Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Can NI21 keep the momentum going?

NI21 leader Basil McCrea at the NI21 conference
NI21 leader Basil McCrea at the NI21 conference

NI21 had a successful conference last Saturday. Plenty of new faces, enthusiasm, and a good turnout from the crucial 18 to 24 age group. They now have a momentum, but can they keep it going?

New parties, new movements, new ideas, and indeed new businesses always have an early attraction for people.

Indeed, it should be noted that 90% of business failures occur within three years of the business formation. NI21 are new, fresh, and thus have the early attraction factor, but the trick will be to keep this interest going over the long-term.

One of the key groups that NI21 is trying to attract and enthuse is the current non-voter in elections. This non-voter group is growing, not just in NI, but throughout the UK and Ireland.

Of course every political party would say they’re trying to attract non-voters, but the bigger more established parties always prioritise their own regular support base – those who vote at every election without fail, and have voted for one particular party for several elections.

This is sound electoral strategy. Research shows that voters tend to remain voters, and most non-voters continue to not vote – It’s a habit forming thing.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been masters at building-up sizable loyal voter support bases over the years. Even Alliance now has a solid established voter base, particularly in the Belfast area.

NI21 doesn’t have the luxury of an established voter base, and there are only two areas they can get their votes from – current voters for other political parties, and current non-voters. The first is difficult to do, so their main target has to be the non-voters.  

There is no simple answer as to who these non-voters are. They come from various demographic groups e.g. social, economic, age-group etc.

However, we can say that there are three demographic groups that appear more in the non-voter camp than others: 18-24 year-olds, females, and lower socio-economic groups, particularly within unionist working-class areas.

From their conference turnout on Saturday, NI21 certainly seemed to be doing well with young people and females.

However, you can’t win or do well in elections without the organisation, and commitment on the ground.

There is one key factor about electoral politics – Never mind policies, or personalities, a voter is more likely to vote for a candidate if they’ve met that candidate personally.

Caroline Lucas, the lone UK Green Party MP, is a prime example of this. It’s estimated that in her non-stop election campaign she personally met over 25,000 potential voters in her Brighton Pavilion constituency. So put simply, if you want to get elected then personally meet as many people as possible in your target area. 

This ability to network in their target constituencies, building up that crucial established voter base, will be the telling factor as to whether NI21 succeed or fail.

Bill White is Managing Director of Belfast based Polling and Market Research company LucidTalk - Polling Partners to the Belfast Telegraph.