DUP: Is the only way up for the party?

This year, the Democratic Unionist Party will celebrate its 45th anniversary. It was only 13 years ago that it eclipsed the UUP to become the dominant unionist party in the fledgling Northern Ireland Assembly, and 10 years since the party committed to power-sharing with Sinn Fein. In that decade it has seen two further election victories, two leadership changes, the death of its founder, and the occasional controversy. Now, as the May election for the Northern Ireland Assembly draws near, the DUP and its new leader, Arlene Foster, are confident they will return another good performance. Looking at their track record in Assembly elections, it’s not hard to see why.

2003 Assembly Election: Ulster Says Yes to Paisley

The 2003 election results drew a lot of attention when it became clear that the traditionally dominant parties, the UUP and the SDLP, had both been bumped down to second place. David Trimble’s UUP had begun to decline over internal disagreements stemming from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The DUP had remained united in their opposition to that agreement, primarily due to the involvement of Sinn Fein, and they remained opposed as they contested this election. The party instead called for a new arrangement which would have the support of unionists as well as nationalists. The results indicated that a large part of the unionist community agreed with this stance, with the DUP receiving over 25,000 more votes than the UUP, a 7% increase on their 1998 share of the vote.

DUP 2003The map makes it clear that even with this surge in popularity, the DUP’s support remained regional, and was largely based on personalities. The three highest results were won in Ian Paisley’s North Antrim (45.9%), Iris Robinson’s Strangford (47.9%) and Peter Robinson’s East Belfast (39.2%). In all three of these constituencies, those candidates’ personal votes make up a substantial part of those figures. Unsurprisingly, the DUP’s lowest results were in areas of strong nationalist support. The party’s success continued on to 2004 when UUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson defected to them, and again in the 2005 Westminster election when they added five seats to their representation in the House of Commons.

2007 Assembly Election: Power Sharing and Vote Winning

The DUP’s role in the 2006 St. Andrew’s Agreement and Ian Paisley’s commitment to power sharing with Sinn Fein in the newly-reconvened Assembly meant further success for the party when Northern Irish voters went to the polls again the following year. This time the DUP received over 103,000 more votes than the UUP, and 27,000 more than Sinn Fein in second place. The map below shows the stark difference between these results and those of 2003.

DUP 2007The DUP’s support bases in North Antrim and Strangford had spread into the rest of the north-east, with Lagan Valley seeing a huge 28% increase in the party’s vote (helped by Jeffrey Donaldson’s defection). The party’s support even increased in traditionally strong nationalist constituencies, though this was mostly due to the collapse in the UUP’s support in these areas. It was clear by now that the DUP had triumphed over the UUP when it came to commanding support from the unionist community. Fermanagh and South Tyrone is an interesting example. The DUP’s vote there rose by 7%, not only because the UUP’s support had fallen but because it wasn’t just Donaldson who had defected – this is the constituency of another UUP-turned-DUP member, Arlene Foster.

2011 Assembly Election: Footholds Old and New

The next four years saw the power-sharing executive running without any major controversy, and the DUP could reasonably expect to be returned as the largest party once more in the next Assembly elections in 2011 – although Peter Robinson’s surprise loss of his Westminster seat to the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long the year before did cause an upset. The party’s expectations were vindicated, and their vote share increased in all but three constituencies. These results saw the beginning of a change in the DUP’s support throughout Northern Ireland.

DUP 2011The vote share in Fermanagh and South Tyrone dropped by a mere 1% and increased by 5% in West Tyrone, giving the DUP a substantial foothold in the western constituencies, which by this time had also become strong support bases for Sinn Fein. This expansion of support for the party was also seen in its own traditional bases. Ian Paisley’s retirement put no large dent in the party’s vote in North Antrim, with Ian Paisley Jr. maintaining his father’s support there. Likewise, Jeffrey Donaldson’s resignation from the Assembly in 2010 had no negative impact on the DUP’s vote there, which actually increased to 53%, the best result for the party in a single constituency. All four of its Lagan Valley candidates were elected. Peter Robinson’s promotion to First Minister in between elections led to an increase in his share in Belfast East, and the party’s vote in North Down increased by over 10% for the second election in a row.

The 2016 Assembly Election: New Leader, New Patterns?

In the 2015 UK general election, the DUP and the UUP agreed to an election pact. The DUP did not stand candidates in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and in Newry and Armagh, while the UUP did not stand in Belfast North and Belfast East. This pact allowed the UUP to pick up two new seats, including in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. At the time, Arlene Foster said that the pact was designed to maximise unionist co-operation. The results were quite good for the party, with vote shares of over 40% in six separate constituencies.

Arlene Foster now leads the DUP as it prepares for the 2016 Assembly election. Her promotion, and Peter Robinson’s retirement from Stormont, may see a further shift in the party’s areas of support. There is a good chance that the DUP vote in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone will increase, based not just on Foster’s personal support there, but the presence of a strong unionist base cultivated by the two unionist parties working together. The party’s recent stance against the allegations of continued IRA activity will likely enhance support for the party in its already strong areas in the north and east. As well as gaining more support in the west the DUP may also hope that its East Londonderry candidates might see its support there break 40% like it did in the general election. Indeed, the only areas in which the party should not expect any great increase in support is in the Sinn Fein and SDLP strongholds of Foyle, Newry and Armagh and South Down, although considering the same could have been said of Fermanagh and Tyrone not long ago, further surprises may yet be down the line.

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  • bogball88

    “The party’s recent stance against the allegations of continued IRA activity will likely enhance support for the party in its already strong areas in the north and east”
    Really!?!?!?!?!

  • Robin Keogh

    Further surprises might well indeed be down the line if the TUV and UUP continue their slow but steady growth.

  • Robin Keogh

    Ya I thought that didnt sound quite right myself.

  • mjh

    Great maps – but the conclusion is nonsense.

    The article presents the DUP’s history as one of ongoing progress, and on the assumption that any trend is destined to continue into the future invites us to predict “enhanced support” in the next elections.

    Anyone reading this would not know that the DUP vote actually peaked 10 years ago with the combination of the Euro elections of 2004 (32.0%) followed in 2005 by Westminster (33.7%), LG (29.6%), and Assembly 30.1%

    At the 2010 Westminster elections it dropped 5.1% points (only 1.9 or 2 of which can be attributed to it not contesting FST).

    It held Assembly share in 2011 (30.0%) This overshadowed the drop in LG results to 27.2%

    Its dramatic drop in Euro 09 to 18.2% was put down to “special circumstances” – the defection of Jim Allister.

    2014 saw a further drop in LG to 23.1%, and it only managed 20.9% in the Euros.

    Last year’s Westminster election brought a further fall. The article mentions the party’s big increase in Londonderry East – but does not say that in the 12 other seats which were not subject to a pact with the UUP the DUP lost ground in 10 of them (by an average of 3.8% of the total vote), its two increases being Belfast West (share up 0.2%) and Foyle (share up 0.6%).

    Of course none of this means that the party cannot turn things round before May. But if Irishpolitical Maps is anticipating further DUP gains based on his or her assumption that the party is riding a rising tide they may well experience “further surprises down the line”.

  • tmitch57

    I think it is just a poorly-worded sentence–it probably means criticism of continued alleged IRA activities.

  • banana man

    The increase in their vote in East Derry was because the TUV didnt run in the Westminster elections last year. Expect to see their vote hit very hard here this year with so much choice for unionist voters, UKIP, Dup Uup, Pup, TUV, Alliance and an independent

  • mjh

    Good point, banana man

  • barnshee

    SF and DUP will continue to expand at the expense of the fringe players

  • Granni Trixie

    Surely it’s relevant to know who has written this piece?

  • Gaygael

    In Lagan Valley the DUP currently hold 4 seats. In 8 other constituencies they hold 3 (NA,SA,EA,ED,NB,EB,STR,ND). I am not sure that they will hold all at the level. In fact, the last time out, some of them were very lucky.
    South Down is a risk. Henry Reilly was snapping at their heels, and now he is in TUV that must be a key target. They fell below, the UUP in WM15.
    FST currently has 2 but with Arlene the new leader and Morrow appointed as Minister, they seem to be shoring up that against a potential UUP gain. Also the UUP have Elliot off to Westminster and with Sommerville (the co-optee) now being replaced, its hard to see the UUP squeeze one from them.
    N&A, Upper Bann, South Belfast, Foyle, Mid-Ulster, West Tyrone should remain the same, and its unlikely that they can pick up a seat in West Belfast.
    A bad day would see Lagan Valley drop to 2 or 3, and all those 3 seaters become 2 and South Down fall. Losing up to 11. More likely, it could be the mid-point of that.
    Watch out for SA/EA/ED/NB/SD/LV/ as key risks. NB may have been in the mix until PUP made a strategic mess.

  • Ryan A

    Expect some interesting dynamics in Lagan Valley this time. There has been much rumored discontent around the influence of ‘Paisley-ites’ in the local association as well as ‘I haven’t gone away you know’ Jenny Palmer on the ticket. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the UUP take 2 easily despite a relatively weak Westminster result (against Jeffery none the less); those two likely being Palmer and Butler.

  • Colin Lamont

    My conclusions especially regarding West of the Bann would actually be the opposite. The DUP have never been as strong there, even relative to the UUP, compared to the more eastern constituencies. And they have taken some hits here which seem to be progressing with every election. For example, if I recall correctly they were out polled in Mid Ulster,the Mccrea dynasty stronghold, by the UUP for the first time ever. They would have been strongly out polled in Newry and Armagh if they had stood and of course they didn’t contest the historically Ulster Unionist Fermanagh south Tyrone seat. Even in West Tyrone where they once had two MLA’s Hussey was basically at level pegging with them.
    The party’s vote has also been in medium term decline in Upper Bann and South Down where I expect the UUP to be ahead of them in 2016.

  • Gaygael

    I don’t know about easily. They are running 3 which suggests they are aiming for 2 with a third as a sweeper. I don’t know much about the candidates beyond Palmer and was surprised to see Alexander Redpath absent from the ticket.
    The DUP are as expected running their 4 incumbents.
    How much of a personal vote does Basil have? Alliance should be safe on a quota or above. Will the nat/rep and green transfer be enough for him if he is ahead of them? Its hairy bear time.
    The DUP will be throwing each other under a bus to stay in. Expect Poots and his lackey, Givan to be safe, with Hale and Craig in danger. Their ill discipline and Poots ego did not cost them in 2011. Might it this time?
    All to play for. I’m calling (early) 2 dup, 1 all, 2 uup with the last seat between Basil and DUP.

  • Gaygael

    Much to agree with there. UUP ahead in a number of places. I expect the UUP to pull ahead in South Antrim too.
    UKIP in east antrim may should snatch a seat.

  • mjh

    Certainly agree that the DUP have far more seats at risk of loss than they have prospects of gains.

    Everyone’s list will be slightly different. I would say – purely based on those seats which were marginal wins last time, and taking account of their performances in elections since, that there would be 10 seats in the risk column and 2 which could produce gains.

    At highest risk I would put North Belfast and Mid Ulster. Medium risk East Belfast, East Antrim, East Londonderry, Fermanagh S Tyrone, Lagan Valley and South Antrim. Lower risk: North and South Down.

    I agree with you that recent events would probably move FST to low risk or better. Also the UUP have probably reduced the DUP risk in Lagan Valley and North Down by announcing 3 candidates in each constituency.

    The seats where gains are possible are South and West Belfast.

  • Gaygael

    Mid Ulster? As high risk? That’s interesting. Can you say more please? As you say, all our ‘risk’ lists will be different.
    They do certainly have a chance in South Belfast. Or did. I think Ruth will tear vicious lumps out of them, particularly Pengelley. We still don’t know who her running mate will be. My money is on Stalford, but Bell still could be parachuted in.
    In West there is always the chance of a unionist gain. I still think it unlikely.

  • Colin Lamont

    Definitely could fathom a seat for Jordan in East Antrim. South Antrim I also see a UUP gain but don’t think the vote total will overtake the DUP. They get a very large tactical vote at Westminster

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont agree, SF are at risk of losing a seat in WB while the DUP are under serious pressure from every angle by a cocktail of Unionist Parties

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Big risk parachutting Bell into South Belfast ! From what I am hearing in the streets there will not be the quoto for 2 elected DUP in the constituency unless the DUP fully support a Unionist Voting Transfer Campaign and their second running horse can knock out the other Unionist horses to the vote transfers. Its going to take balls to run 2 existing ministers in these circumstances ?

  • mjh

    Gaygael,
    Thank you for being so kind as not to state the obvious. My Mid Ulster point was an absolute howler. It would take nearly a 9% swing for the UUP to take the DUP seat – making it one of the safest they have.

    That might teach me to double check my notes before typing. I hope.

  • Gaygael

    Then I’m wondering what the Westminster campaign was about. Bell is Strangford, alongside Hamilton and McIlveen. Two other ministers. They could lose one here. Some difficult decisions for the DUP ahead.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    The Westminster campaign was the right strategy for the DUP to maximise their vote in South Belfast, (for 2 seats in Assembly 2016) but along came Peter’s girlfriend blow-in – Ruthie throws a wobblier – and the whole thing is pear shape. But like I said lets see if the DUP has the balls to run both Pengally and Bell together in this constituency ! Big Call !

  • Colin Lamont

    Sinn Fein also at risk in East Antrim I think. They have a fair shot at a gain in Upper Bann which offsets this I suppose.

  • Jag

    Since the last elections in May 2015, the DUP have lain down with SF in government despite two police reports saying the IRA army council still exists (albeit peacefully) and that SF is controlled by the army council. The DUP graduated response of Hokey-Cokey ministers resigning on a weekly basis didn’t do any harm whatsoever to SF but made the DUP look like total eejits. Peter Robinson strongly denies any dirty money was coming his way, his family or party’s way after the NAMA scandal. Do people believe him when they know as fact that his “friend” Frank Cushnahan was in line for a £5m payment, and £7m did in fact end up in an Isle of Man account under the control of Ian Coulter. I think many people are convinced there’s something rotten there. The “Fresh Start” will involve swingeing job cuts and budget cuts (surprised the latest cuts at the PSNI haven’t gotten more publicity). Meanwhile the UUP is rampant again, and Jimbo continues to effectively snipe from the sidelines. Recipe for another bout of fragmentation amongst the unionists.

    The First and deputy First Minister both receive £120k a year, and technically, they’re both co-first ministers, but it looks to me that in May the fragmentation pressures on the DUP are far greater than say, PBP’s foray in west Belfast against SF.

    Behold First Minister Martin McGuinness – suck on that Arlene!

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Jason@historyjk or @CorkLifeCentre

  • Gaygael

    So. If you are calling SF as the largest party and implying they may lose one to PBP, where else are SF gains?
    Losing 1 would put them at 28. That requires the DUP to lose 10 or more. Where are those 10 plus losses?

  • Brendan Heading

    I doubt anyone is predicting seat gains for either party. SF would be doing well to come out with the same number of seats – 29, or maybe 30.

    The Unionist end of things is harder to call. The UUP certainly have renewed confidence and credibility, but I don’t think they have the DUP’s campaigning chops. Two Westminster seats was a major coup, but one was won through a pact (which has contributed to the ongoing weakness of the party in Belfast) and South Antrim was decided in the end by a 3% swing in their favour, a matter of 1000 votes. They’re going to need a hell of a lot more than that to pull assembly seats through.

    I also don’t think the small Unionist parties will amount to much. They just don’t have the spread of personalities, or the experience at campaigning, that the DUP have. Allister will easily hold North Antrim – he’ll probably top the poll – and they might cause the DUP discomfort in East Antrim especially with Sammy Wilson not being on the ticket. UKIP are a mess, McNarry is a right-wing version of Basil McCrea. The PUP were never going to amount to a serious electoral force in an assembly seat anyway, and they’ve just blown their leg off by pushing out Julie-Ann Corr-Johnson (and, most likely, a few of the local activists).

    So I think it will be a real shock if they fall below 33-34 seats.

  • Ryan A

    2 with the 3rd a sweeper is correct – It is rather a tradition that the Dromore area is ‘swept’ with a token local name. I would expect Alliance and Poots in on the first, Palmer somewhere over 10% and the rest of the DUP/UUP between 7 & 10%. Basil likely below the SDLP. SDLP transfers may play a role in determining which unionists are returned as I think they won’t be strong enough to be in contention at the end themselves as they were last time. In any case I think the DUP will lose one for sure and I agree its likely to be Hale or Craig.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I am waiting on Martin O’Millionaire to declare that his vote will carry another SF MLA in South Belfast ! just like he declared last year that he would win South Belfast Westminster !

  • eac1968

    McGuinness has said that if SF are the largest party after the election he will insist that OFMDFM is renamed as the Office of the Joint First Ministers.

    I am no fan of either SF or Martin McGuinness, but even I recognise that such a change would remove a huge psychological stumbling block for the DUP and Arlene Foster in terms of them serving ‘under’ a SF First Minister.

    Is it as generous an offer as I’m reading it to be, or is there something subtle behind it that I’m missing?

  • Jollyraj

    Or indeed if the SDLP get it together to represent the massive moderate, forward-looking Nationalist sector.

  • Robin Keogh

    Wouldnt that be great

  • the keep

    It doesn’t really matter if the UUP out pole the DUP in Mid ulster as there are only two seats that unionists can win and the UUP cant win the second seat.

    The same applies to Newry and South Armagh and FST for the conceivable future will have two DUP mlas`s and one UUP mla. As for West Tyrone there are only two unionist MLA`S and there is no chance of the UUP taking the second one.

    The party’s vote has also been in medium term decline in Upper Bann and South Down where I expect the UUP to be ahead of them in 2016.

    Sorry in relation to South Down how can the UUP move ahead of the DUP Surely John McCal. will take a lot of votes off the UUP?
    As for Upper Bann you may will be right as for your other points I cannot see where the Dup is going to lose any seats to the UUP?

  • the keep

    Really with good old Adrian Cochrane Watson and his running mates not so sure of that.

  • the keep

    Don’t overestimate Palmer she has a long record of switching parties…..
    I would predict the Dup will get 3 and Basil might surprise people with his vote.

  • Ryan A

    Not sure where I read it but Luke Poots also mentioned as being in the frame for South Belfast. In any case I see it being Stalford & Pengelly with Stalford getting shafted and being handed the working class areas where Patterson and Stoker (if he runs for UKIP) are likely to clean up. The party will do its best to ensure she survives the election but I think too much hay will be made over her SPAD payment, McGimpsey will be the benefactor of the situation and float ahead of Pengelly and Stalford will scrape in ahead of Pengelly.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Disagree Ryan at the Westminster Election 2015 DUP 8,654
    UUP 3,549 UKIP 1,900 Pengelly as the lead DUP will sail home. Agree UUP McGimpsey will make it.
    1 DUP 1 UUP 1 SF 1 SDLP 1 Alliance and that last MLA seat is anyones call ? If you are keen on a bet watch out for the Greens ?

  • Ryan A

    The DUP/SDLP vote is always inflated at Westminster. Bell lost 1.5% of the vote on what should have been an easier fight with SF competing this time and putting Alasdair at risk, thus giving unionists an incentive to vote. I think there will be plenty of mud thrown at Pengelly and the vote the DUP are trying to court with her in South Belfast has already left the building for Alliance about 10 years ago. Ditto for Mairtin as was discovered in May. Equally I think the likes of the lower Ravenhill, Sandyrow/Donegall Road, Belvior and Taughmonagh will not be impressed by the amount of money she has taken from the public’s coffers in the space of a year when these areas are considered deprived. I can see a lot of unionists staying at home this year in South Belfast with what (I think anyway) is the poorest slate of candidates to date. Pengelly may be higher profile than Stalford but not for the right reasons – I doubt we’ll see £5 monopoly notes stuck on lamposts as per East Belfast 2010 but I think she has a lot to do to endear herself to the electorate.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “the vote the DUP are trying to court with her in South Belfast has already left the building for Alliance about 10 years ago” It was never a DUP vote in the first place and not a DUP target – Their aim is to maintain that 8654 fpv.
    “I think she has a lot to do to endear herself to the electorate” She is the new ‘pin-up’ darling to statutory community groups within them districts you mention in your post. You only have to look at her social media profile and other media forms to see what community groups she is working with and targetting support from in South Belfast.
    The DUP is a well oiled election machine and you can see the strategy and gameplan they have for this constituency by their current “on the ground actions” They are building up a Power Base for Pengelly to be a dominate player in this constituency for the foreseeable future.

  • Ryan A

    Well IMHO they are building about two years too late. Six months is not enough to build a base, least not when you have Patterson trying to pull it out already. The only thing she is a ‘Pin-up’ for is the shambolic SPADs, SPAD Pay offs and co-options. I have no doubt the DUP have a plan to ensure she succeeds. No doubt she will get just about every favourable DUP area within the constituency. I just think too many others have contempt for this plan.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    At the end of the day others can have has much contempt for any strategic plan that the DUP has mustered up in South Belfast however they are not going to defeat that Core Vote that the DUP has in this constituency ! Pengally Certainty !

  • Ryan A

    I’m genuinely amiss for what you think the electorate will see in Pengelly? All she has generated is negative press on her appointment – Please do tell me as a South Belfast constituent what makes her a ‘certainty’ over the other DUP candidate (if indeed it is Stalford)?

  • Ryan A

    Sorry to add further context – I can see interesting battles as well for the SDLP and Alliance where each have only one certain seat. The SDLP is easily called – Hanna should be in the clear on higher visibility within South Belfast and good hauls at council level – Alliance is a bit trickier to call with Morrow and Bradshaw. One would be inclined to think Bradshaw is more certain of a seat again on visibility. What makes you think Pengelly is so certain to take a seat? Obviously hypothetical but will she have the same recognition and gravitas in the constituency and grassroots against someone like Stalford who can boast delivery as councillor for ten years?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    No Problem about the further context Ryan, I have enjoyed the discussion. Agree about other interesting battles in South Belfast. To me this is the most interesting electoral constituency in NI as it has so much political diversity within its boundary’s, some might say this is the type of society that NI should be aspiring to reach. In answer to your question about Pengelly, Even though I do not aspire to the political ideology of Peter Robinson I have always respected his smart election strategy’s of creating political power bases for a politician. Only the Shinners would come near to him in seeing the bigger picture 4-8 years down the line ! A DUP Voter is a pretty Robotic person. They vote 1 – 2 – 3 etc in the order that the party advertises them to vote. Pengelly shall be Number 1 on the DUP Ticket and thus the reason why she shall sail home. Stalford may have done great constituency work as a Belfast Councillor over the last 10 years but the best he will get from the DUP is being pushed as number 1 to vote for in the likes of Belvior, Milltown, Finaghy, Taughmonagh districts of his Balmoral Council Constituency.