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East Belfast: DUP leader Peter will join Robinson on campaign, vows candidate

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DUP Leader Peter Robinson announces Gavin Robinson as the East Belfast candidate in the Westminster election in May at the Park Avenue Hotel, Belfast

DUP Leader Peter Robinson announces Gavin Robinson as the East Belfast candidate in the Westminster election in May at the Park Avenue Hotel, Belfast

DUP Leader Peter Robinson announces Gavin Robinson as the East Belfast candidate in the Westminster election in May at the Park Avenue Hotel, Belfast

Gavin Robinson has pledged his party leader will join him on the campaign trail - despite some DUP voters saying Peter Robinson is a turn-off.

He confirmed he would be hitting the streets with the First Minister for the most closely fought election battle in decades.

A Belfast Telegraph poll has shown the former Belfast Lord Mayor is the slight favourite to take back the seat won by Alliance in 2010.

The survey also revealed that one in three DUP voters in East Belfast are more likely to back the party this time because they won't be voting for Peter Robinson.

But as he launched his campaign yesterday, Gavin Robinson confirmed his party leader would be joining him on the doorsteps.

"Peter is First Minister and party leader and he will be leading our campaigns across Northern Ireland. He will be canvassing with me," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Decades of unionist dominance in East Belfast ended when Peter Robinson was ousted by Naomi Long in 2010.

Since then the DUP has made regaining the seat its top priority.

Our poll, published yesterday, indicated that Mr Robinson is six points ahead when undecided voters are excluded.

Even when 'don't knows' are factored in, the gap is still more than 3% in the DUP's favour.

As our week-long analysis of East Belfast ends today, both the DUP and Alliance were claiming victory. Ms Long (below) said: "The poll shows Alliance increasing our vote by around 9% since last May's elections, while the DUP vote is only up about 1%, so the gap is closing."

However, Gavin Robinson said it showed he had a solid foundation ahead of a 13-week battle for the hearts and minds of voters.

"As a starting point for someone who hasn't even launched his campaign and hasn't really got into it yet, I think it is a good place to be," he added.

"This is only the start so from my perspective there is no complacency with the poll - the poll is what it is, a snapshot in time.

"Over the next 13 weeks it is our job to widen the gap, to build a consensus in East Belfast."

Peter Robinson also welcomed the poll findings.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "Either way (including or excluding don't knows) it puts us ahead.

"I think it understates our position, but that is perhaps normal in terms of the kind of polling done at this stage. The closer you get to the election, the more it seems to be a two-horse race.

"The more Gavin is seen to be the only potential winner for unionism, I think the stronger his position will become."

Mr Robinson dismissed the suggestion that some DUP voters are put off by him.

"I have had an election, I have stood in East Belfast... and I came out top of the poll after 2010," he added.

Earlier, the First Minister hailed Gavin Robinson as coming from a new generation of politicians who can drive Northern Ireland forward.

Our poll, conducted in association with LucidTalk, showed Ms Long was still being criticised over the flags dispute. The controversy dates back to before Christmas 2012 when Alliance voted for the Union flag to be flown only on designated days at Belfast City Hall.

Ms Long added: "It is hard to tell the impact the flags dispute will have on Alliance's vote, though it is clearly diminishing over time.

"It's been clear since the beginning it was the intention of those who whipped up fear and hysteria around the flag to undermine the strong support Alliance has in East Belfast for electoral purposes. Many of those caught up in the dispute now see that for the cynical manoeuvre it was."

Gavin Robinson said flags were not the main issue in this year's election.

Key findings of the Belfast Telegraph poll

  • The DUP is on course to regain East Belfast. Its candidate Gavin Robinson leads Naomi Long by 21.2% to 17.7%.
  • When undecided and non-voters are excluded, Mr Robinson leads Ms Long by 34.4% to 28.7%.
  • Peter Robinson would be less likely to win the seat if he was standing, with almost 30% of DUP voters saying they would be less likely to vote for the party in those circumstances.
  • Just 10.3% of DUP voters said they'd be more likely to vote for the party with Peter Robinson on the ballot paper while 50% said it didn't matter.
  • Some DUP voters said there was "too much baggage" surrounding Peter Robinson.
  • The Alliance vote is strongest in middle-class parts of East Belfast, and has proportionally higher backing from women.
  • People across East Belfast are deeply disillusioned about the peace process, with many believing nationalists have done better.
  • Under 6% said they felt unionists had got the best deal, with the discontent most stark in working-class loyalist areas.

Belfast Telegraph