For us anoraks, there is both frustration and challenge at the thought of the Northern Ireland council elections next month, taking place for 11 new local government districts, on completely redrawn electoral boundaries, with the full details of the last census not yet out in sufficient detail that the enthusiast can calculate changes down to townland or city block level.
However, some of us are trying. In particular, a contributor to Bangordub’s blog identified only as “Faha”, and a contributor to the Vote UK Forum known only as “Irish Observer”, have both made a go of looking at the new districts, electoral area by electoral area, to work out what the elections of 2011 might have looked like on the new boundaries and hence what we might set as a baseline for next month.
I have taken a different approach. For each of the 11 new districts, I have done my best to calculate an overall party vote based on the 2011 votes, and then to guesstimate the likely party strengths in each district, had those votes been cast on the new boundaries. I report also the 2011 census returns on community background, since that is usually the first question people ask about the statistics.
The scores on the doors are that six of the new eleven districts have a clear Unionist majority, and in three of those six the DUP starts within a seat or two of having an outright majority. Four of the eleven have a clear Nationalist majority, and I make Sinn Fein within spitting distance of a majority on their own in two of them, and the largest party in the other two. Belfast is more evenly split: I give Nationalists 27, Unionists 24 and the Alliance Party 9 seats of the new 60-strong council, based on the 2011 votes.
I emphasise that this is not about predicting the results of next month’s elections; this is about establishing a baseline against which the election results can be measured. With that caveat, I would say that the nominal total number of seats on the new councils for each party, which would mark an equivalent performance to 2011, are:
DUP 145 (20 Lisb&Cas, 19 ND&Ards, 19 M&E Ant, 17 Belfast, 17 Ant&Nby, 15 CC&G, 13 ABC, 9 Mid U, 8 D&S, 5 F&O, 3 NM&D)
SF 115 (19 Belfast, 18 F&O, 17 Mid U, 16 D&S, 16 NM&D, 9 ABC, 9 CC&G, 5 Ant&Nby, 3 M&E Ant, 3 Lisb&Cas)
UUP 77 (12 ABC, 9 F&O, 9 Ant&Nby, 8 M&E Ant, 7 ND&Ards, 7 Lisb&Cas, 6 Belfast, 6 CC&G, 6 Mid U, 5 NM&D, 2 D&S)
SDLP 67 (14 NM&D, 13 D&S, 8 Belfast, 6 ABC, 6 Mid U, 6 F&O, 5 CC&G, 4 Lisb&Cas, 3 Ant&Nby, 1 M&E Ant, 1 ND&Ards)
Alliance 34 (9 Belfast, 8 ND&Ards, 6 Lisb&Cas, 6 Ant&Nby, 4 M&E Ant, 1 CC&G)
TUV 3 (2 M&E Ant, 1 CC&G)
Greens 1 (ND&Ards)
PUP 1 (Belfast)
UKIP 1 (NM&D)
Projections for the 11 individual councils below, along with wee maps which are taken directly from the DoE site at http://www.doeni.gov.uk/reform_maps/ and are therefore Crown Copyright, used here I hope with the shield of fair use.
North Down and Ards
(The whole of Ards district, and almost all of North Down district apart from the very small Cedar Grove corner which goes to Belfast – the North Down figures below are adjusted for the removal of Cedar Grove.)
Goes down from 48 seats to 40.
61.8% to Unionist parties; 4.0% to Nationalist parties; 34.2% for the rest.
2011 census: 75.05% P, 13.12% C, 11.83% Oth/None.
Edited to add: small corrections made to Ind and Community Partnership totals.
“Irish Observer” projects 20 DUP, 8 Alliance, 7 UUP, 1 SDLP, 3 Inds, 1 Ind U.
(“Faha” hasn’t got round to this one yet.)
I’d say it’s a stretch for the DUP to get so close to an overall majority on less than 42% of the vote (they won 22 seats out of 48 in 2011), and the Greens somehow always manage to pull something out of the hat, if not quite what they wanted. So my gut feeling is that a reasonable projection of the 2011 votes to the new boundaries would give the DUP at least one less and the Greens a seat in North Down.
My call: 19 DUP, 8 Alliance, 7 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Green, 3 Inds, 1 Ind U.
Mid and East Antrim
(The whole of the current Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne districts.)
The three councils currently have 56 seats, going down to 40.
68.1% to Unionist parties; 11.7% to Nationalist parties; 20.2% for the rest.
2011 census: 72.88% P, 19.34% C, 7.77% Oth/None.
Larne and Carrick in particular have a tradition of voting for independents, so I think the former is nearer the mark. It would have been impressive for the DUP to get half the seats on 42% of the vote (they won 24 out of 56 real seats in 2011).
My call: 19 DUP, 8 UUP, 4 Alliance, 3 SF, 2 TUV, 1 SDLP, 3 Inds (agreeing with Irish Observer).
Lisburn and Castlereagh
(The current Lisburn district, losing about 20% of its voters to Belfast, and the current Castlereagh district, losing about 40% of its voters to Belfast as well.)
The two councils together currently have 53 seats, to be reduced to 40; but the drastic transfer of 20% of Lisburn and 40% of Castlereagh to Belfast actually means, uniquely, a net increase of councillors per voter in the remaining territory (if I have my sums right).
66.1% to Unionist parties; 15.4% to Nationalist parties; 18.5% for the rest.
2011 census: 66.90% P, 23.95% C, 9.15% Oth/None.
“Irish Observer” projects 20 DUP, 8 Alliance, 6 UUP, 3 SF, 3 SDLP.
(“Faha” hasn’t got round to this one yet.)
The SDLP surprised me with their performance in Lagan Valley in the 2011 election. I think Irish Observer is too pessimistic for them and the UUP, and very optimistic for Alliance. But the DUP getting half the seats on 47.4% looks about right.
My call: 20 DUP, 7 UUP, 6 Alliance, 4 SDLP, 3 SF
Antrim and Newtownabbey
(Simply the two current districts amalgamated.)
Goes down to 40 councillors from 44.
60.8% to Unionist parties; 22.1% to Nationalist parties; 17.1% for the rest.
2011 census: 61.10% P, 29.74% C, 9.17% Oth/None.
The latter looks right to me.
My call: 17 DUP, 9 UUP, 6 Alliance, 5 SF, 3 SDLP (same as Faha).
Causeway Coast and Glens
(The whole of the current Ballymoney, Coleraine, Limavady and Moyle districts)
Goes down brutally from 68 councillors to 40.
52.6% to Unionist parties, 32.4% to Nationalist parties, 15.0% for the rest.
2011 census: 54.79% P, 40.21% C, 5.00% Oth/None.
“Faha” is very optimistic that the SDLP could take 17.5% of the seats with 12.1% of the vote. Moyle in particular is a fissiparous electorate, used to voting for independent candidates, and “Irish Observer” looks to me to be closer to the mark in that regard. However, I agree with Faha that the TUV should be projected as defending a retainable seat.
My call: 15 DUP, 9 SF, 6 UUP, 5 SDLP, 1 Alliance, 1 TUV, 1 Ind U , 1 Ind Nat, 1 Ind.
Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon
(The whole of Armagh and Craigavon districts, almost all of Banbridge minus most of Ballyward ward, and the Caledon corner of Dungannon district. The Banbridge figures below are adjusted for the removal of Ballyward.)
Goes down to 41 councillors from 65.
56.3% to Unionist parties; 38.0% to Nationalist parties; 5.7% for the rest.
2011 census: 51.74% P, 42.95% C, 5.31% Oth/None.
I don’t think you can easily get 17 Nationalist seats on 38% of the vote, and I am also struck by how close the UUP and DUP are (this being one of the former’s hidden bastions of comparative strength).
My call: 13 DUP, 12 UUP, 9 SF, 6 SDLP, 1 Ind U
(The whole of the current Belfast district, plus about 20% of Lisburn, 40% of Castlereagh, and the very small Cedar Grove corner of North Down. I have tallied the two parts transferred from Lisburn, Dunmurry and Drumbo, separately since they are dramatically different but – with apologies to my friends form there – have treated the transferred parts of Castlereagh as a block.)
Old Belfast Council has 51 seats; this will increase to 60.
35.7% to Unionist parties, 46.9% to Nationalist parties, 17.4% for the rest.
2011 census: 42.47% P, 48.82% C, 8.71% Oth/None.
“Irish Observer” projects 20 SF, 17 DUP, 9 Alliance, 7 SDLP, 6 UUP, 1 PUP.
(“Faha” hasn’t got round to this one yet.)
It may seem odd to give the DUP 28.3% of the seats on 24.0% of the votes, but I’m with “Irish Observer” here. There’s still a small systemic bias against SF, in that population drift even in the short space of time since the new wards were drawn up has left them with a relatively greater number of votes needed per councillor elected. (Meaning that the Nationalist electorate is increasing, but increasing most in places where they were already strong; while Protestant population drift is taking voters out of what were already low turnout areas; I’m not suggesting any deliberate design effect in the process, which was transparent, democratic and professionally implemented.) So I’m projecting:
My call: 19 SF, 17 DUP, 9 Alliance, 8 SDLP, 6 UUP, 1 PUP
(The whole of the current Cookstown and Magherafelt districts, and almost all of Dungannon apart from the Charlemont triangle, which goes to the new ABC council.)
Goes down from 52 seats to 40.
38.2% to Unionist parties; 56.4% to Nationalist parties; 5.4% for the rest.
2011 census: 33.46% P, 63.77% C, 3.77% Oth/None
Those TUV votes are rather thinly spread but will transfer back to the DUP, so the Unionist parties are on 38% rather than 34% of the vote collectively – which should mean a fifteenth seat somewhere. And that number of votes for independent candidates should deliver two of them.
My call: 17 SF, 9 DUP, 6 SDLP, 6 UUP, 2 Ind Nats
Fermanagh and Omagh
(The whole of the current Fermanagh and Omagh districts)
Reduced from the current 44 councillors to 40.
37.5% to Unionist parties; 53.8% to Nationalist parties; 8.7% for the rest.
2011 census: 33.08% P, 64.23% C, 2.69% Oth/None
Faha sometimes overlooks independents; I’m with Irish Observer on this one.
My call: 18 SF, 9 UUP, 6 SDLP, 5 DUP, 2 Ind Nat (same as Irish Observer).
Derry and Strabane
(The whole of the current Derry and Strabane districts)
Down from 46 councillors to 40.
24.3% to Unionist parties; 67.7% to Nationalist parties; 8.0% to the rest.
2011 census: 25.40% P, 72.16% C, 2.44% Oth/None
I make SF 6% ahead, which surely reduces the chance of the SDLP tying them for seats. And with all those votes for independents floating around, I would have thought there must be a chance of one making it though. (In 2011, two were elected in one of the Strabane DEAs.)
My call: 16 SF, 13 SDLP, 8 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Ind.
Newry, Mourne and Down
(The whole of the current Down district; the whole of the current Newry and Mourne district; and the Ballyward corner of Banbridge.)
|Party||Down||N & M||B’ward||total||%ge|
Goes down from 53 seats to 41.
23.4% to Unionist parties; 67.3% to Nationalist parties; 9.3% to the rest
2011 census: 23.91% P, 72.32% C, 3.77% Oth/None.
I have to say it’s difficult for me to imagine SF failing to convert a 5.5% lead in the overall vote into a margin of at least two council seats, let alone falling behind. Those numbers look to me more like:
My call: 16 SF, 14 SDLP, 5 UUP, 3 DUP, 1 UKIP and 1 Ind Nat.
There is plenty of room for disagreement, and in any case the real verdict on the numbers above will be rendered by the voters on 22 May.
Husband, father of three, Irish, European, UK, Belgian citizen, liberal, political analyst, science fiction fan, psephologist, lapsed medievalist, aspiring polyglot.