Looks like Sinn Fein’s local campaigns to get voters registered could be a significant factor in the March election. According to Douglas Bain, some 40,849 new voters have been added to the register, and it’s mostly in strong nationalist areas:
The rise was 11.2% in West Belfast, 5.2% in West Tyrone and 4.7% in Foyle. By contrast the increase was 2.4% in Upper Bann, 2.5% in East Antrim and 2.6% in East Derry.
The West Belfast rise is particularly interesting, since it pushes registration above the previously reported higher than average figures in unionist wards. Though it has to be said that in driving into this apathetic end of the voter base, there may be diminishing returns for the party.
Except that the next significant figures to be released will be those for postal and proxy votes. Their capacity to ellicit large numbers of proxy votes in particular could be key to taking the fifth seat in this constituency. In theory, if they deposit those with a single (fifth) candidate, there is a possiblity that they could accumulate a significant proportion of that fifth quota even before the polls close.
That puts pressure on Diane Dodds to maximise her turn out. The PUP and UPRG have already stood down in her favour, but that alone will not help them get out their vote in an area which pre 2003 had gotten used to not having Unionist representation. If she does pull it off, then Alex Attwood may need to do more than rely on his strong public profile on policing to stop the long term trend of drift away from his party.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty