#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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty