Projecting the Westminster votes onto the Assembly

I have crunched the numbers from Thursday’s election for each of the Northern Ireland constituencies, simply projecting the votes cast as if the election had instead been for 18 six-seat constituencies, and making a few other assumptions (competent but not perfect balancing of candidates, Unionists transfer to each other more than Nationalists, etc). The raw results are below, with links to each constituency page. I have colour-coded gains and losses, and also indicated in bold the four constituencies where there was a Unionist pact.

20113829161480010Green 1, Ind 1
E Belfast30-3+
N Belfast321Alliance chasing SDLP for last seat.
S Belfast2+10-21UUP and Greens close behind 2nd DUP and 2nd SDLP.
W Belfast4-11+
E Antrim2-1111+
N Antrim3111
S Antrim2-12+1
N Down2-0-13+++Greens would also lose seat to Hermon
S Down0-213+
Lagan Valley411UKIP and possibly SDLP close to 4th DUP.
E Londonderry311+1Ind would lose seat to UUP
Mid Ulster1311
Strangford31-11+Last seat v difficult to call, but UKIP best placed.
W Tyrone1311
Upper Bann22+20-

(Apologies for the less than perfect presentation of this table. If a kindly editor can help make the font smaller, and the column widths better balanced, I’d be most grateful.) [Ed – fixed as best I can!]

I have made a few judgement calls here. While there are not quite three Nationalist quotas in North Belfast, if the SDLP can stay ahead of Alliance they should keep their seat; two well-balanced DUP candidates in South Belfast can knock out the UUP there; four well-balanced DUP candidates can keep all four seats in Lagan Valley; and UKIP lead the pack of smaller Unionist parties in Strangford and should overtake the SDLP for the last seat there.

On that basis, the DUP would be down by 6 seats, still the largest single party, but only 3 ahead of SF. True, three of those six notional losses are the result of the electoral pact with the UUP, in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry and Armagh, and another is a by-product of my projection of Lady Hermon into three North Down MLA’s. But slippage to UKIP in East Antrim, the UUP in South Antrim, and the SDLP in South Down looks real enough, compensated by a notional gain from the UUP in South Belfast.

The projection gives the UUP a net gain of a seat, which is at first glance encouraging; but if one leaves aside the two southern constituencies where the DUP gave the UUP three notional Assembly seats (and on the other hand the peculiar case of North Down), the overall pattern is of a net downtick, with losses to Alliance in East Belfast, the DUP in South Belfast and UKIP in Strangford counterbalanced by gains from the DUP in South Antrim and the late David McClarty’s seat in East Londonderry.

UKIP had a good election in places, in contention for an Assembly seat not only in Strangford, where they currently hold one thanks to David McNarry’s defection from the UUP, but also in East Antrim, where TUV (as elsewhere) failed to put up much of a challenge.

My projection has both Nationalist parties on the same number of MLAs as in 2011, but with some interesting variation below the headline. The SDLP lost votes in South Down, but still has enough for three quotas, likely squeezing out the DUP. On the other hand, their vote in Upper Bann in this election is below the threshold of a decently balanced Sinn Fein ticket (in fairness, a trick that SF have had difficulty pulling off here). An SF gain from the DUP in Upper Bann is then countered by a loss to Gerry Carroll and People Before Profit in West Belfast.

Alliance had a good election overall – despite losing their one Westminster seat, the vote went up in all but their two worst constituencies, and Naomi Long’s East Belfast vote would deliver a third Assembly seat there at the expense of the UUP. Uniquely among the larger parties all their current seats look safe on this vote, and they are within shouting distance of a second seat in South Belfast and a first in North Belfast.

Westminster elections generally flatter larger parties and suppress the vote of smaller ones. That hasn’t been the case this year, as UKIP are in good position to take two seats and People Before Profit one, plus of course Lady Hermon’s success in North Down – which comes at the partial expense of the Greens, who we could expect to do better in an Assembly election.

Of course, real elections are different from virtual elections. But my sense is that there is in fact a drift away from all four of the large parties, SF and the SDLP losing votes overall, and the DUP and UUP upticks in vote share being almost entirely due to the pacts. But the centre ground is not the sole beneficiary of this drift; Unionist voters are having a fresh look at UKIP and to a lesser extent the TUV and the Conservatives; People Before Profit and single-issue campaigners are nibbling at the other side. Next year’s poll is looking very interesting.


  • mickfealty

    Thanks Nicholas.

    I think the pact throws a ringer into the extrapolation of these figures, so I’m not sure I see a UUP gain in N&A, or two in FST (though if momentum flows from Tom, Arlene may have to slice her running mate in south Tyrone a few more Fermanagh wards).

    Everything has to do with momentum. That’s what makes the likely (see his growth curve since the bye election) breakthrough of Gerry Carroll in West so interesting.

    I’d be looking at the rise in the SDLP vote in Newry and Armagh to see if it breaks in the same way next year. McNulty may not be breaking two quotas now, but nor was Carroll breaking one in the bye-election. Momentum is the thing.

    Most of the rest is hard to read, not least since the flattening of nat votes in no hope east Bann Westminster constituencies may be hiding a few surprises come the Assembly elections next year.

    But even that will likely be harder than it has been. The increased Unionist turnout puts a higher price on any potential nationalist seat gain there.

  • mjh

    I don’t think that Nick is saying that the Westminster results suggest that, for example the DUP will lose its 2 seats in FST, giving the UUP three there. He is simply showing what would happen if the votes were replicated in an Assembly election.

    In that scenario the DUP would stand aside in FST, just as it did in Westminster, leaving the UUP to pick up the three unionist seats; and Sylvia Hermon would be able to have her name entered three times on the North Down ballot paper and win a seat with each.

    The point is that had an Assembly election been held on the same day the votes cast would have been different. In FST there would have been 2 DUP candidates, Sylvia Hermon would not have been on the North Down ballot paper even once.

    If you want to say what does this vote imply for Assembly Elections it is necessary to try to unwind the effects of unionist pacts and tactical voting.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Of course the pact throws things off in the relevant seats. Though not all that much: the DUP already have a monopoly of MLA’s in North Belfast, the combined Unionist vote was at its lowest ever in East Belfast, and the UUP were already within striking distance of gains from the DUP in both Newry and Armagh and FST. (Though, admittedly, one gain rather than two in the latter case.)

    I agree about Carroll’s momentum. I am not so sure about the SDLP in Newry and Armagh. Their net swing from SF was well under 1%. I agree that not much of a shift is needed to put the SDLP closer to asecond quota than SF are to their third, but they haven’t moved that far yet.

    I wonder about the low Nationalist vote east of the Bann. This is the third election in a row where they have underperformed there relative to my expectations, even allowing for the higher Unionist vote. I am beginning to suspect that Nationalist voters actually aren’t all that excited by Nationalist policies any more.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Indeed – I am providing a starting point for further analysis, not a prediction!

  • banana man

    the election is just finished but already i’m looking forward to next year, it is the important one to me. I am alot more optimistic about SF’s performance next year than most others have been. I am in no doubt we lost many a vote because of how much the “Sinn Fein wont use your vote” message was used when the whole hung parliament looked inevitable, if people saw a tory majority they would have just stuck with the shinners, despite that though of course our vote did go up, so maybe our share will be alot higher next year? and I am certain of a return to the largest party in terms of votes.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    our vote did go up

    Actually, SF’s vote share decreased by 1%, and the increase in total vote – 4,290 – was less than the 5,402 votes gained by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir in South Belfast. Apart from that, SF’s vote share went up by 0.5% in East Derry, 0.1% in East Antrim, 0.01% in North Down, and decreased everywhere else, notably in West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and West Belfast.

    I am sure you are right – that under current circumstances, with a devolved government up and running and SF fully participating in that, it’s more difficult than it used to be to get voters enthused about electing an abstentionist member to a parliament that anyway has less control over NI than it used to.

    But if I were an SF activist, I’d be a bit worried. What use was all the hype about Gerry Kelly, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Cat Seeley and indeed Gearóid Ó hEára when all four actually saw vote share fall? Are SF’s key target voters as enthusiastic about the central message as they used to be? I wonder.

  • Gopher

    I think Attwood is as good as gone in the next election and I think a unionist will have a good chance. PBP standing in West Belfast means quotas are unlikely to be hit by the olympic champions of vote balancing in the first round.

  • mjh

    I hope that the SDLP are not relying on atmosphere for comfort. If alarm bells are not ringing on loudspeaker at Party Headquarters they certainly ought to be.

    Take Upper Bann, for example. No pacts to muddy the waters; just the question of tactical voting.

    At the last Assembly election the SDLP retained a seat – elected on the final stage without reaching a quota. They were just 350 votes ahead of the second SF candidate. That is less than 0.06 of a quota.

    The SDLP share of the nationalist vote has fallen from 34.0% in 2010, to 29.6% at the last Assembly, to 26.2% last week. At the same time the total nationalist share which had risen to 38.7% of the total poll in 2011 dropped to 34.3% (despite receiving a boost of 2.2% from the re-entry of the Workers Party – many of whose votes do not transfer to nationalists).

    Even if the SDLP retained the same share of the nationalist vote as it had in 2011 it would have 0.7of a quota – down from 0.8 last time. Slippage to the share it received on Thursday would see it just over 0.6 of a quota – tantalisingly short of the level it would need even with transfers.

    So maybe the atmospherics would tell us that SF had run a successful squeeze campaign. But the danger – especially in a constituency where the SDLP vote has been on the skids – is that not all of those who lend their vote will take it back again.

    The other bit of atmospherics was that the SDLP were pinning high hopes on their new candidate and were targeting the seat for an increased vote.

    So if the SDLP are complacent they will probably lose the seat to an SF which will certainly draw the conclusion that one last push will get them there. And SF will be even more motivated by the desire to make a gain to help offset the likely loss of one or even two seats in West Belfast.

  • Gopher

    I can’t relly see much sense to these figures imho. The salient thing to look out for in the assembly election thrown up by the general election figures is what happens to SF candidates when they fail to hit quotas. For instance I can see the SDLP polling less in South Antrim and ending up with the seat.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Alliance are getting back the votes they lost to the SDLP East of the Bann during the 1990s.

  • Granni Trixie

    All credit to PBP – they are obviously reaching local people’s needs in a way that others aren’t.

    However, surely their appeal is as a protest vote – partly against austerity and partly against SF dominance. Getting to Stormont in 2016 will flush out if they are more than that eg have they any practical suggestions as to how to resolve balancing the budget – otherwise their rhetoric will be shown to be only hot air.

    I’m also sure that the good result for PBP is already impacting on SF in that with newcomers breathing down their neck sf is more likely to dig their heels in and resist coming up with a compromise solution with Dup.

    O dear, not looking good in terms of problem solving, is it?

  • Will the emergence of People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll with his 6,798 votes affect only Alex Atwood? Surely Sinn Féin must be worrying about that 5th Assembly seat.

  • mjh

    They should also be worrying about their 4th seat, Mark.

    On Thursday’s figures PBPA has 1.3 of a quota, combined unionists 0.9, SF 3.8, SDLP 0.7 with Alliance and Workers Party on 0.1 each.
    If PBPA keep those votes it’s in the bag for them. And a strong drive from DUP could take them over the line as well.

    Even the highly disciplined SF voters of West Belfast leak some transfers, or plump for first preference only. And with the SDLP more transfer friendly to Alliance and WP voters I reckon they would just pip SF to the last seat on these figures.

  • Gopher

    I fully expect the PUP to put up a candidate in West Belfast so unionist parties will squeak out a few more votes. On the general election figures I suspect 1 SF and Alex Attwood are gone. Nationalists polled 27,000 at the last assembly election, 22,600 is too few imho for a “lock down” Once you stop making quotas its game on.

  • Gopher

    It puts the SDLP in a difficult place I’m not sure they can risk running two candidates in West Belfast on that General election showing which is a big statement to make.

  • The Hermon Party?

  • tmitch57

    Nicholas, while this may not be a prediction it is still very misleading because voter calculations are totally different with different voting systems. This can be seen in the party system in Israel prior to 1996 and the system afterwards. By giving voters an extra vote for prime minister, an electoral “reform” encouraged voters to vote for smaller parties and ended the situation under which the two leading parties controlled between them between two thirds and three quarters of the seats in the Knesset.

    In the Assembly election there will be no election pacts and so the UUP will definitely be a factor in East Belfast and other constituencies covered by the 2015 pact.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    I don’t mean to mislead; I do mean to get people to look at the actual data!