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Turnout at Northern Ireland Assembly polls could slide to new low

By Noel McAdam

Published 29/04/2016

Fears that next week's Assembly election could see the lowest turnout ever - with perhaps only half of the electorate voting - are increasing as the campaign enters its final stages. Stock image
Fears that next week's Assembly election could see the lowest turnout ever - with perhaps only half of the electorate voting - are increasing as the campaign enters its final stages. Stock image

Fears that next week's Assembly election could see the lowest turnout ever - with perhaps only half of the electorate voting - are increasing as the campaign enters its final stages.

But as they prepare for a final push ahead of polling day on Thursday, parties claimed there is "heightened interest" in the election on the doorsteps.

They admit, however, to being flummoxed over whether that will translate into people coming out to cast their votes in the election. The polling organisation Lucid Talk is predicting turnout could be as low as 53% - significantly under the 56% of the last Assembly battle in 2011.

Lucid Talk chief Bill White said a significant percentage of his opinion panel - people who are "politically engaged" - have said they are not voting.

"If a number of our panel, which includes 1,800 people, are so disillusioned that they say they're not voting, then the probability is this indicates a high degree of apathy and low turnout overall," he commented.

"Whether it drops below 50% is debatable, but it could be 53-55%, which is still very low. The indications are that this election could be heading towards a low turnout."

One party source, who did not want to be identified, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I've never encountered a campaign in which so many people have been saying on the doors they're not voting."

Another official, who also wished to remain anonymous, added: "I suspect there's no party that can accurately predict turnout. It's generally higher at General Elections, not least because of the extra national coverage."

DUP South Belfast candidate Christopher Stalford said: "We urge people to ensure they are registered to vote, to use their vote and to maximise the power of that vote through transfers."

Ulster Unionist North Belfast candidate, Rev Lesley Carroll, said: "People deserve better. If they want better, they need to come out and vote for it."

Alliance East Antrim candidate Stewart Dickson said: "A major part of the reason for perceived voter apathy is the lack of delivery from those charged with leading the Executive."

Sinn Fein and the SDLP did not respond to a request for comment.

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