#AE16 West Tyrone: Could Nationalist squabbling and the ‘Arlene factor’ open a second for the DUP?

Candidates: [Sinn Fein] Barry McElduff, Grace McDermott, Declan McAleer, Michaela Boyle; [DUP] Tom Buchanan, Allan Bresland [UUP] Ross Hussey; [SDLP] Daniel McCrossan; [Alliance] Stephen Donnelly; [Greens] Ciaran McClean; [NI Conservatives] Roger Lomas; [CISTA NI] Barry Brown; [Independents] Josephine Deehan, Corey French, Patsy Kelly, Sorcha McAnespy.

This is a hodge-podge constituency which in 1995 brought together two major towns, Strabane and Omagh, with separate and distinct hinterlands. The former is much closer geographically and in spirit to Donegal and Derry, whilst the latter was once the prosperous county town of Tyrone.

According to Nicholas Whyte West Tyrone has the least number of those who self-designate as having no religion:

Catholics (4th of the 18 constituencies), 30.16% were or had been brought up as Protestants (15th), 0.40% were of non-Christian religious background (the least), and 1.47% had no religion (the least).

Zero sum politics rules here.  Even if there are some fascinating micro battles on both sides, probably only the final seat is realistically up for grabs

The last Westminster election suggests a drop in the SF vote (4.9%) and the DUP (-2.3%) alongside slightly more modest rises for the UUP and the SDLP. However, the changes are nowhere near enough to dent confidence in SF who should easily hang onto the three seats they have.

Given that drop and the SDLP’s sensible decision to run just one candidate, their four candidate strategy – set at the beginning of the Westminster campaign – seems highly unlikely to bear fruit: not least since their own former councillor Sorcha McAnespy is running against them.

The SDLP’s overall council performance from 2014 (as extrapolated by Whyte) was just under a quota. However, two anti-McCrossan independents running in both Omagh and Strabane for the maximum burn on his first preferences means he’ll likely come home much further down the field.

A secondary question arises from this fragmentation in the margins of the nationalist vote: might it condition the outcome of the race within Unionism by motivating voters and opening a trapdoor sixth place for a second DUP MLA?

The UUP  polled 14% in 2014, and so, without a running mate, Ross Hussey should be good for a return to Stormont. The only serious question mark is whether any putative Arlene Factor (she’s next door in FST) might change the micro climate enough to get a second DUP man home.

All of their council candidates got a share of just 19% in 2014, ie well short of a second quota.  Thomas Buchanan is the sitting MLA and Sion Mills based Allan Bresland is the DUP man who lost his seat to Hussey in 2011.

Prediction: SF 3; DUP 1; UUP 1; SDLP 1. I’m plumping for ‘as you were’. The DUP need a better-balanced ticket than they managed last time, plus a Arlene Factor which may not actually materialise. As for the nationalist side, if McCrossan has independent troubles, so does Sinn Fein, giving them more limited scope for taking an SDLP seat than last time.

Previously: North Down. Next, East Antrim.

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  • Ernekid

    I’m not sure where the idea that Arlene Foster is an electoral asset comes from. If you compare her to other female UK party leaders like Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson or Leanne Wood she’s not that great. She’s not exactly a brilliant orator, she’s proved that she’s just as capable of the standard DUP muck savagery as her male colleagues and she often has the demeanour of a bulldog chewing a wasp. She might be slightly different from Robbo but I somewhat doubt that she’ll attract significant swing voters to the DUP.

  • Cavehill

    But Ernekid, the commentator types of Northern Ireland Twitter say she’s an asset (likely because the DUP have briefed them that this is the case) so it must be true!

  • mickfealty

    ….er, “which may not materialise.” The effect is very simple in concept. It’s the difference between leader A and leader B. A new leader being a foreign concept to some of us, I know.

    And it’s likely to be marginal at best. See the prediction at the bottom if you’re in any way confused?

  • Granni Trixie

    Agree she’s as good as others in DUP – except I suspect she has more to give especially should (unlikely) DUP do particularly well to give her confidence to test out ideas.
    The idea of projecting a personality as a Party’s identity is not rocket science – think Mrs T – or I trust it is not immodest to say – Naomi whose whole party gets a bounce from her performance….why canvassing in 3 different constituencies recently I had people still commenting that they’d like to vote for her.
    Surely another reason for appropriating “Arlene” for the whole DUP election campaign is to get away from associations with the Robinsons?. Plus doesn’t she represent the union of the DUP and UUP?
    You cant blame a party for using tried and tested formulae?

  • Lionel Hutz

    In terms of the quality of candidate, is there a weaker constituency in the north. I don’t know if that makes things a little more fluid or not….but it seems to me that it’s hard to see how any of these candidate’s could attract a personal vote. Barry McElduff is likeable which is something but all the candidates bar maybe Hussey are weak links in their parties parliamentary teams. The other sinn fein candidates…..invisible. the DUP invisible. And i live in this constituency. Daniel McCrossan is potentially a good MLA. Too early to say but he also can’t attract a personal vote at this stage in his career.

    So, not that I disagree with the prediction….but is there a greater potential for an upset when you don’t have that personal draw….?

    Just a question for people much better at reading these things than I am.

  • FULL LIST OF WEST TYRONE CANDIDATES:
    Michaela Boyle (Sinn Fein)
    Declan McAleer (Sinn Fein)
    Barry McElduff (Sinn Fein)
    Grace McDermott (Sinn Fein)
    Tom Buchanan (DUP)
    Allan Bresland (DUP)
    Ross Hussey (UUP)
    Daniel McCrossan (SDLP)
    Stephen Donnelly (Alliance)
    Ciaran McClean (Green Party)
    Barry Brown (CISTA)
    Roger Lomas (NI Conservatives)
    Laura McAnea (Animal Welfare Party) NEW
    Sorcha McAnespy (Independent)
    Josephine Deehan (Independent)
    Patsy Kelly (Independent)
    Corey French (Independent)
    Susan-Anne White (Independent) NEW
    http://ulsterherald.com/2016/04/12/record-number-of-candidates-in-west-tyrone/

  • mjh

    A DUP gain from nationalist would require around a 5% swing from nationalist to unionist. I think we can safely say that is not going to happen.

    NB: Corrected earlier incorrect calculation.

  • UUP got the 6th seat.

  • mjh

    Exactly. The DUP runner-up would need to overtake the SDLP in the final count (who were placed fourth last time) as would the fifth placed DUP and the 6th placed UUP .

  • mickfealty

    Thanks for filling the gaps Barry. And good luck!! 🙂

  • I thought joe got elected 5th (i may be wrong) and the second dup was chasing uup for the 6th seat (yet again its from memory i may be wrong)

  • mjh

    Just looked it up, Barry.
    Quota was 5615. On final stage Byrne SDLP was elected under quota with 5320 (4th), then came Buchanan DUP with 5162 (5th), followed by Hussey UUP on 4397 (6th). Bresland DUP was runner up with 4123.

  • dog walker

    Don’t underestimate the support Sorcha Mc Anespy will have, she’s very popular with the female voter and well known to young people in the area with being actively involved in the Street Safe project in Omagh . She was never a good fit for Sinn Fein and leaving the party will have really broadened her appeal.

  • Roger

    What does CISTA stand for?

  • John Cleary

    I dont think she will amount to much. She has been in council for past few years and unless its her photo in the paper shes not interested. She has an uphill struggle especially with the calibre of an indepedent candidate in Jo Deehan who topped the poll in the Omagh town ward in the last council election

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think…….cannabis is safer than alcohol

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Hussey started only 13 votes ahead of Bresland, and finished with a lead of 274. It’s not a lot!

  • Vada

    Ross has made great inroads here, and will poll very well. No doubt he will be thanked by the people for the hard work

  • mjh

    Agreed. And if the tide were flowing to the DUP and if the UUP had picked a new candidate that would certainly be one to watch.

    However the UUP appear to have built up a solid quota (from only 0.7 in 2011, to equivalent 1.0 in 2014 and 1.1 in 2015). Plus they are sensibly running only one candidate – who happens to be an incumbent. That’s about as safe as you can get in my book.

    Meanwhile the tide has been ebbing for the DUP – from 1.4 quotas in 2011, to 1.3 in 2014 and 1.2 last year.

  • WindowLean

    I agree with Ernekid. I just don’t get the media narrative that Arlene is an asset (I’ve even heard a BBC reporter refer to her as a “moderate”). Frankly it’s codswallop. I well remember in 1998 some media commentators predicting that the UUP and SDLP would form the centre ground in NI politics.

  • Msiegnaro

    I’m not quite sure Naomi is as popular as you think she is with voters, I have found her to be more of a candyfloss candidate, easy to digest at the time but afterwards one is looking for something more substantial.

  • Granni Trixie

    If its one thing I am sure of its that Naomi is the very opposite of what you describe. I find her to be logical, consistent and imaginative in dealing with challenging questions. APNI puts her forward as a speaker often for this very reason.
    In my experience she is one of the most positively talked about people on the political scene. A definite asset. .

  • Msiegnaro

    NL has a habit of playing on people’s emotions while projecting herself in a “holier than thou” manner although this could be said of all APNI.
    APNI don’t listen to people of differing opinions, if it doesn’t fit their narrative they don’t want to know.

  • Nicholas, will you be doing your own predictions?

  • Nicholas Whyte

    They’re on my site, for each constituency! But I’m being cautious. I think I can identify safe seats and less safe seats with some confidence; I am much more hesitant about identifying who might gain the unsafe seats!

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Yes, I tend to agree with that. If the UUP can hold that seat more securely than last time, it’s an important contribution to the narrative of recovery. If they lose it, last year’s gains will look more like a blip in a downward trend. On the most recent results, the former seems more likely.

  • Msiegnaro

    What is your site?

  • Gopher

    For me the story is SF and nothing else it is one of a couple of seats they are not on the defensive. If they do not make a gain here with a lame duck SDLP split to the four winds no amount of gloss can be put on the display. With 4 nationalist quotas no matter what way they vote Unionists will remain on 2 seats. SF transfer discipline was poor last time out and the SDLP are further from ever from tapping into the unionist 1/3 quote surplus so it will be tight but doable. I understand why Eastwood is doing what he is doing, in the absence of policy and the appearance of the junior partner in a SF coalition his only line of attack is projecting nicer and younger faces on electoral placards

  • Gingray
  • Sam Maguire

    While there won’t be a surprise of Kieran Deeney proportions, this has the potential to be quite interesting. I’d be inclined to agree with Mick that it’ll be as you were albeit with a change of personnel in the SF contingent. The Free state has a lot to answer for with the plethora of independent candidates but none will have the impact of a single issue candidate like Deeney.

    The unionist side is pretty straightforward. Ross Hussey is an established candidate this time round with a good track record, he polled a respectable increase at Westminster and despite the DUP attempting the to balance the constituency with Omagh and Strabane district candidates I’d expect him to get elected and to do it early. Indeed, if SF get their vote management right I’d anticipate him topping the poll. Buchanan will pick up the DUP seat simply based on the Omagh/Strabane split.

    Nationalist side will be much more interesting. There’s absolutely a SDLP quota in WT and, regardless of SF chest beating for the last year, the likelihood of them getting 4 seats is extremely low unless their vote management is perfect (and they got it wrong in 2011 and again in the council elections in Omagh 2014) and they get all 4 candidates close to the quota on the first count and hope for the best.
    However, this has ‘2007 mark II’ written all over it and Colm Eastwood will have to take some responsibility if the SDLP snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in WT again. I’m sure part of the SF 4 seat strategy was predicated on the SDLP factions not being able to get along and so it has proved. I’d expect Deehan and Kelly will take close to a third of McCrossan’s Westminster vote and the question is will enough of it return to get him over the line. Given the hatred that exists I’d be surprised. However, I’d expect transfers from the other independents to go mainly to Daniel and that will probably save his bacon this time.

    The effects of McAnespy standing will be interesting on SF. There is a growing element of ‘non Sinn Fein’ republicans in Tyrone and if she’d attempted to tap into that base rather than stating she left for personality rather than policy reasons she could have thrown a large spanner in the works. And, you never know, she might pick up some of them just because she’s not SF. However in the key areas where she’ll be looking to poll well, her primary opponent (looking at the SF posters) will be McElduff who, regardless of opinions on the man outside WT, is a popular figure. As regards the personnel SF get elected it’s down to their own internal strategy and the allocated areas but just from being out and about in the constituency putting my neck on the line I’d say Boyle will lose her seat at the expense of McDermott, but it could just as easily be McElduff if McAnespy polls well on her home patch.

  • Granni Trixie

    I wish life were as simplistic as you portray.

  • Msiegnaro

    Thanks, however which one is for predictions?

  • Granni Trixie

    On the doorsteps experience over last few weeks suggests to me that DUP are indeed not on the up. Whether DUP disaffected voters turn to UUP is a moot point given the numbers of alternatives available.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    I have given my assessment for each seat on the relevant page.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Is Susan-Anne White really NEW, she stood for Westminster and for Council. Barry Brown of CISTA comes from SDLP genepool, but doesn’t have any obvious bitterness to the party.

    Corey French seems like he comes from non-partisan routes and is NEW.

  • Gingray

    If you look at each constituency summary for the 2015 election Nick has made a prediction.

    He may have made it on his blog as well.

  • Msiegnaro

    Brilliant and very interesting reading. Do you see any likelihood of Jim Allister’s TUV taking a second seat anywhere? His running mate in North Antrim seems to have a strong vote although this could be on the back of Jim Allister’s performance. I know some have mentioned Henry Reilly but he fell quite far off the quota when standing for UKIP last time around.

  • Sam Maguire

    I think that was just a case of that they were “new” candidates the day that the post was originally written.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Happy to stand corrected.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Reilly pretty much is a TUV/UKIP unity candidate in that area, and Jim Wells has fallen out with some DUP supporters it seems, whether the UUP or TUV capitalize on this is another matter.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    On paper, minor Unionist parties may have a chance in East Antrim and Strangford; but not, I think, in North Down, South Antrim or Lagan Valley. And as Kevin points out there is the South Down situation as well.

  • Msiegnaro

    McCallister hold do you think?

  • Msiegnaro

    Surely the only party on the up anywhere is the Alliance, I can’t see any of their candidates not getting elected.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Up to the people in South Down, I thought Alan McFarland would hold the seat in North Down by being strongly associated with Lady Slyvia Hermon, it’s difficult without the party machine but then again you get a very popular MLA like David McClarty get in against two UUP runners beating their combined first count.

    McCallister will be transfer friendly but it’s his first preference votes that are critical. Margaret Ritchie did bring out a big personal vote it seems last time, so there may be a smaller quota with her not in the contest.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    I think they’ll hold all their current seats – but further gains are a stretch. Not impossible, but a stretch.

  • mjh

    Useful and interesting analysis Sam.

    The only point I would query is the suggestion that the hatred stirred up will prevent Deehan and Kelly voters transferring to the SDLP. Granted it may well have that effect on some. But I wonder just how many that will be.

    A few dozen close friends and family may be aware of their grievances for some time, and their emotional reaction could count in the polling booth. But surely if they do get a few hundred votes each, most of those will be the result of their personal reputation as councillors – and those people will be happy to transfer back to their former party – or at the very least see no better alternative.

    I suspect that the normal voter knows very little and cares even less for the intense passions that can sometimes arise within the small abnormal world of a political party.

    Ironically the more first preferences the ex-SDLP candidates succeed in winning the smaller will be the proportion who want to positively punish the SDLP.

  • Sam Maguire

    You’re probably right but I’m solely basing it on the balls the SDLP made of their quota in 2007. There was some animus between the candidates then but this is comparatively all out war. I still think McCrossan will get elected but it won’t be straightforward.

    Edit: I’d also expect both Deehan and Kelly to pick up in the 1200 to 1500 votes range rather than a few hundred.

  • Gingray

    Should be interesting to see if they can stay above 60% turnout in West Tyrone – if so, less chance for the independents I reckon. Also, while individuals may fall out with parties and bring some portion of the vote with them, the voters still generally transfer back.

    SF should still get slightly over 3 quotas, SDLP around 1 quota, with each of the Unionist parties getting 1 elected as well.

  • Kevin Breslin

    May I make the disclaimer on your behalf that these predictions were made solely based on the spread of votes from Westminster, with many predictions of these seats will be skewed by the presence of unity candidates, “Arrow’s Law” and Lady Sylvia Herman’s personal vote?

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Not quite – they use the votes from Westminster 2015 and the 2014 local elections, but if you check out each page you’ll see that I’ve made allowances in certain cases. And I don’t believe in Arrow’s Theorem!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Like Alliance, I support PR … but the “Arrow’s Theorem” effect does happen in FPTP, which is why like Alliance, I and many in the SDLP support its removal, even if it makes winning South Belfast much harder.

  • dog walker

    There were only 14 votes between her and Josephine Deehan in the last council election, i think they’re both strong contenders although I’ve yet to see any election information for either of them.

  • Granni Trixie

    I will be surprised if APNI do not have some gains. Wouldn’t like to say which at this point but feedback from canvas looking good.

  • Roger

    go raibh maith agat Lionel

  • Roger

    The Free state has a lot to answer for with the plethora of independent candidates but none will have the impact of a single issue candidate like Deeney.

    Why is Ireland/Free State to blame here? Curious.

  • Sam Maguire

    A tongue in cheek remark, the south have a long history of electing independents to the Dáil and their success seems to be encouraging more people to become involved in the electoral process. However, that independent tradition doesn’t really exist up here – other than Deeney has anyone actually been elected to the Assembly under an Independent banner?

  • Roger

    Thanks. Hadn’t thought about that before. Surprising the number of indos isn’t comparable, given same electoral system. Indos are a bad thing in my book. Overall.

  • John Cleary

    McAnespy is chair of a policing group (used to be dpp) in the Omagh area so i couldnt see her tapping into a non sf republican vote