As voters across Northern Ireland went to the polls on 5 May 2016, it was by no means obvious that they were participating in a landmark election. The preceding campaign was largely lacklustre, voters were left uninspired, and competition for votes was primarily conducted along predictable ethno-national lines. The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin retained their positions as the dominant unionist and nationalist parties respectively, while the Ulster Unionist Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party struggled to retain their existing support, let alone expand it. The cross-community Alliance Party remained stagnant in fifth place. However, these ostensive signs of continuity with previous elections mask deeper signs of substantive change. The establishment of Northern Ireland’s first official opposition within current structures and the publication of a draft Programme for Government framework within a month of the election are indicative of a new era in consociational power sharing. Meanwhile, the growth in support for smaller parties, a further fall in voter turnout and an audible debate around social issues suggest at least a partial decline in the salience of the ethno-national dimension in the electoral arena.
- Northern Ireland Assembly
- political parties