Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Is the DUP’s reign in Northern Ireland coming to an end?

A new poll puts the party – which has finished first in every election since 2003 – in fourth place.

By Stephen Bush

The times, are they a-changing? The weekend was marked by a sensational new LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph. The scores on the doors, with each party’s 2017 election performance in brackets: 

Sinn Féin: 25 per cent (27.9 per cent)
Ulster Unionist Party: 16 per cent (12.9 per cent)
Traditional Unionist Voice: 14 per cent (2.6 per cent)
Democratic Unionist Party: 13 per cent (28.1 per cent)
Alliance: 13 per cent (9.1 per cent)
Social Democratic and Labour Party: 13 per cent (11.9 per cent)

Yes, that is the DUP – which has finished first in every election since 2003, whether to Stormont or Westminster – in fourth place. The party’s problem is that it is losing moderate voters to the UUP, which has been revitalised under Doug Beattie’s leadership, while also losing voters to the TUV on their other flank. The scattering of the unionist vote means that Sinn Féin would, if these figures were repeated at the next Stormont election, hold the post of First Minister for the first time.

It would be a mistake to see the DUP’s problems as solely a result of the Northern Ireland border protocol, though that doesn’t help. But it’s part of a broader set of issues that, taken together, mean that the future for unionism looks in doubt. As a result, unionist voters are looking around for options other than the DUP, which as the predominant unionist party these past 20 years, inevitably will bear much of the responsibility for unionism’s present predicament. 

Now, it may be that in the heat of an election campaign, and with a small helping hand from Stormont’s single transferable vote system, where voters rank every party numerically – rewarding hard-working incumbents and politicians and parties that are “transfer-friendly” (that is, parties that are more likely to pick up third and fourth preferences from across the political and constitutional spectrum) – things look very different. Significantly better for the DUP, significantly worse for the TUV, perhaps. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But equally, as the UUP discovered for itself back in the early 2000s, when a party looks to be in trouble, defections and splits can deprive it of the benefits of having household names and well-recognised incumbents. One way or another, a high-stakes election lies ahead in May 2022. 

[See also: Why Keir Starmer is suddenly focusing on Northern Ireland]

Content from our partners
<strong>What you need to know about private markets </strong>
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action