We are now in the final days of what appears to be the longest election campaign in living memory.
While campaigning normally begins with the dissolution of the assembly, preparations for this election began as early as February when Paul Givan resigned as First Minister.
It’s enough to tire even the most dedicated political nerd. Elections are exciting times for journalists — the political maneuvering, the debates of leaders, the forecast polls, the election counts, watching where the remittances go, the ups and downs of the ruthless world of politics.
But not everyone feels that way, and many people despair at the negative discourse that often revolves around election time.
How many people read manifestos?
Who goes through pages and pages of promises and commitments before deciding how to vote?
Instead of politics, Northern Ireland has historically been dominated by the politics of fear.
Instead of focusing on what politicians can and will do, too much emphasis has been placed on fear of the other side.
It focused on convincing people that if they don’t vote, the galloping hordes will be at their door to steal their flag, identity and way of life.
Just 10 seconds after Jim Allister’s party election broadcast for TÜV, he mentions Sinn Fein.
The TÜV boss is an experienced operator, he knows his people, he knows what they want and what they react well to. He also knows which buttons to press.
The DUP spent over a decade collecting votes for the Ulster Unionist Party, creating the largest party.
They did this by getting tougher and that was the theme of this DUP campaign.
Some would argue that the anti-protocol rallies were a necessary pressure valve to allow loyalist anger to be vented in a peaceful manner.
They were also mostly negative.
The speeches largely ignored the very real problems faced by the working class communities that host the parades, instead focusing on the dangers of protocol and the perceived threat to the Union.
This is hardly a message that will instill positivity in working-class communities who feel they have seen little of a peace dividend.
And so, in this election, I am interested to see what the outcome of the very different campaign being waged by the UUP with its Union of People message.
A good slogan is essential to getting voters to vote on election day. Think of Barack Obama and his “Yes We Can”, Margaret Thatcher’s “Labour isn’t working” in the 1979 Westminster elections or New Labour’s “Things can only get better”.
The Union of People is sending out a positive but liberal message. The anti-protocol protesters stole it and adapted it to the Union of Unionists — that may or may not work on Thursday’s troop rally.
This election is interesting because union voters have never had such a diverse choice of candidates.
To stem the decline, the UUP has tried to emulate the DUP in the past. In terms of politics, it was difficult to tell the difference between the two.
A socially progressive union party is electorally untried, but do these voters exist or have they switched to the Alliance long ago and are happy to remain so?
Doug Beattie’s no-nonsense, non-Polish style seems to be resonating with people, but will that translate into votes?
The DUP should fare much better than polls suggest. An election with only one transferrable vote is all about transfer and staying in the race long enough to get elected. While the TUV will massively increase its first preferences, if the polls are correct they are not transfer friendly and with over 70 percent saying they would give the DUP their second preference should it help narrow the nature of the losses that were predicted earlier this year.
The SDLP had an amazing Westminster election, but much of it was a Brexit protest vote at a time when people still thought there was potential to reverse that. And so they have a fight ahead of them in places like Lagan Valley and Upper Bann. High-level members verbally attacking Sinn Fein both online and offline when they depend on transfers may not be the smartest tactic.
We will know whether the tactic works when the ballot papers tumble out of the bins to be counted.
This is a completely new strategy for Sinn Fein. Instead of attacking opponents, they have opted for a positive campaign, using social media to show the personal side of their all-female top team.
Whoever runs Michelle O’Neill’s social media is playing a dud.
Sinn Fein has fallen into the trap of negativity in the past. However, the 2022 campaign has been optimistic and positive, which will no doubt help with transfers from middle ground parties essential for those risky fifth seats.
The public reacts to politicians showing their more personal side. Hopefully candidates should pay attention to this in these final days of prospecting.
https://www.independent.ie/news/ni-election-day-to-show-if-positive-approach-can-be-a-vote-winner-41606771.html NI Election Day to show if a positive approach can be a vote win