People for Profit support accelerates nationalism's downward trend
ELECTORAL support for nationalist parties is continuing to flag, with votes cast for Sinn Féin and the SDLP falling significantly since 2011.
While overall turnout in Thursday's poll dropped by less than one percentage point compared with the last assembly election, the combined nationalist vote fell by more than five per cent.
With a 36 per cent share, it also looks likely that the nationalist parties will lose at least three seats.
Gerry Carroll's decisive victory in West Belfast for People Before Profit (PBP) took one seat away, while the 'green bloc' was also expected to lose out in South Belfast and Foyle.
The two main unionist parties also saw their share of the vote decline, but a combined slippage of 1.5 per cent was dwarfed by nationalism's dwindling support.
The downward trend has been apparent since the 2010 Westminster election, with the latest figures putting support for both Sinn Féin and the SDLP at its lowest point since the early 1990s.
Sinn Féin saw its share of the vote slip by 2.9 per cent this time, while the SDLP share declined by 2.2 per cent.
A new class of stay-at-home nationalist means that the gap between supporters of a united Ireland and the union has increased significantly.
Commentator Chris Donnelly said the result of Thursday's poll showed the "nationalist malaise is continuing" – and costing seats.
He said the recent downward trend has accelerated with the performance of PBP and other independents in West Belfast and Derry.
"These two constituencies are key because they show that nationalists turned out in higher numbers when they were offered a vehicle to express their political discontent and annoyance with the nationalist political class," he said.
"The fact that in West Belfast thousands surged to a PBP candidate sends a loud and clear message to both Sinn Féin and the SDLP."
Mr Donnelly has previously highlighted how the growing number of nationalists who appear switched off from the electoral process reflects a community more at ease with Northern Ireland.
However, he believes this time around the reasons are two-fold.
"For Sinn Féin, thousands of their voters ditched them in an act aimed at articulating a protest message which the party can not ignore," he said.
"For the SDLP, it is a deeply worrying sign of their irrelevance that nationalists chose a fringe socialist candidate as the vehicle for their protest message as opposed to the party which once held the MP seat in West Belfast."