A new analysis has revealed a large east-west divide in turnout in Northern Ireland.
s the countdown to the General Election in Northern Ireland on June 5 Sunday independent show a difference of more than 20 percent in some constituencies when it comes to the number of people who come to the polling booth on election day.
In the last five general elections, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency has had the highest average turnout of 69 per cent. For the same election, the lowest average turnout – 48 per cent – is in the North Down constituency.
The three constituencies with the highest average turnout at the last general election – Fermanagh and South Tyrone (69 per cent), Mid Ulster (68 per cent) and West Tyrone (67 per cent) – are all in the west, while the three constituencies with the lowest average turnout – North Down (48 pieces), Strangford (53 pieces) and East Antrim (53 pieces) – are all in the East.
Of the four constituencies in Belfast, West Belfast had the highest average turnout at the last general election, at 62 per cent.
However, it is not only the parliamentary elections that show the East-West divide.
Figures for all elections in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years show that voters in the west consistently turn out in larger numbers on election day than people in the eastern constituencies.
The only vote not to follow this pattern was the 2016 Brexit referendum, when the North Down, Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituencies both had the highest turnout of 67 per cent.
At the last local elections in 2019, the lowest turnout was in the Bangor Central district of North Down, at 41 per cent, while the highest turnout was in the Erne East district, near Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. A clear difference between the voting behavior in East and West is the supported parties.
In the three western constituencies with the highest turnout, Sinn Féin holds three of the five available seats in Parliament in each of the constituencies.
The other six seats in the constituencies are held by the DUP (3), the SDLP (2) and the UUP (1).
The three eastern constituencies with the lowest average turnout are all heavily unionized. Of the 15 assembly seats in the three areas, the DUP holds seven, while the others are held by the UUP (4), the Alliance Party (3), and the Green Party (1).
There are also significant economic differences between many eastern and western constituencies.
The western region is home to some of the most economically depressed areas – while the eastern region, particularly those areas with consistently low turnout, has some of the wealthiest postcodes in Northern Ireland.
So is it that nationalist parties, particularly Sinn Féin, are simply better at getting their supporters out on election day?
Or is there an argument that people from poorer areas are more motivated to vote than many who live in more affluent areas?
According to statistics, why are people in Enniskillen more likely to vote in an election than people in Bangor?
Iain Gray, a journalist based in Bangor County Down viewers Newspaper for 15 years, believes lifestyle was a factor in low turnout in local constituency.
“The thing about North Down is that it’s very bourgeois, almost notorious throughout Northern Ireland,” he said.
“There are some very large working-class settlements, some of which are quite deprived, and maybe around 20 to 25 percent of the local population live in those areas.
“Among the rest of the North Down population there would be many middle managers and many civil servants.
“A lot of these people will be turned off by politics once the Northern Ireland election falls orange to green.
“North Down is overwhelmingly made up of people from a Protestant background who would normally be unionists. By that I mean they think the union is a good thing, but they’re not necessarily into all the trappings that come with it.
“They are not people who go to eleventh night bonfires or march as often as possible.
“When it comes to the Orange vs. Green debate, you’ll find that both DUP and Sinn Féin are sending the message to their voters that ‘you’re losing because of the other side, so come and vote for us and us’ . I’ll make sure you don’t lose out.”
“But most people in the North Down think, ‘I’ve got a decent job, a nice house, my kids are in a good school and things are pretty good.’
“So those kinds of messages just drive them away from politics — especially when the staff is reduced to orange and green.
“As a result, for a good part of this century, the people of the North Down have been recovering from electoral politics in Northern Ireland.”
Róisín Henderson, news editor of the Enniskillen-based Fermanagh Herald newspaper, believes that geography plays an important role in the consistently high turnout in her constituency.
“Fermanagh and South Tyrone is the westernmost constituency in Britain and it certainly feels like it,” she said.
“When it comes to investing in services and infrastructure, you feel like you’re ‘West of the Ban’.
“It’s a very rural constituency, with no real urban center, and geographically it’s huge compared to its population. This only reinforces the feeling of underinvestment.
“Fermanagh, for example, has more roads than any other northern county – but it doesn’t have a single stretch of dual carriageway. What it has are hundreds of miles of potholed B and C roads serving a large segment of the population and very little public transportation to speak of.
“Overall I think people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone are generally more concerned with issues and very protective of the services they have.”
Henderson said there was a “strong feeling” in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone region that “every single vote counts”.
“The constituency is famous for its hard-fought elections, whether in the union/nationalist struggles in the general election, where the Westminster seat was won by literally a handful of votes in recent times, or in the recent general election, where the ‘ third’ nationalist seat has slipped back and forth between Sinn Féin and the SDLP by around 60 votes.
“While the tribalism of some sections of the local electorate cannot be denied, with some candidates some still fighting on a ‘keep them out’ platform – even in this election – I think it’s much more nuanced is.
“In fact, I think it would be unfair to see the high level of voter engagement here as simply being driven by green versus orange.
“Most voters tend to choose candidates from their own communities. But I believe that in these sections of the electorate, they are just as interested in what their candidates will do to address the issues affecting their lives as they are in how they would vote in a frontier poll.
“Overall, I believe the people of Fermanagh South Tyrone are an informed, savvy electorate, more aware of the power of their voice than those in other areas. I think people here just feel like they have to fight for more.”
But despite the lowest average turnout in 20 years, things are changing in North Down. The 2016 Brexit vote saw a high turnout and around 57 per cent of people in the constituency voted to remain in the European Union.
Iain Gray said many people were motivated to vote because of their opposition to plans for a “hard Brexit”.
The rise in turnout in North Down has continued in elections held since 2016, with an average turnout of 60 per cent in the last election.
This has led to a sharp increase in the constituency of the Alliance Party, whose candidate Stephen Farry won the Westminster seat for North Down in 2019.
“People came out in strong support of the Alliance at the last election – that was a message to the DUP that their messages on Brexit are driving voters out in the North Down,” said Gray, describing the recent surge in turnout among North voters Down Believes will resume May 5th.
Brexit has also been a major issue within the Fermanagh and South Tyrone electorate in recent years.
“Fermanagh and South Tyrone have the longest boundary of any constituency in the north,” Henderson said. “In the past, this has added to feelings of isolation, as numerous closed roads separated border communities and communities for decades during riots.
“More recently, this has meant that locals have become more concerned with issues like Brexit and constitutional issues – certainly more so than those living further from the border.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/northern-irish-voter-turnout-in-the-west-is-20pc-greater-than-turnout-in-the-east-why-41581868.html Northern Ireland turnout in the west is 20 per cent higher than in the east: why?