Ulster rivals neck and neck halfway into campaign

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The four main parties contesting the Northern Ireland assembly election are neck and neck with just under two weeks to go, a poll published yesterday shows.

The four main parties contesting the Northern Ireland assembly election are neck and neck with just under two weeks to go, a poll published yesterday shows.

The Belfast Telegraph poll confirms that, at the halfway point in the campaign -- election day is 26 November -- it is impossible to predict the outcome of the election or the subsequent prospects for reviving the Belfast powersharing government.

All four principal parties, two Unionist and two nationalist, can argue with a fair degree of credibility that the poll conducted by Millward Brown Ulster is good news for them. It gives David Trimble's Ulster Unionists 26 per cent support, compared with 20 per cent for Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists.

This is a healthy total for the UUP, well ahead of its last Assembly election performance. The DUP, however, can take consolation in the fact that the party regularly fares worse in opinion polls than it does on actual election days.

On the nationalist side, the Social Democratic and Labour party led by Mark Durkan registers 22 per cent. This is a marked improvement from local council elections two years ago, and a cheering result for a party that many have suggested will be decisively overtaken by Sinn Fein. Gerry Adams's party stands at 20 per cent, according to the poll. Like the DUP, however, it will argue that opinion polls traditionally under-estimate its support.

That the election is being held under the proportional representation system, with six candidates elected from each of 18 constituencies, introduces extra uncertainty into the result.

Transfer patterns can aid the Ulster Unionists and SDLP since they tend to attract more support in the later stages of what can be lengthy counts. In many constituencies the sixth seat is regarded as impossible to predict.

Comments