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Platform: Political leaders must listen to Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man ahead of border poll

Is a border poll on the horizon? Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Bill White

Polling, like any industry, is full of jargon and that includes acronyms. Yuppies, Mappies, ending up with what perhaps we all hope to end up as (or maybe already are) i.e. Woopies - well-off old people.

Not exactly an acronym but Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man came forth in the Irish media around the time of the last Ireland general election - I think it was invented by one of the Dublin journalists. Basically, it was trying to encapsulate that ‘get-up-early’ striving type demographic who doesn’t have time to wait around the house in the morning, and has to grab a breakfast-bap at the Applegreen service station on the motorway on their way to work.

Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man exists in the Northern Ireland as well, right across the unionist and nationalist communities, and they came to the fore in the recent Northern Ireland (NI) European election when Naomi Long (Alliance party) won one of the three seats with a thumping endorsement of 105,000 1st preference votes. That recent election also showed drops in the unionist and nationalist votes, with the unionist vote in particular now down to their lowest vote-share in history at around 43%.

Read More: 50 per cent identify as 'neither unionist or nationalist' in north

What’s happening here of course is that a large number of former unionist and nationalist/republican voters are now voting for Alliance, and other parties. Polling analysis shows these former unionist and nationalist voters predominantly voted Remain in the 2016 UK EU Referendum, are ‘lower middle, to middle class’ (the classic B and C1’s as the pollsters say), and are mostly based in the east of NI.

Many are perhaps employed by companies and organisations who operate on an all-Ireland basis, and are therefore worried about the consequences of Brexit. They are strivers, ambitious for themselves and their families, and they are concerned for their own, and their children’s futures. They still remain unionists and nationalists in their outlook, but they are currently annoyed and angry at not being represented effectively by the mainstream political parties.

Looking at it from the unionist side - up to now the unionist parties have ignored this demographic i.e. mainly the 28 percent -31 percent of regular unionist voters who voted Remain in the UK EU Referendum 2016. Indeed, they have been pretty insulting to them e.g. when addressing a unionist Remainer on ‘live’ TV, one unionist party leader recently said ‘We won the referendum, so suck it up’!

The DUP have maintained a solid pro-Brexit position so can’t really appeal to Unionist Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man. But the Ulster Unionist Party had an excellent chance to attract votes from this demographic group in the recent European election - however, they chose to run an all-things to all-men campaign, with a candidate who voted remain in the EU Referendum, but now supported Brexit, and was against a second EU Referendum, or people's vote.

The trouble with this approach is that you need a highly skilled political operator and orator to sell this type of complicated message to the electorate (or spin it, if you like) – a sort of Tony Blair or Barrack Obama type. But the UUP European election candidate Danny Kennedy certainly wasn’t in that league.

The NI unionist vote is in constant decline, largely because this NI Unionist Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man demographic is being ignored by the unionist parties. As well as increasingly voting for other parties, particularly Alliance, some within this demographic sector are beginning to shift from their former solid unionist position.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP also need to be more aware of Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man in their voter bases as well, as with the unionist and nationalist/republican vote in NI now scoring around 40 percent each in the opinion polls and elections, the Alliance/Other vote (around 20 percent) now holds the balance and is becoming crucial.

With a NI border poll coming, probably within the next 5-10 years, unionism and nationalism needs to appeal to as wide an electorate as possible in order for their side of the argument to have the best chance of winning. In the context of unionism this includes this crucial demographic sector, who mostly come from the nearly one-third of unionists who voted Remain in the EU Referendum. If unionism is to survive and ‘win’ a NI Border Poll then the unionist leaders need to start listening to unionist Applegreen Breakfast-Bap-Man – and they need to start now.

Bill White, is Managing Director of Belfast based LucidTalk Polling and Market Research. You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter at @LucidTalk

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