#AE16 East Antrim: One UKIPer in, one Sinn Feiner and one DUPer out?

Candidates: [DUP] David Hilditch, Gordon Lyons, Alastair Ross; [UUP] Roy Beggs, Maureen Morrow, John Stewart; [Alliance] Stewart Dickson, Danny Donnelly; [Sinn Fein] Oliver McMullan; [UKIP] Noel Jordan; [TUV] Ruth Wilson; [SDLP] Margaret Anne McKillop; [PUP] Jim McCaw; [Greens] Dawn Patterson; [Labour Alternative] Conor Sheridan.

Third smallest constituency East Antrim begins at Belfast and hugs the coast up to the Glens of Antrim. It is 70.1 Protestant, 20.4 Catholic and 8.5 (double the 2001 figure) no religion. It has the lowest proportion of students enrolled in further education at 16+.

The perennial question is can the DUP can hold their three seats, now that Sammy Wilson has plumped for Westminster. Prior to the St Andrews Agreement (and the rise of the TUV), Sammy hit a height of 49.6%. But it has been downhill for the DUP since then.

Nicholas Whyte extrapolates the DUP local election vote in 2014 was 29%, down from a 2005 figure of 40.0%. They’ve dropped the fourth and without Sammy’s vote to balance they might get enough room to get all home.

It’s far from easy though. Two things have happened. There’s been a modest rise in the UUP’s vote: 23% in 2014. And much of that lost 2005 DUP vote has splintered first to the TUV and latterly to UKIP. Each on their own is insufficient to make quota in an STV election.

But at Westminster the UKIP candidate Noel Jordan came in comfortably ahead of the TUV. Whomever gets ahead this time should push the other into a fifth seat: leaving a three way tussle between the second UUP, the third DUP, the only SF candidates for the sixth.

Even choosing who will be in that hotseat for the DUP is hard. My hunch is that Ross is probably okay. Hilditch too as the longest serving MLA. Co-optee Gordon Lyons may end up getting edged out of sixth by a sliver by local businessman John Stewart.

Boundary changes made EA 4.1% more Catholic, and 3.9% less Protestant, which ought to have made SF’s Oliver McMullan’s defence easier. But nationalist seats are difficult to hold here, as Catholics don’t corral as easily into an exclusvily nat lobby as elsewhere.

The key problem for McMullan is the differential in turnout between unionism and nationalism since the flag dispute. Even if all the SDLP eleminations go straight to him (they won’t) the core numbers just don’t seem to be there to hold back a flowing unionist tide.

Predictions: 2 DUP; 2 UUP; 1 UKIP; 1 Alliance.

Previously West Tyrone. Next, Newry and Armagh.