Today LucidTalk published their East Belfast poll in the Belfast Telegraph. The poll found that the DUP holds a 6% lead over the Alliance party in the constituency making them the favorites as we go into the final three months of the election campaign.
When you exclude undecideds the result is DUP-34.4% to Alliance- 28.7%.
When you include don’t know/Non voters you get this;
Don’t know- 38.3%
Naomi has acknowledged herself that she is the underdog going into this contest and this poll confirms it. Since the local elections the DUP have become more relaxed about East Belfast and their prospects for taking back the seat. One hindrance is the fact that the party leader still polls badly in the constituency despite the protestations about the 2011 Assembly election result. The fact that Gavin is linked (wrongly) to the First Minister is something that he will constantly have to battle over the next 90 days.
All of this is manageable, simply giving Peter Robinson a low profile and ensuring that Gavin stays on his message of ending “five frustratingly long years” in East Belfast he can pick up some of the dis-satisfaction that Alliance have garnered since 2012. Gavin has many talents in his own right and he needs some issues that give him some narrative and definition away from his party leader.
For Naomi, she can take comfort that Alliance is polling a good bit ahead of its local election result in 2014. She also polls well amongst women, who are more likely to vote come election day. This gives her a solid base, but can she bridge the gap? The DUP have other wells to take support from, aside from the UUP and the Greens, I don’t see where she makes up ground. (Maybe I am wrong on this)
Naomi has to make this campaign about her issues and she has to constantly press home her work in these areas. Last month I felt the DUP had stolen some of her thunder over animal cruelty with their slick launch and the favourable press it received.
Another thing this poll clearly shows is that she has to attempt make Peter and Gavin effectively seem like the same person. The slogans “East Belfast doesn’t need another Robinson” and “Robinson wants to take East Belfast back, I want to take it forward” need to be bolted onto everything that comes out of her office from now until polling day.
It’s an up hill battle for Alliance, Gavin is no push over and the poll shows around 40% of people surveyed are either planning not to vote or still have not made up their minds.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs