No surprises in Mid Ulster as Molloy wins; turnout dips down from 91.5% in 1969 by-election to just 55.7%

Some quick figures from tonight’s Mid Ulster Westminster by-election result. I’m sure Gerry will post something over the next few days that will look at the figures in more detail and give some anecdotal evidence of the spread of turnout (using the tally samples) across the constituency.

Eric Bullick (Alliance) 487 (1.3%)
Nigel Lutton (Independent) 12,781 (34.2%)
Patsy McGlone (SDLP) 6,478 (17.3%)
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin) 17,462 (46.7%)

Turnout 37208; Spoilt 223 (0.6%); result declared around 1.15am

There was never any doubt that Francie Molloy would be elected as MP for Mid Ulster. The question was going to be how the Sinn Féin vote would hold up versus the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone, and how the agreed Unionist candidate Nigel Lutton would fare against previous DUP/UUP/TUV polling at the previous couple of elections.

First observation is that turnout has slipped from the an amazing peak of 91.5% in the 1969 by-election that first sent Bernadette Devlin to Westminster. In the 1970 Westminster general election, the Mid Ulster constituency had the highest turnout in the UK with 91.4%; and again topped the UK rankings with 86% in 1997. However, since then there has been a steady decline, on top of the traditional by-election dip in voter interest.

On one hand: how the mighty have fallen. On the other, the Eastleigh by-election turnout last week was 52.7%, down from 69.3% at the 2010 general election.

Mid Ulster turnout new

While Francie Molloy won the seat with 46.9% of the votes cast, just over a quarter of the eligible people in the constituency voted for him.

Eric Bullick (Alliance) 487 (0.7% of elegible voters)
Nigel Lutton (Independent) 12,781 (19.0% of eligible voters)
Patsy McGlone (SDLP) 6,478 (9.6% of eligible voters)
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin) 17,462 (26.0% of eligible voters)
Did not vote 29,766 (44.3% of eligible voters)

Sinn Féin’s percentage of the vote is down on the 2011 Assembly election’s 49.2%, and far down on the 2010 Westminster 52%. It will be an unremarkable but safe win for the party: they kept the seat, and that’s what mattered.

Mid Ulster SF and SDLP unionist voting new

The SDLP will be pleased to have recovered to their 2005-2007 level, though it hang on to their gains from Sinn Féin at the next multi-seat Assembly election.

Similarly, the unionist parties will be pleased that their united strategy recovered their percentage of the vote back to the 2005 Westminster level. However, while Nigel Lutton won 12,781 votes, this is the lowest number of unionists votes cast in a Westminster or Assembly election in at least the last 15 years. It is clear that only a unity candidate combining unionism and the SDLP could defeat Sinn Féin.

Ulster Unionists will surely question whether gaining a couple of percentage points – and an actual drop in votes – was worth the internal party upheaval. Perhaps a rumoured promise from the DUP not to stand a second candidate in the European elections next June would sweeten the blow.

After the result was announced, the Unionist unity agreed Unionist Independent candidate (according to the ballot papers and electoral rules) Nigel Lutton described himself as “the undertaker that resurrected Unionism“. Not the remark of a candidate who plans to slip into the background. Which party will he join? At which election will he next run?

Alliance will also be pleased with their modest – yet perhaps, sustainable – increase in the percentage vote from 1.0% in 2010 Westminster to 1.3% this year.

(Historic polling statistics from ARK and Wikipedia.)

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.