds.
“At one stage I stood in east Belfast and got 900 votes approximately and I am down now to around 400 and last time definitely people were tactically voting because they wanted rid of Peter Robinson,” she said.
The other two candidates in the six-way race are the Green Party’s Ross Brown and Neil Wilson from the Conservatives.
“There are a number of key areas that we need to tackle to ensure that east Belfast becomes and remain as vibrant as it can be,” said Mr Brown.
“We need to oppose the austerity cuts, protect public services, make the minimum wage a living wage and develop ‘green’ industry.”
He added: “East Belfast has a long history of industry, from ship building to engineering. But global markets are changing and there is a danger that our industry will decline and be lost, resulting in the loss of people and their skills.
“I propose that a new ‘green’ industry should be developed that that will lead to investment in the community, jobs and apprenticeships, as well as developing low carbon technology that will lead to improved use of green power.”
Making his pitch for support, Mr Wilson said: “I think Northern Ireland deserves better than the current crop of politicians that we have. I think there’s a need for more national politics, based around economic and social issues, rather than the sort of cyclical never-ending debate that we have here at present, about stuff that doesn’t really put food on anyone’s table.
“We have had a very good response on the doorsteps and we are quite confident we can carry at least some of that forward.
“There is a lot of dissatisfaction out there amongst the electorate. I accept a lot of the voting patterns are generational, though the Conservatives have never quite had a campaign in Northern Ireland like the one we are having at the moment.
“We have been through several kinds of relationships with other local parties. We are now on our own – we are big, we are bold, we are going out there spreading this message. We are very well organised and we are hoping we can have a positive result this time.”