Queen's Policy Engagement

Much more than meh: The 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections

The Northern Ireland Assembly election of May 2022 was transformational, despite small shifts in the magnitudes of seats won by the two dominant blocs. John Garry, Brendan O’Leary and James Pow discuss the results.

Much more than meh: The 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections

On 5 May Sinn Féin won first place in the NI Assembly elections – both in first-preference votes (29%), and in seats won (27 of the 90 MLA positions in play, i.e., 30%). As reported across the world, that is the first time any Irish nationalist party has headed the polls in region-wide elections in Northern Ireland, earning Sinn Féin the right to nominate the First Minister. In 1922, the Northern Ireland Parliament had voted to secede from the Irish Free State under Article 12 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Northern Ireland’s 100th birthday has therefore coincided with the reversal of its founding rationale. A novel political entity, forged to secure an Ulster unionist and Protestant demographic and electoral majority, no longer has either.

The Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP) came second in first-preference votes (21.3%), a significant loss compared with what it had won in 2017 (28.1%). But the DUP lost just three seats compared to 2017, winning 25 seats (25/90 = 27.8%). This disproportional outcome occurred because its candidates benefitted from lower-order vote-transfers from those who had backed the über-hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), which had campaigned with “No Sea Border” beside its name on the ballot paper, and won 7.6% of the first-preference vote. The TUV won just one seat (1/90=1.1%), returning its party leader, because its candidates received very few transfers from those who had voted for other unionist parties’ candidates.

The Alliance Party came third in first-preference votes (13.5%), but won 17 seats (17/90 = 18.8%). The party more than doubled its seat-share compared to 2017. It disproportionally benefitted from lower-order transfers from other parties. Its success was partly at the expense of the Green Party, which lost the two MLAs it had won in 2017. Alliance is formally neutral on the question of whether Northern Ireland should remain in the United Kingdom or reunify with the rest of Ireland.

The headline-grabbing achievements of Sinn Féin and Alliance should not obscure the DUP’s robust performance in seats-won. Despite the battering the party took to its standing and prestige before the election it stopped the bleeding – at least for now.

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Article originally appeared on the LSE British Politics and Policy website.


About the Authors

John Garry is Professor of Political Behaviour at Queen’s University Belfast and leads the The Democracy Unit at Queen’s University Belfast.

Brendan O’Leary is Lauder Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Honorary Professor of Political Science, Queen’s University Belfast, and Fulbright Fellow to Galway University 2021-22.

James Pow is Lecturer in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast.


The featured image has been used courtesy of a Creative Commons license. 

Professor John Garry
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John Garry is Professor of Political Behaviour in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast.

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