It is evident from the European election results that the main blocks in Northern Irish politics (unionist, nationalist, other) are marking time. In terms of the first preference votes received none of the three blocks moved by more than 0.4%: unionism increased from 48.6% in 2004 to 49% in 2009; nationalism decreased from 42.3% to 42.2%, and the 'others' decreased from 9.1% to 8.8%.
It is also interesting to look beyond the first preferences, to see where the votes (which are transferrable, after all) eventually end up. In other words, when a voter's first preference is either elected or eliminated, where does the vote go to? This allows a slightly nuanced view of voters preferences – allowing us for example, to see that some voters gave a 'principled' first preference to, say, the Green Party, and then reverted to their 'real' preference.
Once all of the votes reached their final resting place, the outcome was as follows:
Unionist: 253,412 votes – 52.3% of the total
Nationalist: 223,612 votes – 46.1% of the total
Non-transferrable: 7,548 votes – 1.6% of the total
This analysis tends to show a slightly smaller gap between unionism and nationalism than that shown by the first preferences. Only 29,800 votes separated the two blocks at the end, a gap of around 6.1% of the votes cast.
For comparison, in 2004 the situation was quite similar. The final unionist vote was 284,378 (51,8%), and the final nationalist vote was 253,072 (46,1%). The difference, therefore, was 31,306 (5,7% of the votes cast).
So the appearances of stagnation at first-preference level appear to hold at final preference level too. Unionism had a good election, but only marginally so, and thanks to the low turnout it should not read too much into it.