How Nationalist turn out is turning Northern Ireland greener…

Nice piece from Ben Lowry in the Newsletter looking at the sectarian demography of Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast in which he notes nationalist voter behaviour in seats previously seen as being unionist.

Remember when South Down and Newry and Armagh were actually held by unionists?

But now a mixture of demographic change — a gradually increasing Catholic vote — and an increase in Catholic confidence has made those seats so safe for nationalists that it is hard to remember they were anything else.

Yes, there are other explanations for this change, such as marginal boundary changes. But the main reason has been a much higher nationalist turnout.

Look at how the nationalist vote in South Down soared between 1983, when the SDLP began to come close to winning, to 1992, five years after they first won.

• 1983 24,219 nationalist votes
• 1986 by-election (when they nearly won) 26,057
• 1987 (when the SDLP first won) 28,942
• 1992 (first poll after SDLP had won) 33,336

There was no boundary change over this period — it was all due to nationalists coming out in much larger numbers when they saw they could win.

This poses problems for seats such as South Belfast. The arithmetics there favours unionists: 16,387 to 13,221 in 2005.

But even there it is not clear-cut, because the Catholic middle class keeps growing, and some nationalists who did not vote in the past — wrongly thinking it a hopeless cause — will do so now that Alasdair McDonnell has shown it can be won.

Soon unionists will face a problem for North Belfast, which has moved greener too — 2005 headcount 16,089 unionists against 13,697.

All of these kind of presumes future growth patterns similar to those of the recent past… As we have seen, calls to the sectarian base (ie don’t let Sinn Fein top the European poll) have failed spectacularly for the DUP in recent times… Yet there is no reason to presume against a consolidation of this nature in South Belfast…