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Election briefing: Reading behind the words and a dangerous loud haler, to polling day weather

Andrew Madden


DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during Tuesday night's leaders debate on the BBC (Credit: BBC NI)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during Tuesday night's leaders debate on the BBC (Credit: BBC NI)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during Tuesday night's leaders debate on the BBC (Credit: BBC NI)

Well, after weeks of campaigning, hustings and manifesto launches, we're nearly at the 2022 Assembly election finish line. Tuesday night saw the final televised leaders' debate before we go to the polls and it was a bruising encounter for DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

The debate had a few effective sound bites and compelling arguments, but what was going on behind the words? We checked in with Mark Young, who has been examining our politicians’ body language throughout the campaign.

Between the words

At one point in the debate, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said "every action has a consequence”, a dig at the actions of the DUP around Brexit and collapsing the Executive. At this point Sir Jeffrey Donaldson could be seen covering his mouth with his hand.

Mark said this is a sign “he is trying to pacify himself because he’s experiencing high levels of stress.” Given the opposition the DUP leader faced over the course of the evening, that would make sense.

Looking at Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill, when moderator Jim Fitzpatrick asked her about her party previously bringing down the Assembly, she clasped her hands and her eyes fluttered.

“There’s also a lean away from the interviewer. That suggests that there’s stress and she feels uncomfortable with that question,” Mark said. “When Michelle mentions Jeffrey being with the Tories in Westminster you notice she smiles. That suggests she is getting genuine pleasure out of that statement. We can tell it’s a genuine smile because of the cheek dimple and narrowing of the eyes.”

A dangerous loud hailer

Over in the North Belfast constituency, the UUP have been using a car with stickers on the side and equipped with a loud-hailer to urge voters to back its candidate Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston. As we have already seen on social media, Ms Corr-Johnston is a big music fan and loves a sing-song.

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Posting a video of her election car on Twitter, she revealed the urge to put the loud hailer to another use.

“The worst thing the UUP could have done was place a loud hailer in this one's hands — the temptation to blast ‘Bits and Pieces’ in the Waterworks is real,” she said.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

It's a simple tactic used time and time again to drive a point across and ensure it sticks in someone's mind. Repeat it ad nauseam. This is something not lost on some parties.

In a press release on Wednesday, TUV leader Jim Allister urged voters to back his party to try and prevent there being a Sinn Fein First Minister. In the space of a 264-word statement, Mr Allister used the phrase "Vote TUV 1", or variations of it, no less the four times, while also mentioning Sinn Fein six times.

The DUP, meanwhile, have also issued a statement mentioning Sinn Fein five times and the term “border poll” five times in the space of 315 words.

Rain or shine on polling day?

There has been debate over the years around the weather on polling day and if it affects the voter turnout. During the 2011 Assembly election, the weather on poling day was poor, with rain throughout the day. Turnout dropped by seven percentage points from the previous election, to 55.7%. In 2016, the weather was much better on polling day, but the turnout still dropped to 54.9%. In 2017 the weather on polling day was extremely unsettled, but the voter turnout increased by 10%. So, all in all, the weather probably does not matter one bit.

This Thursday it is set to be mild, however, those going to the polls early in the morning or late in the west may get caught in a few showers. As is always the case with NI weather, though, I would be prepared for anything. Same goes for the election, for that matter.

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