Suzanne Breen captures a central dilemma of the nationalist fight for votes between the SDLP and Sinn Fein:
“Endorsement of the PSNI has lost Sinn Féin dozens of election foot-soldiers: the people who worked all hours bringing out the party vote. It will also shed hardline support but this could be balanced by new first-time voters and some traditional SDLP supporters now at ease with a more law-abiding Sinn Féin. Gerry Adams huge personal appeal is Sinn Féin’s greatest asset.”[emphasis added]
Elsewhere she notes:
It’s become increasingly bitter between Sinn Féin and the SDLP, especially since the ‘greening’ of Mark Durkan’s party. On issues such as MI5, the SDLP sounds more republican. Durkan’s media performances have improved and people trust him to provide constructive leadership and good government. The SDLP team were more capable negotiators with the British than Sinn Féin but that’s lost on the electorate and the party is still charisma-lite.
It will be a few years at least – and certainly post-Adams – before it can realistically talk of catching Sinn Féin. While its vote should hold and party spirits are high, it has fewer chances of new seats than Sinn Féin.