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.