Obama’s coalition: what’s the NI alternative?

Democrat donkeyWhat can NI parties learn from Obama’s continued success at the polls?

Last night was a night to sleep. November 2008 was a night to stay up and watch the US Presidential election results. Wakening up this morning at 6am was early enough to catch Governor Romney’s short and sweet concession speech (did he even bother to mention the military?) followed a good while later by Obama’s more upbeat acceptance speech.

Unlike four years ago, Obama wasn’t in an outdoor park speaking to tens of thousands of supporters. Instead he made do with a more intimate indoor arena standing in front of (and behind) thousands of screaming flag wavers.

At the US Consulate’s election breakfast in Belfast MET’s Springvale campus, Gerry Lynch spoke to me about the presidential campaign along with the many other races and polls that were decided last night. As the Huffington Post put it, America Now Gayer, More Female And Slightly Stoned referring to the gay marriage and cannabis legalisation polls in a handful of states.

The quirks of the electoral college provide political anoraks with talking points every four years. However the predictability of the result in the majority of the individual states surely damages any claim the US has to a ‘great’ democracy? Though it has some similarities with certain NI constituencies which unsurprisingly elect the same MPs and perhaps four of the six same MLAs without too much bother.

Obama’s continued coalition of traditional Democratic voters together with groups that feel cut off by the Republican Party (not limited to Hispanics, African Americans, LGBT, people of low income, single Moms, young people) will surely force the Republican Party to reassess how it is perceived by potential voters in a bid to widen its base and widen out the mid-term 2014 elections as well as the 2016 campaign away from the nine swing states?

While NI is still a long way from just being a two party system, there are plenty of opportunity for local parties to work on how they are perceived before the next set of elections. Could some of them widen their appeal and form coalitions of voters? Could they build support that would result in an increase in voter turnout, causing two hour queues at polling stations?

It was heartening to see the UUP splitting away from the DUP in yesterday’s Assembly debate on Voting Age and presenting a different case. Less heartening to see the DUP whipping their members to vote No. In the equal marriage debate, the UUP operated a free vote, while DUP members toed the party-given line to again present a block No vote. So there’s the making of some independent thinking in the UUP which may slowly turn around – and perhaps soften – their image … if they can manage to avoid any more incidents on the scale of McNarry/Maginnis/McCallister. [Ed – if this was an 11 plus question, I’d predict McCrea and McGimpsey would be next in line.]

Yet will the UUP, the SDLP or Alliance reach out wholeheartedly to champion working class communities or those in mortgage distress? Or be widely regarded as the defenders of the disabled. Could they step beyond being cheerleaders for job creation to use their departments and international influence to actually create new employment possibilities and grow the pool of jobs in NI? Which party would dare to put the marginalised right at the centre of their policies? The mentally ill? Newcomer/immigrant communities?

Aside from Orange and Green, surely there are many other communities of interest in NI that could reward strong political advocates with votes?

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