DUP-are they really the voice of Unionism?

This piece is a bit delayed but rounding off the party analyses of the four major parties I present to you the electoral performance of the DUP over the past 15 years.

Instead of focusing on gains that the party has made over the last number of years I thought I would take a look at the DUP’s constant charge that they are the true voice of Unionism. But before I go into the numbers I will briefly run through their rise since 1998.

In the 1998 assembly election, the DUP won a respectable 146,989 votes (18.1%), securing 20 seats. This put the party just 8 seats behind the UUP and confirmed them as the main ant-agreement force in the assembly.

The party has ever since continued its rise overtaking the UUP in 2003 and gradually in the two subsequent elections increased its number of seats and until 2011 its share of the vote. They have been much more successful than Sinn Fein in taking votes off their main rivals. Since 1998, the party has picked up around 61 per cent (51,447 votes) of the voters who have left the UUP.

But what about the party’s share of the combined Unionist vote? Now this was a bit tricky to figure out as there is some debate as to whether you can include Alliance in the Unionist fold. So doing a bit of research I have managed to track down most of the affiliations of some independent assembly candidates and will give figures including and excluding the Alliance party.

In 1998, the combined Unionist vote (excluding Alliance) was 409,964 votes. The DUP’s total share of this was 35.8%. A strong showing considering they were heavily defeated in the Good Friday Agreement referendum. Moreover, it highlights that the overwhelming majority of those who were against the agreement voted for the DUP.

Note-If you include the Alliance party (52,636 votes) in those figures the DUP’s share of the Unionist vote falls to 31.7%.

Fast forward to 2011, the party has nearly doubled its share of the Unionist vote. Although I must point out that it is a much smaller pie than it was in 1998. At the last election, the combined Unionist vote was 317,693 votes (excluding Alliance). The DUP’s share of this total vote was a staggering 62.4%.

Note-If you include Alliance (50,875) their share of the vote goes down to 53.8%. A great deal lower but still a solid majority of the Unionist vote.

The future

The DUP has had a charmed existence for the past 15 years. It has survived scandals, intrigue and the departure of its founder Ian Paisley.

What the party has always had going in its favour was its strong organisation and discipline. However, looking to the future, Peter Robinson is currently in the last few years of his career and there is no clear successor to him. The party will likely face a divisive leadership ballot as various factions within the party jockey for position.

At present there is no major threat to them. The UUP are still looking inward, the TUV are still a one man band and UKIP/PUP are too weak organisationally. All of this could change in the years ahead.

At the moment the DUP are the voice of Unionism, whether it stays that way for much longer is another matter.

 

 

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs