Political generations in Northern Ireland


James Tilley, Jesus College, Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DW, UK. Tel.: +44 (0) 1865 279756 Email: james.tilley@politics.ox.ac.uk


Since the late 1980s, Northern Ireland has seen a radical electoral shift away from the historically dominant parties in the Catholic and Protestant blocs – the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), respectively – towards the traditionally more ‘extreme’ parties – Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This change in aggregate support has been accompanied by increasing differences between generations as older cohorts of UUP and SDLP supporters have been replaced by newer cohorts of DUP and Sinn Fein partisans. This is not a result of increased polarisation in values and attitudes (whether overtly political or simply communal intolerance) among younger cohorts who are, if anything, slightly more moderate than their forbears. Rather, this results from the changing political context in which new generations have been socialised – in particular the expanded choice sets facing voters as they have reached voting age. This in turn has positive implications for the consolidation of devolved democratic governance.