How much of a DUP/SF swing *would* it take for Martin McGuinness to be First Minister?

In her speech to the DUP party conference today, First Minister Arlene Foster called attention to the narrowness of the margin between her party and Sinn Féin:

A swing of only two votes in every hundred from the DUP to Féin would see Martin McGuinness become the next First Minister.

In the last Assembly election in 2011, the DUP won 38 seats with 30.0% of first preferences, and Sinn Féin won 29 seats with 26.9%. At a first glance, that 3.1% margin between the two parties’ vote shares is even closer than the First Minister claimed; a uniform swing of a mere 1.6% would be enough to make SF the largest party by votes, and as we all know the largest party by seats gets to choose the First Minister.

But there’s an important difference between seats and votes.

Looking at the 2011 results for each constituency, and applying a (highly improbable) uniform shift of votes from the DUP to Sinn Fein while keeping the votes for other parties at the 2011 levels, it seems that the real figure required to give SF more seats than the DUP is more like 5% than 2%; the DUP could actually trail SF by more than 6% in first preferences overall, and still win more seats. This is partly because the DUP’s stronger constituencies have smaller electorates, and partly because in the last election the DUP tended to get elected with votes to spare while a number of successful SF candidates had tighter squeaks to get in.

To be specific.

1% shift: DUP 37 (-1), SF 30 (+1)

The first consequential change as a result of a DUP->SF shift actually involves neither party directly. A mere 460 votes separated David McNarry, then of the UUP, from Joe Boyle of the SDLP in Strangford. A 0.8% swing from DUP to SF would have given the UUP fewer transfers, and the SDLP more, causing a different result.

0.9% extra votes for SF gives them a second seat at the expense of the SDLP in Upper Bann; a slightly bigger shift against the DUP loses them one of their three seats in East Londonderry to the UUP.

2% shift (the “Foster line”): DUP 35 (-3), SF 30 (+1)

I see two more DUP seats at risk in this range – their third seat in North Belfast, which would have remained with the UUP in 2011 if the DUP had 1.3% fewer votes, and the third seat in South Antrim, which would have remained with the SDLP if the DUP had 1.8% fewer votes and there were also 1.8% more Nationalist transfers to go round.

3% shift: DUP 34 (-4), SF 30 (+1)

If the DUP vote shifts to SF uniformly by about 3%, I think that they lose the second seat in Upper Bann to SF and the SDLP keep theirs (rather than the SDLP losing to SF as imagined above). This is the first case of a direct transfer between the two parties.

4% shift: DUP 34(-4), SF 30 (+1)

I don’t see any more seats falling in this range, though the DUP would be trailing SF by at least 5% in total vote share by now.

5% shift: DUP 30 (-8), SF 34 (+5)

This is the real tipping point, with four direct transfers between the two parties. On a 5% shift, I think the DUP would likely lose seats directly to SF in South Down, Foyle, Lagan Valley and Mid Ulster. Even if only two of those four were to shift, it is enough to give SF the the right to choose the First Minister – they would be tied on 32 seats each, but the number of votes would then be taken into account. Sinn Fein would have 31.9% of the vote to the DUP’s 25.0%; the total Nationalist vote would be around 46% and the total Unionist vote around 43%.

So, basically, the DUP can afford to lose a few votes and still be the largest party. Understandably enough, this is not their preferred scenario.


  • Jollyraj

    I’m not quite sure what you are talking about. Are you for real?

  • Gaygael

    Paddy. That’s what I have been saying to you here for a long time. Project nationalism needs to persuade ‘others’. I have been saying to you that pretending that Nationalist majority, ie more than 55 seats, (you said it would happen in 2016 and I challenged you) was just around the corner does not seem very unlikely if we follow the patterns or recent elections.
    I think that Nationalism may fall below 40 seats, and unionism will hold steady with maybe a slip of a small number.
    Can you please tell me where you think Nationalist gains will come at the expense of unionism?

  • Paddy Reilly

    I think that Nationalism may fall below 40 seats, and unionism will hold steady with maybe a slip of a small number.

    Well then you’re clearly a nutter. Your projections of Greens winning a seat in South Belfast (with 2.8 > 5.7% of the vote) and Alliance in North Belfast (with 6.3 > 7.2 and no source of transfers) are just plain innumerate.

    Go through the 18 constituencies and see how many times a SF or SDLP candidate is closer to the goal of 14.28% than this and you will have your answer.

    Otherwise wait for the election results. It’s not that long.

    (you said it would happen in 2016 and I challenged you)

    No, I said it would happen in 2020 but on reflection I probably mean 2021.

  • Paddy Reilly

    “I’m all for marriage between Protestants and Catholics, as I am for ending the ridiculous/dangerous practice of segregating our children at school – indeed the latter will likely lead to much increased incidence of the former. ”

    “Sorry but I can’t think of anyone living that I know who married some-one they went to school with.”

  • Gaygael

    I can go back and dig out the link where you posited Mcguiness as first minister after 2016 if you want?

    Watch the greens in south Belfast. Conall Mcdevitt, the sdlp second runner in 2012 got 9.1%. It’s unlikely they will hold that. The greens were squeezed in a tactical Westminster by people sticking with big al to keep out the Dup. In an stv election, those votes are much more likely to come loose.
    The last time, Anna Lo got nearly 20%, and although alliance are unlikely to hold that vote, they won’t be far away. All the greens need to do is be above the second sdlp and second alliance runners and the seat is theirs. The ‘others’ will be very close to 2 quotas. In fact at Westminster they got 25.3% in a much publicised sdlp versus dup battle. They may even be above 2 quotas.

    As for North Belfast, my home constituency and where I am the green candidate, the sdlp were only 1% ahead of alliance in Westminster. Alliance need to just squeeze ahead, come elimination time. SF are only running 2 and will have little likely surplus to spare to save the sdlp. Also with PBP, workers and my own, that will also eat into sdlp and SF and alliance votes. SF despite all their rhetoric of dislodging Doods, and throwing the kitchen sink at it, increased their comparative score between Westminster results by 0.1%.

    So again. Where is nationalism looking like it will directly take seats from others or unionists?

    ‘Nutter’ is really unhelpful language.

    As I said, SF at risk in east Antrim, west Belfast (maybe even 2 if it went totally pear shaped) and increasingly I would throw FST into that mix, although a loss there is likely to be the sdlp gain.

    Sdlp are at risk in north Belfast, south Belfast, and Foyle. With a smaller risk in upper bann (but to SF) and west Belfast (to PBP)

    Where do you see nationalist gains? Please enlighten this nutter.

  • Skibo

    But that did not alter the number of ministerial positions

  • Paddy Reilly

    In 2011 Conall McDevitt got 9.9% of the 1st preference vote and Clare Bailey 2.8%.

    In North Belfast Sinn Féin have 33.9% of the vote, giving them 2 quotas plus a surplus of 5.33% to gift the SDLP.

    Do pay attention to detail.

    I may be tempted to write about potential Nationalist gains on a special thread nearer the election.

  • Gaygael

    You style of discussion is to pick the smallest of points and not address the wider ones. Yes you are correct re Conall McDevitt. it’s unlikely that they will hold that figure. And with repeated downward trajectory in the SDLP vote since then, it’s likely to be significantly lower. A minor slip, but the point remains. Try to answer it.

    Bailey got 2.8% in 2011. Greens went to 3.9% in 2014, and they didn’t stand in Castlereagh South which would have added a few hundred more. In Westminster (FPTP) that went up again to 5.7%. Expect a squeeze for smaller parties in tight sectarian head counts pitched as a two horse race between SDLP and DUP. Expect that continued trajectory to be upward.

    I do pay attention. Westminster elections, which are often pitched sectarian head counts and with many more voters likely to vote tactically against rather than for, SF decreased by 0.1% compared to the last Westminster in North Belfast. I got their literature. I have friends in Sinn Fein. I live in the constiuency. There was a partially genuine belief they could dislodge Dodds. They threw the kitchen sink at it. Their vote went down by a tiny fraction. They won’t have a kitchen sick this year, as they will be worried what Gerry Carroll will do to their spectacular vote management in West Belfast.

    In north Belfast, a year after their 34% in Westminster 2010, at assembly 2011, SF vote went down to 31.9%. In local 2014 that was down to 25.75%, which is possibly their rationale for running 2 rather than 3 this time out. That and increasing trend of SDLP transfers going alliance. I expect their vote will be under 30%. Enough for two safe seats, but not enough surplus to save the SDLP.

    In 2010 to 2015, the SDLP vote fell from 12.3% to 8.2%. -4.1%. In 2011, they scored 14%, a jump from the year before. In locals 2014, they got 9.6%. In 2015, this fell to current 8.2%. So unless SF score significantly over 30% and transfers are kind, the SDLP are in very serious trouble.

    Interestingly, the entrance of Rev Lesley Carroll to the race might hurt any expected alliance growth. A liberal unionist working for years in the community may put the UUP back into solid contention for that third DUP seat.

    I look forward to your predictions of nationalist gains. SF really have nowhere to gain, bar upper bann at the expense of the SDLP. They are not running three in North Belfast, as they did in 2011. Does that not tell you something?And in many other places they are running what they hold with an occasional extra that nobody seriously considers they will gain. Does that not tell you something?

    But I’ll await you telling me where those potential gains are.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Just remember:-

    A quota is 14.28%

    2 quotas is 28.57%

    3 quotas is 42.85%

    In 2011 SF + SDLP (in North Belfast) had 43.9% of the vote, 3 quotas, and between then won 3 seats, as you would expect.

    In 2015 SF + SDLP had 33.9% + 8.2% = 42.1% of the vote and the Workers Party had 2.3%. Any normal person would expect this meant that in 2016 SF will win 2 seats and SDLP one.

    If you think otherwise, I suggest you are suffering from candidate fever, where the buzz of being a political candidate causes a person to lose all contact with reality.

    If you are really the Green candidate for North Belfast, then your votes will merely have the effect of diminishing the showing of Alliance. They will then pass to that SDLP whose demise you have prematurely predicted. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

  • Gaygael

    Paddy don’t patronise me. I know what a quota is an how basic maths works. If the SDLP get eliminated before the alliance candidate I it won’t matter how close to the overall vote nationalism has to 3 quotas. 6 quotas is 85.68%. What happens the other 14.32%? The example is the SDLP in 2007 in west Tyrone.
    Why would I pretend to be the Green candidate? And as I have repeatedly stated, I am from working class Catholic north Belfast. I went to Edmund rice primary and grew up in the new lodge and then went to st MLAs. I played for a local gaa team, through which many in my family are still involved. My extended family would be primarily SF and SDLP voters. I will take votes from Sinn Fein. How many, I’m totally unsure until the campaign kicks off. As a green I will take votes from both the SDLP and alliance and some from the UUP and others. How many, I can’t posit until the campaign kicks off properly.
    P I will likely avoid commentary on my own constiuency as I will be too close to be objective.

    Throw a personal dig. Dont try to slate my analysis. I have been doing this for years and I am remaining objective as possible candidacy or direct political involvement or not.

    So for the third time. Where are those nationalist gains? Certainly not in North Belfast.

  • Gaygael

    ‘Normal’ people do not consider FPTP Westminster elections as sole indicators or electoral trends and indicative of an upcoming assembly election. I think that’s the the inherent mistake you make just looking at Nicholas Whyte and ark. He intrinsically gets that. They look at patterns established over a series of STV elections. Westminster is relevant because it’s the most recent.

  • Gaygael

    Oh here you go. The next uk election is scheduled for 2020, unless it goes earlier.
    So you need MMcG as first minister in 10 weeks.

  • Paddy Reilly

    No I don’t

    (you said it would happen in 2016 and I challenged you)

    No, I said it would happen in 2020 but on reflection I probably mean 2021.

  • Paddy Reilly

    In order of likelihood:

    1) South Down

    2) Upper Bann

    3) Lagan Valley

    4) South Antrim

    5) North Antrim

    6) East Londonderry

    Possible Future (not before 2021)

    7) Strangford

    8) Fermanagh South Tyrone

    But the exercise is futile since the shape and number of the constituencies and possibly even the number of MLAs per constituency will almost certainly have been changed before then.

    You cannot keep putting (the children of) Nationalists on the electoral register without altering the balance of power. They have to be stuffed in somewhere, and city and suburban locations seem more likely than these mainly rural locations. But that’s how it looks at the moment.

    As I recall (without checking) about 6 Nationalist gains directly from Unionists and one Unionist loss to the centre will make Nationalist the largest designation. Nationalist losses to the centre will not affect this result, if they are balanced by the same number of Unionist losses to the centre.

  • Paddy Reilly


  • Gaygael
  • Gaygael

    Ok. I disagree. I’m taking a screenshot and let’s come back in the second week of May. If you think south down is the most likely of nationalist gains in 2016, then by my understanding, that’s a high bar already. My early guesses on those are;
    1) SOUTH DOWN – 2 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 UUP, 1 UKIP (-1 DUP + 1 UKIP, -1 Ind U +1 UUP)
    2) UPPER BANN – 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP (just) (no change)
    3) LAGAN VALLEY – 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 ALL, Basil (just) (-1 DUP +1 ni21) technically!
    4) SOUTH ANTRIM – 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 ALL, 1 SF (-1 DUP +1 UUP)
    5) EAST ANTRIM – 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 UKIP, 2 ALL (-1 DUP +1 UKIP, -1 SF +1 ALL) dodgy that could be UUP instead of alliance.
    6) EAST DERRY – 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP, Sugden (-1 DUP +1 UUP)
    I’m suggesting those areas will have no nationalist versus unionist change rather unionist versus unionist change apart from Lagan Valley, due to NI21s apparent designation change. That’s if he holds on. I have him as just, and after last weeks interview, that’s going down. Possible to a third DUP. Anyway.

    Effectively, -5 DUP, – 1 SF, -1 Ind U, +3 UUP, +2 UKIP, +1 ALL, and if basil holds, an Ind U changing to an ‘other’.
    The loss of 6 unionists replaced with 5 unionists and an other. No losses to other. 1 loss nationalist to other. That’s just in those 6/18 areas. I have early odds on the other 12/18 and am awaiting slugger opening something up.

    As I say, these are early guesses that have been even Evolving since May 6th. Let’s see what the campaign brings, and I think it’s only appropriate that if I’m commenting on guesses, projections and predictions that I’m not obliged to comment on North Belfast.

    As you say, speculation for 2021 and the next assembly will be informed by new boundaries elected on in local and European 2019, Westminster 2020 and the five years of political events until then. Let’s hope we are still debating. 🙂

  • Gaygael

    Where do sf transfers go? Why have SF ran 2 instead of three? By your magic quota rationale, with SF having 34% split across 3 candidates, that would be 11.3% each per candidate. And as the SF electoral machine is very good at splitting sure. That would be likely above the SDLP Westminster 2015 score of 8.2% (?) they could just scoop up those SDLP transfers and waltz away to 3 SF seats. That was tried in 2011. Oh no. They won’t. Look where the SDLP are increasingly transferring. Alliance.

    I stand on our own policies. Pro choice, quotas, no welfare reforms administered by tories, transparency with accountability and grassroots empowered local democracy. If you want to vote for that, no other party offers it.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    This is yet another basic failure of reading comprehension, not worth engaging with further.

  • Reader

    Actually, the DUP hardly ever have to use a Petition of Concern (POC) to block nationalism, as there is a unionist majority in the Assembly anyway. As the only party with enough votes to launch a POC without help from another party, the DUP uses POCs to prevent change, thus protecting its ultra conservative agenda.
    Sinn Fein, without the ability to do a POC solo-run, need to get the SDLP on board, or their POCs will fail – e.g. the SPAD/ex-con Bill.
    Thus we can perfectly understand the behaviour of both parties – cynical, calculating and wrapped in their own agendas.
    You have been told often enough that a nationalist (party) plurality won’t lead to a United Ireland referendum majority, so we need to consider what SF would do with unfettered power in the assembly. From their behaviour in councils, we have some examples – Play parks named after terrorists, no union flags on public buildings, anywhere, ever. And of course, the Maze shrine.
    So the Petition of Concern is staying. Will you join me in the hope that the DUP loses the ability to launch one unilaterally?

  • Paddy Reilly

    If SF is running 2 candidates (for North Belfast, in 2 months time) then that is because it has a following of at most 33.9%: two quotas of the vote plus a bit more. (2015: 5.32 2011: 3.32). This ‘bit more’ is insufficient to bump up to a full quota.

    Parties like SF, DUP, and TUV are generally transfer unfriendly: transfer votes generally proceed inwards, as SF > SDLP > Alliance. However bumping 5.32% up to 14.28 is a tall order even for Alliance.

    You cannot split a vote into 3 near quotas and then expect some idiot to come along and supply the required transfers. The system does not allow it. You have to completely fill one quota before moving on to the next, and then completely fill that.

    Back when the elections to the European Parliament started, SF put forward 3 candidates because there were 3 seats up for grabs.

    This ludicrous optimism, wasting the time of election tellers and possibly diminishing the chances of a viable candidate was soon abandoned.

    So the two candidate strategy is the correct one. If the SF 1st preference vote in North Belfast ever swells to 40%, say, then they might like reconsider.

    The trouble is that people do not understand the PR system, even years after its introduction. Half the people voting for it just haven’t twigged yet: hence the frequent error of referring to the 1st preference vote as the vote, and miscalculating accordingly.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Isn’t a nat gain (SDLP) in Strangford more likely than any of those 6?

    (Good luck in NB!)

  • Paddy Reilly

    I’m taking a screenshot and let’s come back in the second week of May.

    Yes, I feared that I was going to be misquoted for rhetorical effect. What I said at the beginning of this sub-thread was “it may happen in May that Unionists will lose a couple of seats each to Centrists and Nationalists and move into minority status.” This is merely the statement of a possible outcome and reaction to it: it is not a prediction.

    Equally, my list is merely a statement of possible areas of direct Unionist to Nationalist transfer, in order of likelihood. I do not expect to move very far down it in 2016: but 2021 is a different matter.

    If you think South Down is the most likely of nationalist gains in 2016, then by my understanding, that’s a high bar already.

    In 2015 the entire Unionist vote in South Down, including Conservative, had fallen to 25.3%, well short of two quotas. So the likelihood of a Unionist loss, and Nationalist gain here, is very high.

    In Upper Bann in 2011, the entire Unionist camp managed to win 4 seats with just 54.7% of the 1st preference vote, whereas four quotas is 57.14%. To repeat this feat they would have to maintain their high turnout of 2015, without Nationalists increasing their turnout correspondingly.

    In Lagan Valley the Nationalist vote was in 2011, still over a thousand votes short of a quota, but with Catholics moving into this constituency at a rate of 3,500 every 5 years, you can never tell if this might happen. In all fairness, there was no sign of this in 2015.

    So, if I was Sinn Fein, I would want to send all my party workers to Upper Bann, and if I was the SDLP, I would be massing them in Lagan Valley.

  • Paddy Reilly

    With the SDLP on 6.9% of the vote (in 2015) and SF on 2.6, and all the Alliance votes needed to elect Alliance with none left to transfer to the SDLP, and the rest of the voters hostile Unionists, I would definitely say no.

    But with 17.28% of the population Catholic, you might think there was one nationalist quota there, but there seems to be a rule that when the Catholic population is that low the Catholics will go for Alliance. But a slightly higher number in East Antrim (20.39%) did produce a SF MLA there.

  • Paddy Reilly

    You have been told often enough that a nationalist (party) plurality won’t lead to a United Ireland referendum majority

    Obviously I am immune to instruction. No end of respectable Unionist gentlemen and properly conducted opinion polls tell me this, but I still want to hear it from the electorate. If a Nationalist plurality has 46% of the voters behind it and a Unionist minority stands for 44% of the electorate, then I say it would be worth a try, because the 10% of Centrists would split 3 ways, some for, some against and some abstaining.

    The best way to find out if this is the case is to hand out non-binding unification opinion polls at every election (this could be done cheaply by just adding the ‘In the event of a referendum on a United Ireland, how would you vote: YES or NO’ question at the bottom of every ballot paper.)

    It is possible that at some future date I would be so fed up with the prevalent gombeenism in a United Ireland that I would not rejoice in any set-back to the DUP, but that day has not yet come.

    However, I am informed by folk from Iraq, Uganda and Libya that however bad Saddam, Ghaddafi and Idi Amin were, the régime that followed them was worse, but here again I am immune to instruction: I’m still glad to see them go.

  • Tochais Siorai

    You’re looking at Westminster not Assembly results. Different dynamic. The SDLP were a handful of votes from taking a seat in Strangford in 2005 and should’ve got over the line in 2011 with what looked like favourable boundary changes – they just didn’t seem to get the vote out, part of a general nationalist apathy these days.

    Strangford should be 1 on your list. The South Down SDLP vote in Westminister elections is artificially boosted by more than a few Unionists voting for them to keep SF out.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Well as there are no recent Assembly returns, I cannot look at them, and those from 5 years ago were not particularly favourable, and the Westminster results seem to bear this out.

    Looking at the census, I see there may have been a growth of about 700 in the Catholic population of Strangford in the last 5 years, but that, after subtraction of weans and non-voters, probably would translate into only 250 extra votes, insufficient for the purpose.

    The success of 2005 seems a long way away now: it may have been brought on by the cross-voting which sometimes occurred after the signing of the GFA.

    I do not wish to discourage anyone in Strangford SDLP, if they put their heart into campaigning maybe they will prevail, but I’m not going to move their constituency’s position on my table. As for Joe Boyle, I will if you like light a candle for his success, but I will not be mortgaging my house to bet on it.

  • Paddy Reilly

    As for the case of South Down, the last Assembly election recorded only 28.7% voting on the Unionist side, the census records 12.3% growth in the Catholic population between 2001 and 2011, and a Protestant population of 26.85% in 2011, to be compared with a Unionist vote of 25.3% in 2015.

    I don’t see there is any tactical voting for Margaret Ritchie, her majority is fairly secure. So this remains number one.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Your attempted analysis is fundamentally flawed because you’re not comparing like with like. Westminster elections feature lots of tactical voting where people don’t vote for their preferred candidate but for the least disliked one with a chance of winning and some don’t bother voting at all. As for the Strangford SDLP, they may well fall short again but there’s a better chance of them winning a seat than any of the 6 ahead of them on your list.

    Forget about your oul census figures for a wee while and follow the money – check out the pre election bookies odds when they come out.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Even supposing that Joe Boyle got every SF vote on transfer, and reverted from the lower, 2015 General Election pan-Nationalist vote of 9.5% of the vote to the higher, 2011 Assembly pan-Nationalist 1st preference vote of 11.5%, he would still be facing an opponent with up to 20% of Unionist votes and transfers to play with in the competition for the last seat.

    I’m sorry, but there are very few Catholics in Strangford and nearly a third of them give their 1st preferences to Alliance, not the SDLP or SF. If my namesake Mr Power gives favourable odds on this one, it is part of his scheme of personal enrichment, rather than a guide to the shape of things to come.

  • Gaygael

    Thanks. I really don’t think so. Have the SDLP unveiled their candidate yet?

    Strangford has never had a nationalist rep. It came very close a few times. I feel that if the SDLP didn’t make it before, it’s unlikely they will this time.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I think that the problem is that we are working on different assumptions. You are assuming that the election of 2016 is the last one before 2021 and that the current UK government will last till 2020.

    I was assuming that the current UK government will lose its majority before then and that (probably the Nationalist opposition) will provoke an early election to Stormont in order to test out the new constituencies and MLA numbers. (see ongoing discussion on new constituencies).