DUP left licking wounds after turnout surge leaves it standing

Arlene Foster oversaw the DUP's worst election ever. Picture by Mark Marlow/Pacemaker

At the DUP's conference in late October the chant was "Arlene's on fire" but now the party leader's political career has potentially crashed and burned on the back of a historically bad election.

Had the typical voting patterns of recent years applied, the DUP would have happily taken last Thursday's result, after all its first preference vote tally increased by more than 10 per cent on last May to 225,413. But a surge in turnout meant the extra 20,000-plus votes had little impact on the overall outcome, while vote transfers for other parties played a key role in ensuring DUP candidates missed out for final seats.

The DUP campaign was conducted on simple terms – Mrs Foster continually invoked her own version of 'project fear' by citing the apparent dangers from "Gerry Adams and his radical republican agenda". But it failed to inspire the unionist electorate in the same way her "hungry crocodile" remark mobilised the 'green bloc' of republican-nationalist voters. Concerns about the uncertainty around Brexit, on which the DUP has adopted an uncompromising stance, may also have affected support in a region where the EU and an open border with the Republic have assisted social and economic prosperity.

The drop from 38 seats in the last mandate to 28 seats this time around clearly ranks last Thursday's election as the DUP's worst ever. The party not only lost its chairman Maurice Morrow, chief whip Trevor Clarke and agitator general Nelson McCausland, but also the necessary 30 MLA threshold that enables it to deploy a petition of without the need for non-DUP signatories. If the assembly is returned, this will prove a crucial development that removes the ability to veto progressive legislation.

As the reality of Thursday's result became apparent, the DUP went on the offensive, scapegoating everybody from Mike Nesbitt to the BBC, which it accused of generating false news. What the party has yet to publicly acknowledge, however, is its own shortcomings, its own arrogance and the public's limited appetite for scare tactics over positivity.


Seats: 28

First preference votes: 225,413

Share of vote: 28.1 per cent down 1.1 percentage points

Verdict: Worst election ever

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