While there has been a clear demographic change in North Belfast over the last decade and more, reflected in a declining Protestant vote, Friday’s result suggests that such change is gradual.
There had been concerns among unionists that the advance of nationalism was such that Sinn Fein might clinch the constituency from Nigel Dodds, who has held it since 2001.
That prospect was the reason North Belfast was included as one of the four seats in the UUP-DUP electoral pact.
In the event, Mr Dodds was a comfortable 5,300 votes clear of his challenger, Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein, against whom he was embroiled in a bitter campaign.
Mr Dodds, who is DUP deputy leader and who takes charge of the party’s Westminster contingent, won 47 per cent of the vote, which was around one per cent down on the joint UUP-Con-DUP total share of the poll five years ago.
There was little surprise in the fact that Alban Maginness, the SDLP MLA, saw his vote squeezed in the head-to-head between Mr Dodds and Mr Kelly, dropping four per cent to a total of 3,338 votes.
But Mr Kelly did not seem to gain from that decrease, and saw his vote share remain static at 34 per cent.
There had been reports that turnout was up in unionist areas, and if so the overall increase in turnout across the constituency may have gone overwhelmingly to Mr Dodds.
The final tallies were such that the DUP man would have been 2,000 votes clear even if all nationalist votes had been gathered behind a single candidate in a ‘green’ pact.
Despite the fierce DUP-Sinn Fein contest, the Alliance Party enjoyed yet another good Belfast result, with its vote rising markedly on 2010, from 1,809 then to 2,941 this time for Jason O’Neill.
A further 1,500 votes were split between Gemma Weir of the Workers’ Party and Fra Hughes, an independent.
In his acceptance speech early on Friday, Mr Dodds accused Sinn Fein of waging one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory.
He claimed the republican party engaged in sectarian tactics and dirty tricks in an attempt to oust him. But he hailed the electorate for delivering the DUP its largest-ever vote in the constituency to see off the challenge of Mr Kelly.
“This has been one of the nastiest campaigns I have been involved in,” he said. But he added: “We have proved that truth triumphs over lies.”
Mr Dodds had claimed an election leaflet circulated by Sinn Fein was sectarian and accused the party of being behind a letter sent to unionist voters making what he insisted were false claims about his record as an MP.
“We have exposed the sectarianism of Sinn Fein for what it is,” he said. “We have also exposed the bogus nature of their so-called equality agenda.”
But Mr Kelly dismissed Mr Dodds’ allegations in his own post-election speech to supporters. “I would like to thank Nigel Dodds for his very gracious acceptance speech,” he said sarcastically amid catcalls from DUP supporters.
“I have never heard the likes of it before. And I would also like to thank his supporters for their boos – it really makes me feel at home.”
He added: “I would like to thank the voters of North Belfast for giving me an increased mandate in that area.”
• Dodds, Nigel (DUP) 19,096 (47.0pc) +7.0pc
• Kelly, Gerry (Sinn Féin) 13,770(33.9pc) -0.1pc
• Maginness, Alban SDLP 3,338 (8.2pc) -4.1pc
• O’Neill, Jason (All) 2,941 (7.3pc) +2.4pc
• Weir, Gemma (Workers’ Party) 919 (2.3pc)
• Hughes, Fra (Independent) 529 (1.3pc)
Majority: 5,326 13.1pc