Ben Lowry: If the wider world was any guide, this poll would be an earthquake

In PR, voting all the way down the ballot paper maximises the voter's influence
In PR, voting all the way down the ballot paper maximises the voter's influence

If Northern Ireland was following the trend in much of the rest of the western world, a large array of independent candidates and small parties would do very well in today’s first Assembly results.

There has not been much indication of any such breakthrough in the Province.

Ben Lowry News Letter deputy editor

Ben Lowry News Letter deputy editor

However, most pundits do expect the DUP to lose ground and Sinn Fein perhaps also. The republican party is expected to struggle in its aim of increasing its representation.

In those circumstances, of Sinn Fein at best standing still, the DUP would be able to see its Stormont seat total plunge from 2011’s tally of 38 and it would still retain the first minister position.

The reason that other parties ought to be doing well is because non establishment parties are soaring in a range of countries. In some places, they are upending the conventional political wisdom.

Obvious examples are Syriza in Greece, the stunning victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the rise of Ukip to a staggering 14% of the entire UK vote in last year’s general election and of course this week’s extraordinary triumph of Donald Trump as the Republican Party nominee for the presidential election.

But the race for the Democratic Party nomination was almost as dramatic: Hillary Clinton struggled to victory over the socialist Bernie Sanders. Socialists are almost unheard of in mainstream American politics.

Australia has had four prime ministers in two-and-a-half years. Italy has had the same, in barely more than four years. The Front Nationale is now a major force in French politics. In the Irish Republic, there has been a sharp rise of independents.

Meanwhile, electorates flirt with momentous and far-reaching constitutional decisions such as, in the case of Scotland, almost quitting the UK in 2014 and, in the case of the UK itself, perhaps quitting the EU next month.

It is unclear why this is happening. One unkind interpretation is that western electorates are now spoilt and permanently dissatisfied with their prosperous societies and are flirting with radical new forms of government that they have not properly thought through.

What has all this got to do with Northern Ireland?

Not much, it seems, because there has been no indication of a surge for others.

This might largely be due to the fact that the tribal divide is such that a significant majority of voters are unwilling to cast their ballots in any way that will lead to a triumph for the other side.

Even so, my hunch has long been that the smaller parties will nonetheless do well in this election. I think that the mood that is sweeping Europe and America will somehow also make itself felt here.

My exit poll last evening suggested that Alliance had polled strongly in East Belfast, and possibly also the Greens. 
However, it is a micro poll from one station, Elmgrove. The results there have previously given a good indication of what happens in the rest of the constituency, but small samples can of course be highly misleading on occasion.

Other results to watch today include the showing of independents and minor candidates such as Paul Berry in Newry and Armagh, John McCallister in South Down, Gerry Carroll in West Belfast, Brian Wilson in North Down and Bill McKendry in Strangford, among many others.

Also the NI Conservatives and the Labour Representation Committee will be hoping to poll respectably.

Meanwhile the SDLP and UUP will want to capitalise on any anti incumbency mood.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor