Reflecting on the numbers behind NI’s General Election results #ge2015ni (updated with individual party analysis)

For some the 2015 Westminster campaign in Northern Ireland was a vision of normalisation, with non-sectarian issues such as homophobia, women’s reproductive rights and austerity at the heart of many political argument. Yet the old us-versus-them crept in late in the day with the use of religious affiliation census data to encourage voters, and anonymous letters being posted. The traditional intra-unionism and intra-nationalism skirmishes were weakened by the four-seat unionist pact and the near complete absence of Alasdair McDonnell from the popular media.

Majorities at 2010 and 2015 General ElectionsWhile the DUP will smart from the loss of South Antrim to the UUP, that is more than compensated for by winning back East Belfast.

DUP constituency analysis 2010 2015Their majorities in Strangford, Lagan Valley, East Londonderry and Belfast North were sharply up. In a reverse of the 2010 outcome, the DUP outpolled Sinn Féin in May 2015.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone 2010 and 2015Tom Elliott pulled off a coup in Fermanagh & South Tyrone where most commentators had reckoned Sinn Féin would be more capable of getting their vote out. Instead, the SDLP vote dropped by 842 votes, Sinn Féin added 1774 and the joint unionist candidates pact candidate boosted by 2308 votes to claim the seat while Alliance upped their performance and the Greens took 788 votes. If the DUP were not to agree to a pact in 2020, Sinn Féin would immediately regain Fermanagh & South Tyrone.

Registered but did not vote versus votes cast for winning candidate 2015With overall turnout jumping to 72.96%, Fermanagh & South Tyrone is the only constituency in NI where the number of votes cast for the winning candidate is larger than the number of people on the electoral register who did not come out to vote.

South Antrim 2010 and 2015The UUP win in South Antrim had long been a possibility with Willie McCrea’s slim majority of 1183 only requiring a modest shift to the UUP or a measure of stay at home complacency. While McCrea lost 553 votes, the UUP added 1589 votes on their 2010 tally, while Alliance rose by 969 (rather than lending votes to Danny Kinahan).

While Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott’s victories are welcome good news for UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, the departure of the two MLAs for the House of Commons leaves the party with a big hole at the Assembly and the DUP are sure to challenge hard in May 2016 to capitalise on lesser-known candidates on the ballot papers.

South Down party vote totals 2010 2015The Jim Wells incidents did not particularly harm his vote in South Down, though UUP’s Harold McKee leapfrogged ahead of him into third place with an increased vote over UCUNF’s 2010 effort with John McCallister.

Belfast East 2010 and 2015 amendedThe story in Belfast East is one of higher turnout and only two candidates retaining their deposit. Naomi Long’s extra 4000 votes could not compete with the Gavin Robinson’s 19575 votes for the DUP. Though that’s only 229 votes up on 2010 DUP + 2010 TUV + 2010 UCUNF – 2015 Conservative. From the figures, it looks like Belfast East is safe in the hands of the DUP as long as the UUP do not field a candidate (and as long as Alliance have a strong candidate and can maintain around 13,000 votes). Unionist pacts will be necessary in the future if unionism wants to repeat the 2015 results.

Belfast West 2010 and 2015People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll beat Alex Attwood into third place in Belfast West. “Trandy politics” has been replaced with youth-favoured trendy revolutionary politics, particularly when éirígí and IRSP have no candidates running. Will Gerry Carroll repeat this performance and enter the NI Assembly in May 2016? The distribution of seats across the Belfast West Assembly candidates in 2016 will be hard to predict.

Sinn Fein constituency analysis 2010 2015Sinn Féin need to examine why their voters have started to desert them in Belfast West and West Tyrone.

Alliance constituency analysis 2010 2015Alliance increased their vote in all 18 constituencies.

TUV constituency analysis 2010 2015While their party leader Nigel Farage failed to win a seat, UKIP outpolled the longer-established TUV in East Antrim, Lagan Valley, North Down and Strangford. Should the DUP be looking over their shoulder at UKIP rather than the TUV? Particularly in the run up to an EU referendum?

Deposits kept and lost in 2015 by constituency

Deposits kept and lost in 2015The Conservative party came last in 10 out of the 16 seats they contested, and only kept their deposits in one seat (Strangford). Even former Euro-candidate Mark Brotherston failed to get over the 5% hurdle. The madcap notion of flying in GB candidates to stand in two thirds of the seats clearly failed to whet the appetite of the electorate. Tory candidates averaged 566 votes per constituency. Whether the ambition of using the candidates to boost the capacity of constituency groups worked will be seen in future elections.

Total votes by party in 2010 and 2015 amended

percentage vote share in 2010 2015 elections and percentage change amendedTotal votes by party in 2010 and 2015The SDLP vote went up in a third of seats, and down in the remaining eight.

SDLP constituency analysis 2010 2015Party leader Alasdair McDonnell haemorrhaged 4466 votes in South Belfast (though UKIP’s Bob Stoker 1900 votes ruined Jonathan Bell’s chances of taking the seat), while former party leader Margaret Ritchie lost 2571 in South Down due to apathy rather than voters switching parties.

Belfast South 2015Belfast South 2015 concentric ringsBelfast Southas noted in the News Letter – was won by Alasdair McDonnell with 24.5% of the vote, the lowest vote share ever for a Westminster election.

Even with 60% turnout, with so many ‘strong’ candidates, only 14.7% of the constituency’s registered voters cast a ballot in favour of their returned MP!

The UUP will be disappointed to have come in fifth place, behind SDLP, DUP, Alliance and Sinn Féin. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir’s vote will be a disappointment to Sinn Féin. In such a busy field of candidates, the high profile friendly face of republicanism couldn’t attract votes from non-traditional Sinn Féin voters.

Turnout was up in Belfast South, but it was non-nationalist/non-unionist voters who contributed to the increase in ballots: across Alliance, Greens and Workers Party, votes were up 34%.

Green Party constituency analysis 2010 2015The Green Party should be very pleased with Clare Bailey’s performance in Belfast South, more than doubling their votes and nearly doubling their vote share in the busy constituency. It is still nowhere near the 4,600 Assembly quota for the constituency (quota varies with number of valid votes cast) and the reduction to 5 Assembly members per constituency in the election after May 2016 will make it a real struggle to break through.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew and deputy leader Clare Bailey both kept their deposits, while the other three candidates lost their deposits.

Winning candidates votes as percentage of all votes cast and eligible electorate 2015Comparing the winning candidates’ poll counts with the total number ballots cast and the total eligible electorate demonstrates how little of a constituency actively vote for the winning candidate.

Popular vote versus seats won 2015Post-election, there’s a lot of discussion of the variance between vote share and seats won by parties in Great Britain. In particular, the contrast between SNP’s massive haul of seats and UKIP’s single win. In Northern Ireland, the DUP’s seat-to-vote ratio is impressive, while Sinn Féin come second too often. The UUP overall polled better than the SDLP but won one less seat.

Of the five independent candidates, three came last in the constituencies. Jonny Orr (with the stuffed penguin) beat the Conservative candidate in Lagan Valley. It is likely Jonny’s success was largely down to support from Green Party voters.

North Down 2010 2015North Down Independent candidate Sylvia Hermon dropped 3,492 votes while the DUP carved out 8,487 votes (the party didn’t stand in 2010).

Invalid votes 2010 and 2015There was a 9.5% increase in spoilt ballots. After leaving the ballot paper blank, the next most common method of spoiling the ballot (that I observed at the Belfast count) was voters writing NONE across the paper. Some people managed very sophisticated – and time-consuming – artwork on their ballots.

Based on the constituency results posted on EONI’s website this morning, I calculate that 35 ballot papers went missing between the validation (which may have been incorrect) and the candidate count. Additionally 3 extra ballot papers seemed to have been found in North Down in-between the verification and the count.

Given the lack of sleep and accuracy of 2010 and 2015 result sources, it’s conceivable that there are errors in the charts. Drop me a comment or an email and I’ll check out any queries.

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  • tmitch57

    Alan,
    Thanks for all the effort that went into these charts. I’m sure that they will prove invaluable for all the political parties in NI in making strategy decisions for both the next Assembly election and the next general election in determining where to sink scarce resources. I think that they will prove especially useful to the smaller parties such as TUV, the UUP, the SDLP, and Alliance. The Tories probably don’t need your charts as the one on lost deposits was pretty clear. Even the Shinners and DUPers can look at your charts to decide which seats to heavily target next time out. Yours charts are the equalizer for the smaller parties.

  • Dan

    I suggest a pact between UUP, UKIP and TUV in east Antrim in future.

  • lukeuser

    It would be nice to oust Sammy Wilson, but I would have imagined UKIP and TUV are taking more votes from DUP, not UUP.

  • John O’Brien

    Very interesting post + charts. Perhaps some of the absolute increases are due to the electorate expanding by 67,000 since 2010.

    Here is a more simple graph I did yesterday of the mainstream nationalist-republican vote from 1992 on (which is probably done better elsewhere…): https://twitter.com/johnlpob/status/596579145112526848

  • David Elliott

    Would it be possible for someone to estimate a read across to the Assembly election? I realise it might be difficult due to the Unionist pact – but even a rough estimate would be interesting.

  • John O’Brien

    + by Nationalist-Republican, Unionist-Loyalist and Alliance-Greens lines.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’d have imagined that different parties were created because they have fundamentally different views/standpoints/policies/manifestos/philosophies etc. Could you therefore qualify your suggestion with what the ultimate goal of pacts in general is please? In addition, please qualify what the goal of the above suggested pact might be?
    Would you ever suggest a pact between SF & SDLP?
    Would you ever suggest a pact between PUP & SF?
    Would you ever suggest a pact between APNI and … take your pick?

  • Gaygael

    Maybe a little something from myself re the Green Party.

    In 2010 they contested four seats and scored 2.4% in the seats contested. This time they contested 5 seats and scored 3.4%. An modest increase.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    I’ve done it, and will post something shortly. The numbers below compare
    with the 2011 election.

    DUP 32 (down 6)
    SF 29 (no change)
    UUP 17 (up one)
    SDLP 14 (no change)
    Alliance 9 (up one)
    UKIP 2 (up two)
    PBP 1 (up one)
    TUV 1 (same)
    Lady Sylvia Hermon 3 (up three)
    Greens 0 (down 1)
    Independents other than Lady Sylvia Hermon 0 (down 1)

    The changes from 2011 are:

    Lady Hermon wins three seats in North Down, from UUP, Green and DUP
    UUP gains from DUP in South Antrim, Newry/Armagh and two in FST
    UKIP gains from DUP in East Antrim and from UUP in Strangford
    SF gain from SDLP in Upper Bann
    SDLP gain from DUP in South Down
    Alliance gain from UUP in East Belfast
    DUP gain from UUP in South Belfast
    PBP gain from SF in West Belfast
    UUP gain from Independent in East Londonderry

    Obviously some of these are pact effects and others are local circumstances that won’t be repeated for the Assembly.

  • Slater

    Given that Lady Sylvia Hermon is one person, it is unlikely she can get three seats in North Down.
    I accept she is dangling the prospect of both keeping her seat at Westminster until 2025 while entering the Assembly but still she remains one person. Indeed by entering the Assembly, another Lady Hermon would have to go to Westminster.

  • David Elliott

    Thanks Nicolas – very interesting.

  • npbinni

    Thanks for all the great information.

    I agree with a lot of your comments, thoughts and analysis. I reckon, however, that the non-sectarian issues were actually the defence of 6,000 year old traditional marriage and family structure from those who wish to destroy them (aka, in recent times, as homophobia), the push for the arbitrary destruction of innocent, unborn children (aka women’s reproductive rights) and the continued and increased implementation of sensible and sustainable fiscal policies (aka as austerity).

    Semantics, I know, but clearly two very different perspectives of the same issues.