Surge in nationalist registered voters…

Looks like Sinn Fein’s local campaigns to get voters registered could be a significant factor in the March election. According to Douglas Bain, some 40,849 new voters have been added to the register, and it’s mostly in strong nationalist areas:

The rise was 11.2% in West Belfast, 5.2% in West Tyrone and 4.7% in Foyle. By contrast the increase was 2.4% in Upper Bann, 2.5% in East Antrim and 2.6% in East Derry.

The West Belfast rise is particularly interesting, since it pushes registration above the previously reported higher than average figures in unionist wards. Though it has to be said that in driving into this apathetic end of the voter base, there may be diminishing returns for the party.

Except that the next significant figures to be released will be those for postal and proxy votes. Their capacity to ellicit large numbers of proxy votes in particular could be key to taking the fifth seat in this constituency. In theory, if they deposit those with a single (fifth) candidate, there is a possiblity that they could accumulate a significant proportion of that fifth quota even before the polls close.

That puts pressure on Diane Dodds to maximise her turn out. The PUP and UPRG have already stood down in her favour, but that alone will not help them get out their vote in an area which pre 2003 had gotten used to not having Unionist representation. If she does pull it off, then Alex Attwood may need to do more than rely on his strong public profile on policing to stop the long term trend of drift away from his party.

  • Yokel


    These may well have been the constituencies with the biggest deficits anywa and may still have falls from previous registrations.

    Small detail.

  • DK

    Don’t give SF all the credit, there has also been a high profile TV and billboard campaign (the one with people getting red tape over their mouths).

  • The only figure that is genuinely exceptional is West Belfast, and the Andytown News can pat itself on the back for its role in that one. Pete’s point about diminishing returns from registering the most apathetic voters is well made. However, these figures only highlight the efficiency of the Sinn Féin election machine in West Belfast; if they can do this, they can get apathetic voters to the polls on polling day as well. Finally doing the clean sweep in Lower Falls in 2005 in what wasn’t a brilliant election for SF in Belfast showed how good they are.

    The trick for them this time will be keeping Adams’ first preference vote to reasonable levels (they’re getting better at this) and stopping the fifth candidate from being too far adrift like Sue Ramsey was last time; then again, they already knew this anyway.

    And it’s not quite in the bag either – SF have never quite managed 5 full Quotas in the West and the SDLP and Unionists have more or less a quota each. There is a genuinely even three way fight for the last two seats in West Belfast.

  • kensei

    “Don’t give SF all the credit, there has also been a high profile TV and billboard campaign (the one with people getting red tape over their mouths).”

    Which is constant to all areas. So if Unionist areas are a baseline, it produces 2.5% increase.

  • Yokel


    West Belfast is the only set of figures that we can be confident was definitely largely down to SF’s electoral machine, however the electoral register still seems to be down in that constitunecy. Thats possibly because people have been moving out but they have to go somewhere and their is no clear evidence of where on the figures listed.

    Looking at the EONIs figures, its all variable and the headline on the psost doesnt in any way reflect the complexity of the situation.

  • fair_deal

    “2.6% in East Derry.”

    Looks like another court case in the making 😉

  • Rebecca Black

    Well according to the initial report by the electoral commission, West Belfast had the lowest number of voters registered so clearly people have been busy on the ground remedying that but its worth noting that West Belfast was starting from a low base this time.

  • J Kelly

    The figures that count come on the 8th of March and I am sure Sinn Fein is looking forward to it more than any other party. I was at the meeting last night in Derry a crowd of over 1400 and easily 90% of the audience were supportive of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein have managed this entire process from St Andrews perfectly and what a way to start an election campaign a ringing endorsement from the nationalist community.

  • interested

    The figures may look like there has been a huge increase, but they dont actually make up for the initial losses. The 11.2% rise in West Belfast doesnt actually make up for the initial loss which was 15.1% (8,345 voters).

    Also of course, why does an 11% increase in West Belfast have to mean that 100% of those people are nationalist/republicans? The majority of the recent registrations of course will be nationalist but they dont all have to be.

  • parcifal

    martin ingram,
    where are you? 😉
    my bet with you is looking sweeter by the day.
    Mick, expect a tenner in your pot soon, as martin capitulates under the groaning weight and expectation of a SF mega-surge.

  • Yokel

    Interested..please don’t complicate the headlines with the possibilities of reality…

  • Yokel

    Actually where is young Ingram?

  • parcifal

    where all the other hopeless stuck-in-the-muds are; in darkened rooms, not receiving calls, or under bridges taking the pills.
    They gave it their best shot , a few weeks back; but its unravelled.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    What will be interesting to see is a breakdown of the registration by wards, especially in West Belfast.
    The survival of Dodds is a fine margin. Was there registration apathy in the working class unionist wards? was there an effort to overcome this that undoubtedly happened in nationalist wards. Even a drop of a few hundred voters will cost Dodds her seat.

    Overall the registration campaign has been a good success. An impressive showing all round by SF.

  • PaddyReilly

    Very interesting and heartening news. It should be noted that in the 2004 European Parliamentary elections, the Unionist camp won over the Nationalist camp by something like 31,000 votes, which were actually transfers from various centrist candidates.

    In the 2005 Westminster Elections, the Unionist majority over the other parties (including Alliance) was something in the region of 26,000 votes.

    So the addition of an extra 40,000 Fenian voters to the electoral register would spell curtains, pronto, to the Unionist majority, unless you hold that Alliance voters should be counted as Unionist.

    But are the new voters all Nationalists? This seems unlikely. Those in West Belfast almost certainly are, but West Tyrone is only two thirds nationalist as things stand, so it is quite reasonable to assume that at least a quarter of the new voters will favour the Unionists, thus reducing the Nationalist surge from 40,000 to 20,000: not enough to effect a change of power.

    And as the proposed assembly elections will take place in advance of any boundary changes, Nationalists will be denied the extra representation that they might expect from an increase in the number of their voters in West Belfast, for example.

    But the lesson to be drawn from this is just wafer thin the Unionist majority is, and how quickly it can be reversed by quite minor changes of population.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’d say this indicates hard work in the SF wards, since they were lagging in some wards in the earlier figures. But registration is one thing. Actually getting them out to vote is another.

  • Yokel

    Pat McL

    It has been an issue of people not registering in the Unionist areas in West Belfast but theres no apparent evidence that its been any more severe than before. The bigger issue traditonally has been the ‘whats the point’ in going out and voting secnario.

    In addition there are still a few thousand less overall on the West Belfast register than in 2005 which suggests that actually its down all round. If that was solely a unionst shortfall (and it most definitely isnt) its a total fuck up but the truth is that we don’t know.

    Its genuinely impossible to tell. Mick Fealty’s assertion about Unionist apathy is very possibly incorrect, becase they got a seat last time they might just take it more seriously this time around. It’s not as if every unionist bothered their arse voting last time and nothing like a ‘win’ to get people moving. Unionists can do backs to the wall very well at election time and if SF have any sense they wont be talking up a potential crisis for Dodds.

    The DUP don’t have the complexities of vote management either, at most there will be an Ulster Unionist rival, if at all and Doods thus has a single rallying call of Get Me In Again! This time round, even with an Ulster Unionist candidate Dodds will get a very good 1st preference vote but it’ll be clear within minutes after the first declaration if shes going to get in or be out. If shes on her own, its either in on 1st count or a finger full of votes away on the or shes out for sure. I’d expect a strong transfer from any UUP candidate.

    I think she’s likely to still be pitching for the final seat but anyone mkaing a prediction either has inside knowledge of unionist area registration returns or is guessing.

    Maybe a UUP poster can share their wisdom of whether they are standing in West Belfast?

  • Yokel


    Bless yer simpleton ways.

  • Inorder

    Belfast West 54,268 45,923 51,057 -5.9 +11.2
    West Tyrone 60,309 55,876 58,802 -2.5 +5.2
    Belfast North 52,742 47,369 49,629 -5.9 +4.8
    Foyle 68,937 62,521 65,430 -5.1 +4.7
    Belfast South 52,523 47,190 49,177 -6.4 +4.2
    Mid Ulster 63,242 59,358 61,783 -2.3 +4.1
    Newry & Armagh 73,226 68,812 71,387 -2.5 +3.7
    F & S Tyrone 67,882 64,039 66,410 -2.2 +3.7
    North Antrim 75,487 70,868 73,332 -2.9 +3.5
    South Down 74,367 69,951 72,340 -2.7 +3.4
    Lagan Valley 72,135 68,430 70,654 -2.1 +3.3
    South Antrim 67,662 63,983 66,046 -2.4 +3.2
    Belfast East 53,076 48,570 50,053 -5.7 +3.1
    North Down 60,266 56,420 57,947 -3.9 +2.7
    East Londonderry 59,239 55,056 56,491 -4.6 +2.6
    East Antrim 58,921 55,658 57,025 -3.2 +2.5
    Strangford 69,712 65,504 67,158 -3.7 +2.5
    Upper Bann 73,058 69,588 71,244 -2.5 +2.4

  • Was there registration apathy in the working class unionist wards? was there an effort to overcome this that undoubtedly happened in nationalist wards. Even a drop of a few hundred voters will cost Dodds her seat.

    Pat – my understanding is that the drop last year was much more severe in nationalist areas and this has compensated to a large degree for that. It’s also not necessarily Dodds against the 5th Chuck either – the SDLP are in free fall in West Belfast although they’re probably the least likely to be ‘lucky losers’. Very, very, difficult constituency to call until about 7 o’clock on polling day if you’re on the ground and you know who has come out and who hasn’t.

    Nationalists will be denied the extra representation that they might expect from an increase in the number of their voters in West Belfast, for example.

    You’re not that bright are you, Paddy? All the Belfast seats are grossly over-represented on current figures; underrepresented people are in an ecumenical smorgasboard of Upper Bann, Newry and Armagh, South Down, Lagan Valley and North Antrim. Have a look at the figures insider posted above.

  • interested

    Why is it that very few people seem to get it?

    Why on earth were SF quite so worked up about the fall in voter registrations in the first place? It was because they clearly felt it affected them much more than any other party.

    Therefore the 15% fall in West Belfast was of real concern to them. The 11% increase clearly is good news – but it still doesnt replace all the voters which they lost in the first place.

    For unionists in West Belfast there is no case to be argued any more – in 2003 there were plenty who didnt believe a seat could be won in any circumstances. Now that is out of the way there is good incentive for everyone to vote and to vote for one candidiate. I foresee higher unionist turnout in West Belfast this time than in 2003 and possibly the highest unionist turnout of anywhere in the Province.

  • Pat Mc larnon






    people do get it, especially SF. It is a cross European problem that people in urban areas are not only not registering but increasingly failing to vote. We are now catching up with the rest of Europe.
    There is no evidence to suggest which parties voters are failing to register as compared to any other party. In W Belfast have SDLP and UUP voters simply given up the ghost.
    What i do know is that SF keep a comprehensive list of people who during canvassing say they will vote for the party against people who continually go out and vote on the day. While not 100% it is nonetheless a good indicator.
    If those people are deliberately targetted for registration it is clear that proportionately SF will get more of their supporters back on the register than any other party.

  • Plum Duff

    If Alex Atwood were to lose his place in the (possible) upcoming election, I would imagine there would be quite a lot of Schadenfruede around. It was his harping on about alleged electoral fiddling which brought in this rather onerous method of registering in the first place. Since then his share of votes has been on a slippery slope.

  • PaddyReilly

    Nationalists will be denied the extra representation that they might expect from an increase in the number of their voters in West Belfast, for example.
    Please note that I only said might expect. I did not say justly deserve. Generally people expect that if their vote goes up, their representation will do likewise, though sometimes quirks in the electoral system produce the opposite effect. But the remark, though not so relevant to West Belfast, does appear to apply to Foyle and Newry, which are both on the underrepresented side.

    Certain commentators point out that the rise in registered voters is only a recovery after the pronounced fall on the last count. But this is not relevant to predictions of the actual results, because elections took place after the fall in registered voters, so that the most recent returns that we have represent the results from the lower count. The extra 40,849 voters are thus a significant addition to the electorate.

    In a province where an extra 31,000 votes could lead to a change in régime, an addition to the electorate of 40,849 is big news, particularly if there is a whisper of a whisker of a chance that the new arrivals might be predominantly from the party that is out of office.

    The reason for the fall in registration was an increase in the bureacracy needed to get your name on the register. The legality of this measure seems debatable to me, as it has not been imposed in Great Britain: this represents a form of discrimination. Who the eliminated voters were is an interesting question. It may be that they were genuine constituents, but were defeated by the extra paperwork: possibly though, they were family members who had taken up residence in Dublin, or some such place, and were not at home to sign the papers.

    Who the restored voters are is equally difficult to say. They may be the old voters come back: they may be a completely new set of people.

    There are a lot of places where the new voters might make a difference. If they are predominantly nationalist, then the new voters might affect the result for Westminster elections in North Belfast, causing a Nationalist gain; in South Belfast, preventing a Nationalist loss. That would bring Nationalist representation up to 9, as against Unionist 9.

    As already pointed out, there are enough of them to give Nationalists two European Parliament seats, instead of one.

    Their likely effect on the assembly elections, though, is small: a change in the percentage of votes cast for the various parties, a couple of seats lost and won: but no change of régime, not even enough to give Alliance the balance of power.

    Curiously, commentators so far seem to be interested only in Assembly elections for W. Belfast. Certainly, if the Unionists only won a seat by 87 votes last time and this time there are 5000 more Nationalist voters, one would not expect them to repeat the feat.

    But a word of warning about unhatched chickens. The figures show a 3.1% increase in E. Belfast. These new voters are clearly not Nationalists, just as those in W.Belfast are unlikely to be Unionists. The new voters are probably twice as likely to be Nationalists as Unionists, but what sort of increase to the Nationalist vote does that give? Around 15-20 thousand. Such a surge would halve the Unionist majority and lose them 2-3 seats in the Assembly, I would think. But the rest of the electorate are left watching the unravelling of Zeno’s paradox.

  • PaddyReilly

    Now that I have managed to get the second link to work I can see what the problem is.

    Douglas Bain’s statement that achieving these extra registrations is a major victory for democracy is as about as reliable as a big store’s boast that all prices have been slashed by 10% in January, when they were actually all put up by 15% in December.

    His real achievement was in decreasing the number of registered voters, not increasing it.

    Sorry for my innocence in believing this.

    The major drop in the size of the electorate came after the 2002 Electoral Fraud Act. Whether this act intended to stamp out electoral fraud or impose it, remains uncertain.

    The question is, has the size of the electorate recovered since then? I assumed that the previous figures referred to then. They are actually from 2006 and 2005.

    So the true story is the reverse of the advertised one.

  • moyle rover

    There is a lot of talk on here about fall in voters in west belfast, is this not reflected right across Belfast with people moving out to the suburbs. Where are the west belfast people going? Crumlin, Glenavy and Ballycastle. Trust me I live in Ballycastle and work near Crumlin large infux of west Bwlfast people to these areas. Mitchel will pick up a seat in South Antrim this time and if you dont believe me about Ballycastle look at the last council election results fo Moyle

  • Nic

    “Vote early and vote often”?

  • Hallo! 😉
    hey… what unhinged news!
    what do you suppose about it?