Will Unionists back Trimble or go with Paisley?

Past elections reveal supporters have switched allegiance.

THE most important issue in the referendum campaign is whether a majority of Unionists will take the advice of David Trimble to vote "Yes" or follow the counsel of the Rev Ian Paisley and vote "No".

Although Mr Trimble's Ulster Unionists have always been the largest Protestant party, an examination of past elections shows that on certain occasions large numbers of its supporters have switched to Mr Paisley's Democratic Unionists.

The two parties are generally at odds, following the old precept that the battle between rivals can often be more bitter than that between outright opponents. But the figures show that many at grassroots level are floating voters who regularly switch votes between the two.

The key question in Friday's vote is whether they will stick with the Trimble camp or, in the less frequent but established pattern, go with Paisley. There has never been an exact precedent for this referendum, but past performance sheds some light on the question.

Northern Ireland has gone through 22 elections in the last quarter of a century. Mr Paisley's worst performances come in Westminster elections where he averages 15 per cent.

This is because the sitting Unionist MPs are mostly members of the Ulster Unionists. In a number of cases Mr Paisley is politically unable to run against these, since a split Protestant vote could allow a nationalist to take the seat.

The absence of DUP candidates in such seats keeps the Paisley vote unusually low.

A different pattern can be seen in council elections where the proportional representation voting system removes the danger of split Unionist votes. In these contests Mr Paisley takes an average of 20 per cent of the vote, a significant increase on his Westminster showing, though still behind Ulster Unionist levels.

This pattern is, however, dramatically reversed in European elections, which, ever since the 1970s, have represented a recurring personal triumph for Mr Paisley. In these contests he outstrips Mr Trimble's party, zooming ahead to an average vote of 31 per cent and taking a clear majority of Unionist votes.

These polls are regarded as "beauty contests," being the only occasions when all ordinary Protestants can vote for Mr Paisley personally rather than voting for his party.

Although the DUP leader himself lays much stress on these particular contests, most commentators agree that European votes are much less important than elections to Westminster.

The significance of these European polls is that traditional Ulster Unionist party supporters feel free to transfer their allegiance to the DUP leader. His hope is that they will do so in large numbers on Friday, enabling him to claim that a majority of Unionists are against the agreement and have given him a mandate to wreck it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games