The power of numbers 3: Battleground Antrim

The 2005 Westminster and Local Government results predict no change in East Antrim, some chance of a DUP/SDLP scrap in North Antrim but events keep making South Antrim more and more interesting.In East Antrim both indicators point to no change 3 DUP, 2 UUP and 1 Alliance with the SDLP unlikely to regain their lost seat.

In North Antrim both point to no change. However, the DUP may be tempted to run four. They have over 3 quotas in both the Local Government and Westminster results but the Westminster result also puts them neck and neck with the SDLP for the final seat. The retirement of Sean Farren adds to the temptation. However, the power of the name Paisley (especially two on the ballot) make the necessary vote management a difficult task. There has also been speculation about SF changing their candidate so it could be two new nationalist faces in the race.

In South Antrim both indicators point to a SF gain from Alliance just as they did in 2001 but Ford beat the numbers. However, the various approaches of the parties have made it much more unpredictable.

The loss of Jim Wilson will impact on the UUP’s performance who drew strongly from the Ballyclare end of the constituency. In 2003 the third UUP candidate was Cllr Adrian Watson who is Antrim based and a Burnside/Watson slate runs the risk of repeating the UUP’s 2003 North Antrim mistake of running two candidates perceived to be from one end of the constituency. It also increases the incentive for the DUP to target the constituency. A third DUP seat looked more likely the election after this but the loss of Wilson changes that. When the results come in and if it looks like the DUP can get three out of South Antrim then the DUP will be heading to the magic 40 seats.

The unwise SDLP decision to run two candidates puts their seat into the mix unnecessarily. They have a firm quota and consolidating it with one candidate would have kept them above the Alliance/Sinn Fein scrap. Sinn Fein parachuting in Mitchel McLaughlinn is intriguing. There will be the charges of an imposed carpetbagger but SF’s machinery overcame similar charges against Ruane in South Down. One reading is that this move is to show SF’s serious intent in the constituency but another view is McLaughlinn is being sent from a sure thing to a hard fight as punishment for his failure in Foyle in 2005.

For Ford to hold on Alliance need to target Unionist transfers in particular DUP transfers. The greater the effort by the DUP to get the 3rd seat and if they run effective vote management the greater the problems for Alliance. In Alliance’s favour the McLaughlinn intervention will make the task of attracting Unionist transfers, and even 1st preference votes, easier and voter ‘lending’ to the UUP should also end.

The one unknown in all the constituencies is if credible anti-St Andrews Unionist candidates appear. It would be unlikely to upset existing seats but could have enough impact to prevent DUP growth.

IMPORTANT NOTES: Seats were assigned to parties strictly on the basis of who was closest to a quota. No assignment was made on the basis of possible/likely transfers nor has any projection of existing trends been extrapolated (ie DUP vote grew X% between 2003 and 2005 but if that continues their likely vote be). Westminster results tend to show a party’s maximum potential vote in a constituency while Local Government shows the core vote. When the two agree it seems the highly likely result and were they disagree it highlights were a party should target a constituency for extra effort. In individual constituencies the perceived geographcal base and number of candidates a party chooses and the vote management system adopted can have an effect on the final result. Examples of how this can impact are – the choice of two Ballymena UUP candidates in North contributed to their loss of a seat, vote mismanagement in West and East Belfast cost SF and the DUP a seat respectively. It is possible to confound both indicators as David Ford did in South Antrim in 2003.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘but another view is McLaughlinn is being sent from a sure thing to a hard fight as punishment for his failure in Foyle in 2005.’

    At the time of his confirmation it was claimed by Mick among others as a clever electoral ploy by SF. I haven’t heard anyone claim it was a punishment for Foyle 2005. Is there a source for this?

  • A punishment??? come on now

    Do you really believe that Sinn Féin blame Mitchel?

    Utter nonsense!

    Mitchel is being sent to SA because people believe that he can win the seat for Sinn Féin.

  • lonely pint

    The only source is wishful thinking on Fair Deal’s part.

  • fair_deal


    Just a suggestion I heard on the political grapevine not an online story.

  • Chris Donnelly


    Have to confess to enjoying your electoral prediction commentary, though you slipped off the tracks with your claims of a ‘punitive punishment’ approach over McLaughlin- incidentally, is that why McCrea was moved into the constituency from Mid-Ulster???

    But, I’m more interested in this idea of a ‘Magic 40’ seats for the DUP. Could you elaborate on where these seats are coming from as, unless the UUP are going to suffer a monumental collapse in support, I can’t see it happening.

    btw I agree with your predictions on the nationalist side in the Antrims: the only difference will be McLaughlin taking Ford’s seat- with the latter just losing out to Tommy Burns.

    East Antrim doesn’t have the numbers for a nationalist seat, and O’Connor won’t attract the transfers he received in ’98.

  • Daisy

    “…another view is McLaughlinn is being sent from a sure thing to a hard fight as punishment for his failure in Foyle in 2005…”

    True but oh how the Shinner Sycophants won’t like that! 😉

  • CS Parnell

    Where are all those Shinners who were describing a possible Tim Attwood candidacy in Lagan Valley as a sure fire failure because he was being “parachuted in” all the way from West Belfast to a constituency where most of the nationalist voters regard themseleves as living in, errr, West Belfast? All gone quiet all of a sudden.

    I guess that line is as dead as “not an ounce, not a bullet”, eh boys?

    Mitch, a word of warning – don’t start talking about “weans” – most people in Co Antrim will think you’ve pissed yourself.

  • fair_deal


    As I said in my first blog on the elections the indicators show 35-38 to be the realistic.

    The DUP are presently on 33 (if we take these as given and leave aside the possible issues in Newry and Armagh).

    They have the statistical chance (of varying strengths) of another nine in the following:
    1 extra in east belfast
    1 extra in south belfast
    1 extra in north belfast
    1 extra in lagan valley
    1 extra in strangford
    1 extra in east londonderry
    1 extra in south antrim
    1 extra in upper bann
    1 extra in north antrim

    In a constituency where you have an MP you really should be getting 3 MLA’s. Presently in South Antrim, Upper Bann, East Belfast North Belfast and East Londonderry this is not the case for the DUP. The strong Westminster performances in Lagan Valley, Strangford and North Antrim have got them well past the 3 quotas mark and snapping at the heels of a 4th. The leapfrogging of the UUP in South Belfast should result in a shift of a seat too.

    I MUST stress that this would be a ‘dream result’ and would require:
    1. The past shifts from the UUP to DUP to continue
    2. Perfect vote management in each constituency.
    3. A bit of luck involving poor vote management and transferring by the other parties.

  • Thrasymachus

    “Do you really believe that Sinn Féin blame Mitchel?”

    Who does Sinn Fein blame then? The Northern Bank robbers? The IRA for murdering Robert McCartney? Or Mitchel for being a poor candidate? Or was it the failure of Sinn Fein to make itself worthy of representing Foyle?

  • I wouldn’t say they blame anyone

  • Balloo

    To compensate for the loss of Jim Wilson the UUP need to select candidates who can pull votes from outside of Antrim town. If they are running 3 candidates then vote management and geographic spread need to be perfect. Ballyclare, Antrim, Randalstown, Templepatrick et al need to feel represented.

    Willie McCrea finally committing to South Antrim will increase the DUP vote, although I feel for Mid Ulster as he is absconding for the second time.

    Ford vs McLaughlin will be interesting. The good people of South Antrim kept David in ahead of Meehan last time around so fingers crossed…

  • slug

    I wonder if the phenomenon of the weaker UUP since Trimble’s departure might actually boost Alliance in terms of first preferences. It’s not a point often made here, but Trimble’s basic pro-agreement analysis I think did appeal to a lot of Alliance voting types who could return to Alliance. We can’t know until the election. This might be significant in a place like South Antrim.

  • CS Parnell

    The Shinners should blame Mark Durkan. After ll, he got more votes, so who else was to blame? hahahahaha

  • lonely pint

    methinks you are either blocked or manic, cs.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    fair deal,

    Thats very interesting news. It seems the UUP will be needing a new candidate then, hmmmm…

  • steve48

    Thinking of a comeback Duncan.

    How have have you been, haven’t heard from you in a while.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    If the UKUP run in North Antrim, I can’t see the DUP running 4.

    3 Ballymena DUP councillors and 1 from Limavady attended a McCartney meeting near Ballymena and were happy to be photographed with him. That is open opposition to the DUP from within the elected ranks (I also hear one of the North Antrim MLA’s is less than happy). What does anyone think it is like on the ground up there among the voters if it is like that in the party.

    I don’t agree with the point about the 2 UUP candidates the last time round from the South of the constituency, the next Westmister election was even worse in terms of numbers, there is only 1 UUP seat. I also read that the 77 year old sitting UUP MLA who got in last time is going to run again, if headquarters don’t step in with their new ‘youth’ policy that is. Some people don’t know when enough is enough, the younger voters will never go for him in numbers, there must be other credible candidates. So don’t bank on the UUP doing well either, their seat could go UKUP, if even more voters stay at home than in the Westminister election and some DUP voters go UKUP.

    In South Antrim I think SF will gain a seat at the expense of David Ford and the UUP will suffer futher voter loss with the loss of Wilson in Ballyclare. However again the UKUP may pay an important role in deciding the outcome.

    So exciting times in Antrim, particularly with how the UKUP will perform and who they will run, a sitting DUP councillor would really put the cat amongst the pigeons in both areas.

  • PeterBrown

    With the arrival of Broadband in the Brown household (this is Ahoghill so I had to wait for electricity and telephone to arrive and I still have to crank the handle of the side of the modem to get connected)I have waited with interest for this article to have my first non work contribution.

    I’ll leave East and South Antrim alone in the meantime. As for North Antrim looking at it more dispassionately than I have for some time and with a real dilemma about who to vote for a number of matters strike me.

    The DUP should win at least three seats if they can manage their vote correctly but the fourth seat is within their grasp if they can keep their support at 2005 levels. However as FD points out and if he/she looks at their rival publication the Ballymena Guardian tonight there are 4 DUP Councillors, 3 from North Antrim on the front cover threatening to more than double the UKUP membership! If that translates into anything approaching proportionate loss of electoral support the 3rd seat could be in jeopardy if Bob finds a viable candidate and DUP defections.

    If as I suspect the NA electorate backs Rev Ian more loyally than his Councillors then the fourth seat could come at the expense of either the UUP or SDLP – the SDLP even with Farren was 1000+ votes short of quota last year and will lose votes on hie retirement but should at least get SF transfers and the UUP although it has more first preferences than SF Lite is less likely to get transfers and tends to get stuck with only its own first preferences to rely on and could be overtaken by a high nationalist turnout electing 2 non unionists.

    This would leave the UUP candidate whoever that may be to scrap it out with DUP / UKUP for the fourth unionist seat (those who claim there is no room for a maverick independent unionist in NA look at William Wright in 1998 who also appears alongside Bob on the BG front page). It may come down to DUP vote management which has always been worse in North Antrim than almost anywhere else. The UUP here is on the canvas and won’t get back off it again if the seat is lost no matter to whom and the PUP tie up can only have cost them more votes (including probably mine!) so much will depend on the DUP’s internal problems and the UUP / UKUP candidates.

  • Crataegus


    I wonder if the phenomenon of the weaker UUP since Trimble’s departure might actually boost Alliance in terms of first preferences. It’s not a point often made here, but Trimble’s basic pro-agreement analysis I think did appeal to a lot of Alliance voting types who could return to Alliance.

    Interesting point.

    For me the UUP vote is one of the interesting aspects in this election. I would be interested in any opinion as to how that vote is likely to go. I don’t think the UUP has quite reached the point where it becomes total melt down, but it is getting into dangerous waters and its whole presentation and image is lamentable. It seems incapable of getting its act into gear. There are many who vote for the UUP out of loyalty and some out of tradition and I can’t see that core suddenly shifting to the DUP. I could be very wrong, but I cannot imagine a massive shift to the DUP of UUP support. Paisley is not well thought of in many circles. Also there is dissatisfaction in the DUP and they may lose significant votes to UKUP.

    I can see the possibility of more progressive Unionist types deciding the rotten carcass of the UUP just isn’t worth continued support and deciding to vote Alliance, but in many ways that route would be more credible if the Alliance party itself appeared dynamic and was moving forward. If there was a sense that it could ‘kick butt’ and take a few seats. At the minute it would be like abandoning a sinking ship for one that is already submerged. Perhaps a few hundred voters in some constituencies may place Alliance 1 ahead of the UUP, but that would be the height of it.

    This may well be the election of missed opportunities. The UUP fail to highlight the utter hypocrisy of the DUP, the Alliance fail to arrest decline despite growing voter apathy for the main parties and Greens and Conservatives don’t make a breakthrough.

    Regrettably I think Ford will be squeezed and lose his seat, but will the DUP gain in South Antrim? Really depends on how many varieties of Unionists are contesting and on vote management. The last two seats will be a dog fight between the SDLP, SF, Alliance and some Unionist. I would place SF, some Unionist and the SDLP ahead of Alliance. The SDLP may get in on Alliance transfers. There is a solid enough SDLP vote in the rural community and I think Burns will probably hold his seat, but it is a difficult one to call. If McCrea soaks up DUP votes and Burnside UUP votes the last Unionist will go out before Alliance and Ford may hold and it may be a rerun of 2003. It all depends on the SDLP not dropping further.

    SF failing will be egg on face given the high profile candidate so we can expect them to throw everything at this constituency, but they are transfer repellent here. In fact you can bet on Unionists voting right down the list against them.

    I would hate to be in Alliance or the SDLP in South Antrim, some serious canvassing ahead on cold winters nights.

  • Wilde Rover

    Or maybe the reason the Shinners are parachuting in a man referred to as the “draft dodger” is to ensure their candidate avoids all of those awkward personal questions on the doorsteps of the Unionist heartland.

  • darth rumsfeld

    words you never thought you would read….

    “To compensate for the loss of Jim Wilson”

    right up there with-

    “I quite enjoyed New Year’s Eve”-Saddam Hussein

  • Yokel

    -The DUP will not make 40 seats

    -They will be lucky to gain a 4th in North Antrim

    -If Ford doesn’t hold on Alliance wll be up the creek and I’m not sure he will unless Unionists start voting heavily down the card which would probably see him in. I’m not sure Mitchel will actually garner a big increase in votes, Martin had his backers up there and had been doing work for quite some time. Secondly, it wouldnt take too many Sinn Fein voters to sit at home over the policing issue to negate what Mitchel may gain due to his profile. Meehan’s profile with the Republican movement is high anyway so I’m assuming by getting McLaughlin in he looks a bit cleaner than his predecessor and the hope is to get some more transfers from SDLP voters who may not have swallowed Meehan’s past.

    If I’m correct thouh the movement of Nationalists into the constituency would probably have been steady enough over recent years to allow Mitchel to get in.

  • Conker73

    Great analysis and discussion. As an avid amateur psephologist myself, would anyone know of any websites that are doing similar analysis/discussion on a constituency-by-constituency level for the upcoming Dail elections in Rep of Ireland??

  • Crataegus


    If I’m correct though the movement of Nationalists into the constituency would probably have been steady enough over recent years to allow Mitchel to get in.

    I wouldn’t be too sure on that. The increase in housing in and around Crumlin may have peaked some years ago and these would have housed the West and North Belfast republican overflow. The Glenavy housing in this election is in Lagan Valley. Much of the increase in housing recently was probably the one off houses in the countryside. These may house an entirely different political animal.

  • Congratulations to Fair Deal for running these threads for us psephological anoraks.

  • JD

    Conker 73,

    Check out

  • Yokel


    Fair point, but it is still going on a bit, however modestly and given the closeness of the reace last time its viable to have 1 x SDLP & Mitchel make it.

  • CS Parnell

    Neither blocked nor manic. Just reminding the invincible Sinn Fein that they weren’t and they won’t be.

    The repeated arrogance of Sinn Fein and their claims of inevitability got a big comeuppance in May 2005 and they should be reminded of that at every opportunity – because the “inevitability” of their advance is a big part of their message to nationalist voters.

    I also think its right to expose the hypocrisy of those who claimed the possibility of having a councillor for Upper Falls compete for the votes of the Nationalists of Poleglass, Lagmore and Mount Eagles counted as being “parchuted in” while the moving of someone from Derry to Newtonabbey gets not a dickie from any of them.

  • carnmoney

    Interesting analysis, FD.

    If you knew the SDLP in South Antrim, you would know how difficult it would be for them to take “a firm quota and consolidate it with one candidate”. The Burns and McClelland camps might as well be different parties. They will have to fight back against the SF machine to get over a quota between them, in the hope that enough transfers between them. Burns had a better Council result in Crumlin than either McClelland (lost seat in Randalstown to SF) or Mrs McClelland (lost running mate’s seat in Antrim Line to Alliance).

    The UUP will have big changes with the retirement of Jim Wilson. If the ticket is left to Burnside and Watson, you are probably correct that Alliance “voter ‘lending’ to the UUP should also end.”

    Rumours are that McCrea will finally make the Assembly leap from Mid-Ulster (though that means that the UUP seat there is probably safe) in the hope of taking three seats for DUP. McCrea, Girvan (Newtownabbey) and an Antrim candidate makes an interesting line up. Clyde may be for the chop, with a lot of ambitious Councillors about. Perhaps Hamilton or Robinson, if not someone from Antrim.

    Unknown factors: will the UKUP descend on us? will McLaughlin look like an outsider? will Ford hold on to the higher local government vote that Alliance got in 2005 (not to mention transfers from everywhere)?

    I would say 2 DUP for sure and 1 Nationalist and probably 2 UUP; with the final seat between Alliance, second Nationalist, third DUP, UKUP.

  • carnmoney

    I missed the post from our former MLA, DSD.

    He might take the Wilson vote, and keep out Watson as second UUP. Might also hurt Ford a bit, though all three of them won in 1998.

    It’s really hotting up if DSD is strapping on a parachute, as well as Burnside, McCrea and McLaughlin. At least he lived here while representing South Antrim.

  • slug

    Don’t think DSD is a realistic option.

  • Sammy Morse

    The last two seats will be a dog fight between the SDLP, SF, Alliance and some Unionist.

    Forget thoughts of a fifth Unionist in South Antrim – the combined Unionist vote in the constituency has meandered up and down between 63% and 67% in recent years. Not enough for five seats, simple as that, especially with potentially flaky transfers.

    The battle for the last two seats is between Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein and my own view is that the SDLP are the most likely to lose out. With a Randalstown based candidate, the SDLP will lose votes to Ford on his own council patch in Crumlin and in places like the Greystone Road where he is well known. With a Crumlin based candidate, the risk is that they lose votes in Toome and Randalstown on their ‘greener’ fringe to McLaughlin. They were only very narrowly ahead of Ford anyway last time, so if McLaughlin was the sort of attractive face that could pull 500 or so votes directly off the SDLP, it’s bye-bye Thomas Burns.

    No Jim Wilson is probably good for Ford as well – he pulled in a lot of moderate votes from around Ballyclare and Templepatrick, and to an extent even in Glengormley, which might otherwise go to Ford.

    The big imponderable is how the national picture will affect Sinn Fein. I’m making an assumption that turnout will be significantly down, to something in the order of 55% across NI and possibly below 50% in South Antrim. In normal circumstances Sinn Fein would benefit greatly from this through their superior polling-day operation but given all the ructions about policing SF may find it very difficult to pull their more radical supporters out. Of course, much of it in South Antrim is a softer suburban vote but there is enough of a traditional Republican vote in Toome and bits of Glengormley like Elmfield and the Hightown Road developments where lots of people have moved out from Republican areas of North Belfast that they could lose a critical few hundred votes.

    The other odd thing in this constituency is that the urban Glengormley/Carnmoney/Mossley area is about 40% of the electorate but few of the candidates have roots there (suppose it’s not really that sort of area). Any busy little beaver MLAs who’ve been getting stuck in there rather than sitting on their arses at the taxpayers’ expense might well reap a small but crucial return.

    Very, very, tight call but I think (like last time) people are being far too pessimistic on Ford’s chances, although he has the fight of his life (again).

    Could the DUP take a 3:1 lead among Unionists? Not likely, but not impossible.

    WRT to the other constituencies, the DUP must clearly try for four in North and East Antrim. They have a real chance of four in North if they can keep anti-St. Andrew’s voters in the fold at least in the latter stages of the count; Paisley polled close to 4 quotas worth in the last Westminster election and their vote management is improving. East Antrim is further off with the UUP just a smidgen shy of 2 Quotas worth in Westminster but with Empey-head running the UUP into the ground it’s not an impossibility. Sammy is no mug.

  • fair_deal


    I am aware of the SDLP’s internal problems but what makes good sense for constituency association management and what makes good sense for vote management are often not the same thing.

  • Crataegus


    If the increase in the Alliance vote in the Westminster election at the expense of the UUP is an indication then he may have a chance. However the UUP candidate was Burnside and many thought there may as well have been two DUP candidates.
    The DUP have 38% and the UUP 29% if they split evenly they could be on 5 with 13-14% each Alliance are on 8% SF on around 11% and SDLP on 12% – 14%
    The SDLP are running two candidates one in Crumlin the other Glengormley. They are bound to soak up 1st preferences though they may not transfer evenly, but both will poll well. Alliance just doesn’t have much of a base in the constituency. Both SDLP and SF are likely to poll ahead of Alliance. So they are relying on Unionist transfers. So Ford’s fate is in the hands of the vagaries of inter party voting patterns. He could easily find himself behind a Unionist on 9%. In which case Alliance transfers elect SDLP and a Unionist.

    There should be a good solid Alliance vote in this constituency and because there isn’t gives a far indication of the problems that Alliance face.

  • carnmoney


    I don’t follow your thoughts on the SDLP. If both candidates are chasing first preferences to beat the other, but neither is saying much about second preferences for the other, they repeat the last time.

    The Newtownabbey Times has a lot about Mrs McClelland’s selection, but hardly mentions Burns, the sitting MLA. Doesn’t look like an SDLP team effort to me, which leaves their last candidate hovering in the same zone as Alliance and SF, and only two seats available.

    Sammy M

    Agree that five unionists looks too big an ask. If they did balance 2 UUP and 3 DUP above Alliance, they probably get SF as well as SDLP. Girvan has responded to news of McLaughlin by calling on people to vote as far as Ford.

  • fair_deal


    Good vote management says run one candidate. Trying to keep ‘peace’ in south Antrim SDLP Association says run two.

  • Bruce101

    DUP could win three seats here. Willie should get a big vote so it will need to be properly controlled or it might blow their hopes away. They might also throw it away by selecting some local nobodies. If Clyde and Girvan run with Willie they can all get through especially as Girvan will get a larger Ballyclare vote now that Wilson has dropped out.