Northern Ireland

Naomi Long: Where did her votes come from?

Naomi Long Image copyright Liam McBurney/PA
Image caption Naomi Long's voters were came from nationalist and unionist backgrounds

Naomi Long is well used to winning elections. An MP, MLA, Councillor and now an MEP she has held almost every political office.

But Monday's result took her party's success to a whole new level.

An 18.5% share of the vote exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. So where did the votes come from?

The political editor of the Newsletter newspaper Sam McBride believes some came from "softer" unionists.

"There is a fascinating rainbow coalition of voters behind Naomi Long's success," he said.

"Here you've got people who are liberal unionists who are not represented by what are three pretty conservative unionist parties.

"If you're a unionist and you don't support Brexit, the obvious avenue if you're not going to stay at home is to come out an vote for someone like Naomi Long."

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Media captionThere was EU election joy for Alliance's Naomi Long

But that's only part of the picture. She clearly gained thousands of first preference and transfers from nationalist voters too.

Noel Doran is editor of the Irish News newspaper. He says when Naomi Long won the East Belfast Westminster seat from Peter Robinson in 2010 she proved she could get loyalist votes.

"This time she has proved she can get nationalist votes as well," he said.

"Can she sustain that if the institutions return? I suppose that will be the big question but she has given herself a platform and has emerged as a formidable figure in her own right."

Speaking to voters in east and west Belfast, it was easier to find those who voted for Naomi Long on the Falls Road.

"I put her second," said one Falls Road voter.

"She talks sense, it's as simple as that."

Another voter told me she felt Naomi Long is "grounded and has a clear vision for this place".

Image copyright Liam McBurney/PA
Image caption The Stormont impasse and Mrs Long's popularity are growing her vote share

Some voters in Londonderry were also full of praise.

"She's not orange, she's not green. She wants to do the work on the ground," said one.

Another said: "It's not Catholic or Protestant and it's a wonderful achievement".

One East Belfast voter said he used to be a unionist, but since Brexit he has switched to Alliance.

"I'm a remainer and I'm delighted to see her doing so well," he said.

Naomi Long won support from across the political spectrum. Brexit, the Stormont impasse and her own popularity all playing a part.

But it will take a few more election results like this to prove there is now a settled middle ground in politics in Northern Ireland.

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