Unionism needs to learn the magic of ‘vote management’

It’s more than thirty years since PR STV was introduced to local elections and although it is a complex instrument you would have thought most parties would have cottoned on by now as to how balance their tickets. Danny Kennedy sees unionism’s underperformance in South Antrim as a reason to seek greater co-operation with the DUP:

“Here in South Antrim the combined unionist vote was equal to more than five assmebly quotas, yet presently the area only has three unionist assembly members because the vote was shredded with too many candidates running.”

Two problems here. One, I make the total unionist vote in the last PR election of 2007 to be 22,012. With a quota at 5,454, I make that only just over four quotas, not five. Even last May’s general election fight only bumps that up to 23,718. But in 2007 the UUP, who only squeezed one seat out of that contest chose three candidates…

But it is worse than that. That fourth seat was probably sitting there for the UUP (or possibly even the DUP’s taking). Consider, for example loading Stephen Nicholl’s 927 1st preferences onto Danny Kinihan’s total and it takes him 500 votes ahead of the SDLP Tommy Burns who eventually took the last seat after the first count.

Now then, consider doing the thing that most nationalist and certainly the Alliance party do in their sleep, and work harder on your vote management strategy. Although to be fair to the UUP, their split between Kinihan and Burnside in ’07 is not bad (possibly because the two have quite separate appeals to two very different voter bases).

The DUP front runner might have made his running partner, Mel Lucas a little more competitive by splitting the vote a little more easily than the 2:1 split they eventually got. Focus on topping the poll (which they lost to Mitchel McLaughlin) cost the DUP a decent shot a third and unionism its forth seat.

A pact would not have helped. Greater internal discipline and organisation would.

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