SDLP performance between May 2005 and May 2010

The SDLP successfully held onto their three Westminster seats, and passed the baton between Eddie McGrady and Margaret Ritchie without a fumble.

However, how healthy is their share of the vote across the 18 constituencies? They lost their deposits in two seats – North Down and Belfast East – and other than two of the seats they won, they only made gains in share in three others.

The graph below shows the percentage point difference in their share between May 2010 and the May 2005 Westminster elections, using the corrected figures for 2005 to take account of the boundary changes. The graph is sorted from largest actual vote at the top to lowest vote at the bottom.

Fermanagh & South Tyrone may be a special case, but what about all the other loses?

SDLP percentage point changes between 2005 and 2010

SDLP and SF percentage point changes between 2005 and 2010Update – Gerry asked about SF gains. I’ve uploaded a quick comparison graph. Click on it to see it full size.

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  • FST, West Tyrone and South Belfast’s data can’t really be relied on for any kind of accurate representation.

    Although the rest show a slight decline, which have either not come out in 2010 or SF have picked up in places.

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    Are previous SDLP voters transferring to SF or (like much of the Unionist block) are they simply staying at home?

  • There are a few constituencies where they are up again since 2007 such as East Derry and Newry and Armagh so rather than a downward slope it looks like a small V.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Tactical voting explains alot of it and sinn fein dominance in other constituencies leads to apathy

  • Michaelhenry

    leads to victory.

  • Tactical in North Belfast and South Down maybe, but the SDLP ran a poor campaign and it showed.

  • Lionel Hutz

    And in FST and upper bann.

    Don’t agree that SDLP ran a bad campaign but it certainly more focused in particular areas than it should have been.

    The Elections showed a 1.3% increase for SDLP since 2007. Whilst some of that can be put down to tactical voting not all of it can. It’s not masked either as Sinn Fein’s vote has dropped just under 1% since then

  • Lionel Hutz

    Explain that one.

  • BigBoss

    You have to look at areas like Mid-Ulster and South Antrim and remember that the SDLP ran Unknown candidates in both,

    I dare say the vote will be back up again once Patsy McGlone and Thomas Burns are running again, despite them not running, a seat quota was kept in both.

    East Derry was also the same, with a brand new candidate running instead of John Dallet…

    The only area the SDLP will really be worried about is North Antrim, and i expect to see a stronger campaign for next year.

    Assembly bring out more voters, because its not first past the post¬! and also remember there will probs be a government election at the same time, which there wasn’t for the WM election…

    I think the SDLP can look forward to next year the confidence! i think they will get an extra 2 seats out of it

  • Add an extra graph to show SF gains/losses on top of SDLP ones, in case that helps.

  • Wabbits

    When you take into account the boundary changes and the loss of Claudy and Banagher (areas with large SDLP voting paterns in local government elections) from Foyle to East Derry and then look at the lower turnout then it is plain to see that the SDLP vote in Foyle was up 3% and the Sinn Fein vote in Foyle was down by 1%.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Are the boundary changes not incorporated into the graph as in ‘corrected 2005’?

    Without increasing their vote % they might get 3 new seats next year – W Tyrone, Strangford & E Antrim. S Down is also possible

  • The graphs used the corrected (for boundary changes) figures from Ark.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I agree.

    They should target West Tyrone. They need to secure Fermanagh South Tyrone.

    There is a nationalist seat in East Antrim and although Sinn Fein are in pole position, with a strong campaign and helpful transfers, the SDLP can get it.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen in Lagan Valley. Sinn Fein will surely lose their seat due to the boundary changes. I don’t think that SDLP can take it but again you never know. How much of that Alliance vote is nationalist? Afterall SDLP added 1.5% in this election but are still below their assembly %

    I can’t see them making much ground in Newry & Armagh but a small enough swing would get that second seat. It was the biggest disappointment of 2007. If the unionist vote comes together it could give the SDLP more transfers.

    North Antrim is a big worry. They will have to consolidate behind one candidate. There is a potential nationalist seat in Strangford. If Hanna stays there, she could gain as she would be in pole position to do so.

    Those are the many possibilities, if the SDLP are to progress, they have to pick up one or two these

  • No one seems to be speculating on the implications for Northern Ireland of the Alternative Vote system. Sinn Féin only have over 50% in West Belfast and Mid Ulster so they will need transfers from the SDLP and Unionists to be sure of wins in places like Newry and Armagh (42% I think), FST and West Tyrone. They certainly won’t be getting many transfers from Unionists so if the SDLP tell their voters not to transfer to Conor Murphy he could be snookered.

  • John Joe

    The traditional post-election narrative from the SDLP (not unlike some of those above) is that their vote was either (a) loaned to SF to keep them on the straight and narrow, or, (b) tactically put behind a SF, or other, candidate who had a better chance of success (due to the greater political sophistication and empathy of the average SDLP voter).
    Why are the SDLP, even when the numerical evidence is staring them in the face, unable to admit that their vote is down?
    No-one has queried the extent to which the SDLP attracted tactical support from unionist or alliance voters in the likes of South Down (i.e. differentiating a core SDLP vote and tactical floaters who are as likely to not be there in the Assembly election).
    Taking the performances as a whole, SF’s worst performance (excluding SB since they didn’t stand) was -1.8%, the same as, or better than, the SDLP performance in 7 constituencies while the Alliance only had two drops worse than -1.8%. The SDLP had two gains over 1.6%, SF had nine and the Alliance had six. No amount of spin or citing boundary changes can paper over the cracks in the SDLP performance. And publicly over-estimating their performance contributes to a generalised impression of the SDLP as pompous and out-of-touch. With an Assembly election probably a year away, that probably isn’t that good an idea.

  • redhugh78

    W,Tyrone is also masked as a %gain because Independent hospital candidate kieran Deeney wasn’t standing and the SDLP would have hoped to take the lion share of that vote.
    They should have taken an assembly seat here last time but they made a big mistake standing three candidates whos transfers went everywhere and they failed despite having a quota, they could be under pressure to regain it if their voters continue to drift or stay at home.

  • Lionel Hutz

    John joe,

    there is no doubt that the SDLP lost 1% between this election and the last but 5 years is a long timeand they lost alot until 2007 from which time they seem to be slightly recovering.

    In 2007, Sinn Fein had 26.5% of the vote to the SDLPs 15.2%.
    In 2010, Sinn Fein had 25.5% of the vote to the SDLPs 16.5%

    Including the European elections, that is two successive elections where they have marginally increased their vote. It is not out of touch to look and see if their any potential gains in the Assembly elections. This is especially the case when you consider that SDLP can attract unionist and nationalist transfers.

    You can argue about unionist tactical voting but that has to be balanced by the inevitable effect in FPTP elections where the smaller party gets squeezed. In any case the rise is clear because Sinn Fein’s vote has gone down since 2007. That is not affected by tactical voting which in fact should help them in Westminster.

  • Mr Crumlin

    Think the SDLP has generally hit its floor and now has a core vote. Now that vote is an aging vote and will gradually decrease perhaps by 1% over the next few elections.

    Their real problem is the irrelevance in nationalist areas and that they increasingly look more interested in hating SF than anything else.

  • John Joe

    Lionel, I think you need to refine your numbers a little. The figure for SF only represents 17 constituencies, whilst the SDLP figures are from 18 constituencies. So those stats are not comparing like with like. Also, according to the stats on Nicholas Whyte’s website, SF got 26.2% in 2007 not 26.5%. Maskey had been polling around 10-12% in SB, which means you should adjust the SF score by about 3500 votes or so (matching the levels SF polled in previous Wesminister election relative to Assembly etc). That actually levels SF off at around the same as 2007, about 26.1%. So an SDLP increase of 1.3% probably came, at least in part, from somewhere other than SF voters (this is a gross over-simplification, I know). Matching Westminister and Assembly voting figures is tricky at the best of times.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Maybe I’ve got that figure wrong but 11% lead has been reduced to 9%.

    Also the votes Gildernew took of SDLP in FST was greater than what Maskey gave to McDonnell, so I don’t accept that point. Also Gerry Kelly has openly thanked SDLP voters for lending him their votes. In FPTP system Sinn Fein as the biggest party was always going to squeeze the SDLP. It remains to be seen whether that will be replicated in the Assembly elections.

  • Kevin Barry

    True, however, they didn’t run Maskey in SB

  • Kevin Barry

    I remain to be convinced that this was a good election for the SDLP. I think that in certain areas (South Down), they most definitely received votes normally for Unionist candidates. This should not be a strategy that they rely on too much as it will do them a whole lot more harm than good as we saw in WB and how they are still light years behind SF there.

    Their is always a problem looking at stats and reading far too much into them. Take for instance the European elections and how it translated into votes for the TUV but for Westminster their vote fell apart. I know there are many reasons for this, but what I’m saying is comparing one set of results with a different election is sometimes counter-intuitive and not an indicator of things to come.

    Also, it remains to be seen how the decision in FST pans out. Though Margaret should be applauded for sticking by her guns the fact that she didn’t put Ferghal into a less contentious constituency (Upper Bann) where he could have gained lots of support, raised the profile of the party and not risk the loss of a nationalist seat may well count against her.

    With out wishing to point out the obvious here, the stats are important, but what I think is more important is to view each election in its proper setting; the belief of the electorate in a constituency or ward in their ability to influence a result and the subsequent influence their preferred representative will have.

    I suspect the nationalist turn out for the Assembly elections will be higher than Westminster as there’s more competition for seats and the successful MLAs have more influence than MPs in the running of local affairs.

    What this means for the SDLP, we will see, but with personalities thin on the ground they may start to struggle against those more organised local party machines.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The Assembly elections will be a big test. Assuming McKinney was put in to take over Gallaghers seat, he must now win it.

    They fielded some other new candidates in Justin McCamphil, Claire Hanna and others who took a hit in the vote in the hope that the profile will help them win an Assembly Seat.

    This may or may not work, but it was worth a punt

  • USA

    Of the 16 constituencies in which SF and the SDLP both ran candidates; the SF vote performed better in 15 of those constituencies. Thats SF 15 v SDLP 1.
    Surely that is something the SDLP would need to discuss.

  • Kevin Barry

    I still don’t get it though; why put him into that kind of a seat for the Westminster elections? He seems a decent guy, not full of himself and is very agreeable. He was completely wasted in my opinion. If he runs in the Assembly elections and doesn’t get a seat I would have serious misgivings of Margaret’s tactical nous (hope that’s spelt correct, it’s late)

  • johnno

    In PR elections SF voters were always more generous with transfers towards the SDLP than vice versa.

    Not any more.

    The petty jealousy that inspired the fielding of McKinney simply to thwart Gildernew blew up in Margaret’s face. West of the Bann, I’d be amazed if any STOOP gets a SF transfer ever again. McGlone et al should be worried.

    And the running of the pointless Alban Maginess simply to keep Kelly out (and to help superProd Dodds) caused great anger. Similarly, Alaistar McDonnell’s behaviour post-election in S Belfast will have implications for the SDLP far beyond that constituency.

    Finlly, I think people haven’t fully appreciated the extent of Ruane’s achievement in securing 12,200 votes. Ruane’s meant to be the North’s most reviled politician, remember? She did the in the capital of STOOP-Land. Hilariously, the Tele refered to Ritchies 8k majority over Ruane as a ‘landslide’ whilst Pat Doherty’s 11k majority was described as the candidate ‘holding’ his seat! Seems like Slugger isn’t the only site out of touch and losing all sense of perspective.

  • USA – No that’s not right. Remember the graph is showing the change of share, not the absolute share. So the SDLP clearly did better than SF in the three seats SDLP won! Plus they were higher in Lagan Valley and perhaps others too …

  • John Joe

    Lionel, I refer you back to my original point above. Maybe best to just slide the proportion of the SF vote (and maybe even Alliance) back over to the SDLP, bump them up to the true level of support – i.e., 27% – and put SF and Allliance back to their core.
    So the SDLP did take the highest vote in the Westminister election! Job done. Way-hey.
    Seriously, and the SDLP wonders why it vote dropped in 13 of 18 constituencies?

  • bigchiefally

    Regarding Ruanes achievement in getting 12000 votes – For years a lot of people have voted for SF when they actively supported such acts as bombing pensioners on parade and later couldnt bring themselves to condemn the murder of 29 people in an assault on a town that is hardly a loyalist heartland.

    I think it is fair to say that after this some difficulties with the 11 plus are unlikely to put these voters off SF. Indeed, failing a Paul on the road to Damascus like conversion to Unionism I would question what could put the core support off.

  • John Joe

    SDLP obviously outpolled SF in the seats they won, in Foyle, South Down and South Belfast. They also outpolled SF in Lagan Valley, North Down and Strangford.

  • Bannister

    There are a few constituencies where they are up again since 2007 such as East Derry

    East Derry is a ficticious constituency, so it hardly counts

  • USA

    Sorry to be a pain Alan but i’m not getting the logic. It looks to me from the second chart that the grey (SF) bars outperform the green (SDLP) bars in terms of voting performance. What is the difference between “change of share” and “the absolute share”?
    Thanks.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Because there is a danger in putting any candidate, even a celebrity one, into any elections and expect to win. This way he got the exposure needed in a seat where in normal conditions, he would have polled well. I suppose the idea was to get an increase that the non-descript Gallagher would not get in the hope of pushing for a second assembly seat.

    Events though took over and he will struggle to maintain his share of the vote.

  • Lionel Hutz

    And I refer you to mine. The drop has levelled and showing signs of improvement even in the FPTP election which hurts small parties.

  • Ciaran FST

    In terms of Fermanagh and South Tyrone I think the SDLP have lost a considerable amount of support. I agree that some people have shifted over to Sinn Féin on what was a one off basis to ensure that the seat was retained by Michelle as they understoof whatever chance Michelle had McKinney certainly did not; however, I know of quite a few people who are very upset with the resolute stance taken by the SDLP in F&ST and this I believe will be reflected in May with the assembly elections and I don’t think its unrealistic to say that should SF again field another three candidates that they may taken three seats in F&ST.

  • Ciaran FST

    @Johno – I can’t believe the media said that lol! Next thing the will be saying Adam’s just held onto West Belfast!

  • Lionel Hutz

    The real difficuty for the SDLP is that Gerry McHugh will fight to keep his seat and Sinn Fein should get a second seat back. The SDLP risk getting squeezed.

    That said Ciaran, I know loads of people who liked what the SDLP did and still voted for Sinn Fein in the circumstances. I think most will come back but they have to work for it

  • John Joe

    Lionel – we could argue all day, but it’s pretty futile, I think. The SDLP and SF were only really challenging for the seats they won, apart from N Belfast which was being talked up a little (for no real reason as the numbers just weren’t there). So I suppose for an awful lot of constituencies, the vote for a lot of parties was squeezed where there was no hope of a victory and a lot of people didn’t bother coming out at all. Which I suppose, gives a lot of people hope for the Assembly. I’ll quit there rather than end on a negative note!!!!!!!!

  • Ciaran FST

    Rumour has it that McHugh is not standing. Anyway, I would not see that as having any impact as look at what his daughter polled in the council by election. . True that Sinn Féin only have one seat in F&ST at the moment but McHugh was elected under an SF banner and thanks to his large experienced election team both of which he now has neither of and the latter will be out to get McHugh when canvassing for the assembly elections. Should McKinney stand for the assembly elections it will be great to hear his canvass points for the assembly elections as all he had was abstentionism for this election.

  • Ciaran FST

    @Lionel I just re read your point. Point missed by me I see you meant that the SDLP will be squeezed and not SF with McHugh running. .

  • Lionel Hutz

    Common sense would suggest that if he does stand he would get votes from both but it is SDLP who look precarious not Sinn Fein.

    In regards to McKinney. I think he was trying to all things to everyone and ended up sounded weak and watered down. I still this was a dry run for the Assembly. McKinney must have realised he was never going to win even in normal conditions the Westminster seat. He should be in a better position to push the sdlp line in march.

    The more interesting question is what is the SDLP line going to be. It’s easy to fight Sinn Fein in the GE as there is a clear contrast. Not so at Stormount where the manifestos are broadly similar. I would love to see them expose the lack of substance with Sinn Fein. However there has to be a positive campaign which is a headscratcher.

    Sinn Fein will slag off the SDLP and claim that it’s the other way round and say ‘equality’ so much that one would yearn for a dictatorship. During this campaign Adams criticize Mallons old ‘Sunningdale for Slow Learners’ quip because Sunningdale didn’t have the word equality in it whereas GFA had loads of mentions of equality. Do not know how they get away with it. Actually heard a Sinn Fein MLA criticize an SDLP amendment to Ruane’s prep school debacle because it didn’t mention equality whereas Rusne said equality loads of time.

    Anyway, I digress. Conall is gonna have to get his thinking cap on.