The rise of the ‘neither’ voters

Voting in Northern Ireland
Voting in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is now politically divided into three main categories of voters of roughly equal size.

There are voters whose loyalty is principally to traditional nationalism, with symbolism such as the Irish language and the Tricolour.

Ben Lowry, News Letter deputy editor

Ben Lowry, News Letter deputy editor

There are those voters whose loyalty is to traditional unionism, such as Orangeism and the Union Flag.

And there are those voters who are mainly neither. The division into three is not new, but the ‘neithers’ rose again yesterday.

It includes that minority of SDLP and Ulster Unionist voters who will not transfer to DUP or Sinn Fein in a bid to keep ‘the other side’ out, as was apparent among several thousand nationalist voters in both Fermanagh and South Tyrone and North Belfast, and among the UUP core in South Belfast.

The strength of the neithers – Green, socialist, Alliance, Conservative, and many independent voters – is particularly notable in greater Belfast. In North Down, such voters massively outpolled the DUP.

Even in East Belfast, a citadel of unionism with a 90 per cent Protestant population, the joint unionist Gavin Robinson – chosen for his moderate image – fell shy of 50 per cent of the vote.

In both North and South Belfast, the Alliance vote rose strongly amid Orange-Green battles for the seat.

Such results give weight to a 2010 observation by the election expert Nicholas Whyte who told this newspaper the ‘unionist’ tag was off-putting.

Mr Whyte said that in the 1998 referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, there was a turnout of a minimum 80 per cent in all Northern Ireland constituencies, including unionist ones in the east of the Province. But in all elections after that it reverted to a low turnout.

“Protestants will vote in a referendum but they won’t vote for their parties because they don’t like them,” he said.