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David McCann – Dull and uninspiring campaign but change is afoot

The DUP is potentially facing the lowest vote share ever for the leading unionist party. Picture by Hugh Russell

POLLING day is on the horizon and we are nearly at the end of a very uninspiring and small target campaign.

There'll be some trepidation among the leaders of the SDLP, DUP and UUP as May 5 approaches, whereas Naomi Long and Michelle O’Neill will have a spring in their steps for the final days of the campaign.

For Sinn Féin, this poll will fuel the idea that they are odds-on to make history and become the largest party at Stormont for the first time.

A campaign that has been one of the most nuanced and low key from the party looks to be paying dividends, as they are within shouting distance of their record 2017 result and retain a comfortable lead that would put them on track to win more seats than the DUP.

Read More: Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool/The Irish News poll results

Even though the poll does indicate some slip away in support which will likely cost some seat losses, the overall picture looks positive for the party.

On the other side of the aisle, Jeffrey Donaldson has little to smile about. The rating of just 18.2 per cent would see the party score the worst vote share for a leading unionist party and the biggest swing away since 1998.

The DUP is potentially facing the lowest vote share ever for the leading unionist party. Picture by Hugh Russell

If these figures are borne out on election day, big names such as Diane Dodds, Peter Weir and Gordon Lyons would be under serious threat of losing their seats. The party would suffer horrendous losses that would likely see the party return with at best 20 seats.

The most striking part of the poll is Alliance. The surge is well and truly on with an 18.2 per cent rating. Just to put this in context, the party’s previous best performance at an assembly election was little over 9 per cent.

In this survey, they are on course to achieve the biggest increase in their vote of any party in the Good Friday Agreement era.

A more than nine-point increase in their vote share would see gains across Northern Ireland, with seats like North Belfast, Upper Bann and South Down easily falling into their column. Some of the stretch seats like West Tyrone and North Antrim would be on their radar with this vote share too.

Running neck and neck with the DUP, who finished the last election 20 seats ahead of Alliance, was something even the party’s most fervent supporters couldn’t have dreamed of, but according to this poll it is a possibility.

Two parties that will be disappointed with this poll are both the one-time dominant parties, the SDLP and UUP.

The UUP is treading water with a 12.1 per cent rating which indicates it has not moved since the disappointment of 2017.

More meaningful for Doug Beattie, it would be a struggle to see where the party would gain a single seat and indeed could lose a marginal seat such as East Antrim to the Alliance Party.

Many of the new fresh faces that have been put forward would likely lose out and fail to make serious inroads in their respective constituencies which could cause tensions about the direction of the UUP in the months ahead.

Then there's the SDLP. Good talent and everybody on message, yet still hanging back in fifth place.

Many in its ranks are scratching their heads about why they are not polling stronger, and this poll will give them no comfort.

As the change vote coalesces behind Alliance in this poll, the SDLP is struggling. The party would expect losses in Upper Bann and South Down on this rating but remain hopeful that candidate strength can make the difference in places like Strangford and West Belfast.

Parties need to remember the adage that elections are won in months, not weeks.

Going into polling day I am scratching my head as to what the outcome will be and the high undecided rate of 17 per cent in this poll is a big reason why.

A dull and uninspiring campaign has not produced a clear sense of momentum for any party as we go into the final days.

Polls are a snapshot in time, but elections are what make history. Election day isn’t about polls or pundits, but the voter.

Here’s hoping the public make their voices heard in big numbers.

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