If the 2016 Assembly election had had five seats per constituency…

There has been some speculation about a possible early election for the Assembly. While I personally am sceptical – the institutions have a habit of creaking on through – it’s worth noting that all future elections, including an early one if called before 2021, will be for an Assembly with five seats in each of the 18 constituencies rather than six. (The new boundaries for 17 seats, currently being prepared, won’t kick in for some time yet.)

To see who is at risk in such a process, it’s tempting but incorrect to look at who came sixth in each constituency in May. While it is true that the last candidate elected is often the one with the most vulnerable seat, that’s not the case if the runner-up would have provided transfers which might have carried the sixth-placed further up the list, and/or if a candidate elected earlier had a restricted pool of votes adequate for a 14.3% quota but not for a 16.7% quota.

I’ve crunched the numbers, and this is what I get if I re-run the 2016 election as 18 five-seaters. (Obligatory health warning: if there had been only five seats at stake rather than six, parties would have pursued different nominating and campaigning strategies, so this is a strictly counter-factual exercise.)

East Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Robin Newton (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Robin Newton (DUP)

North Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Nichola Mallon (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Carál Ní Chuilín (SF) – Alliance transfers would let Mallon close 64-vote gap

South Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Christopher Stalfod (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Christopher Stalford (DUP)

West Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Alex Attwood (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Alex Attwood (SDLP) – I can’t see enough DUP transfers to help him close the gap with SF

East Antrim
Last elected in 2016: Oliver McMullan (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Oliver McMullan (SF)

North Antrim
Last elected in 2016: Daithi McKay (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Robin Swann (DUP UUP) – SDLP transfers help SF close 72-vote gap

South Antrim
Last elected in 2016: Trevor Clarke (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Trevor Clarke (DUP)

North Down
Last elected in 2016: Stephen Farry (Alliance)
Likely loser if only five seats: Peter Weir (DUP) – Alliance transfers from Andrew Muir save Stephen Farry

South Down
Last elected in 2016: Colin McGrath (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Harold McKee (UUP) – not enough Unionist votes for two seats out of five

Fermanagh South Tyrone
Last elected in 2016: Richie McPhilips (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Richie McPhilips (SDLP) Actually now I think Rosemary Barton (UUP); total Unionist vote tracks behind total Nationalist vote at every count

Last elected in 2016: Eamonn McCann (PBP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Eamonn McCann (PBP) – difficult to know where Anne McCloskey’s transfers would have gone, but can’t see them making up the difference between McCann and Martin McGuinness

Lagan Valley
Last elected in 2016: Brenda Hale (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Brenda Hale (DUP)

East Londonderry
Last elected in 2016: Caoimhe Archibald (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Claire Sugden (Ind) – just enough Nationalist votes for two seats out of five

Mid Ulster
Last elected in 2016: Keith Buchanan (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Linda Dillon (SF) – just enough Unionist votes for two seats, not enough SF votes for three

Newry and Armagh
Last elected in 2016: Justin McNulty (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Conor Murphy (SF) – just enough Unionist votes for two seats, not enough SF votes for three

Last elected in 2016: Philip Smith (UUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Philip Smith (UUP)

West Tyrone
Last elected in 2016: Declan McAleer (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Declan McAleer (SF)

Upper Bann
Last elected in 2016: John O’Dowd (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Doug Beattie (UUP) – very tight but I reckon there are enough SDLP transfers to SF to keep the second Nationalist seat.

Real seats won in 2016: DUP 38, SF 28, UUP 16, SDLP 12, Alliance 8, Green 2, PBP 2, TUV 1, Ind 1
Overall losses: DUP 5, SF 5, UUP 5, SDLP 1, PBP 1, Ind 1, Alliance 0, Green 0, TUV 0
Counterfactual seats with five per constituency: DUP 33, SF 23, UUP 11, SDLP 11, Alliance 8, Green 2, TUV 1, PBP 1

As you would hope for a more-or-less proportional system, the losses are evenly spread, After corrections, the UUP are hit worst here, and it’s interesting that the Alliance and Green seats look fairly robust.

If all parties took their seats in the Executive, the DUP would have been entitled to 3, SF to 2, and the UUP and SDLP to one each of the seven chosen by D’Hondt, the same as in the real election.

  • mjh

    Apologies. I mistakenly looked at the sheet showing the actual result. In the simulated 5 seater McCune is, of course, eliminated on the final count leaving Bailey as runner up to Stalford by around 300 votes.

  • mjh

    No worries, I get your meaning Ryan.

    It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that UUP inter-unionist transfers would be loose enough to have brought Bailey through. But it would have to be outside the range of what could be expected from the evidence of the 2014 elections – and therefore it would not be reasonable to call it as the most likely outcome.

    In 2014 there were 10 District Electoral Areas where a UUP candidate’s votes were transferred and there was:
    no other UUP candidate remaining;
    but there was at least one other unionist (normally DUP);
    and at least one other cross community (counting NI21 as cross community);
    and in 9 cases a nationalist (normally SDLP)

    The average transfer rate was:
    Other unionist 80.1%
    Cross community 12.7%
    Nationalist 2.1%
    Non transferable 5.1%

    The very best transfer rate to cross community came in Killultagh, Lisburn and Castlereagh:
    DUP 72.5%
    NI21 12.5%
    Alliance 7.7%
    SDLP 2.7%
    SF 0.1%

    This was below the level that Bailey would require to take the fifth seat. For that to happen UUP transfers would need to be approximately at least 23% to Green and 71% or below to DUP.

    So, not impossible, but not a call that can be made from that evidence.

  • Gingray


    Sorry for the delay in replying and please understand this has nothing to do with favouring one party over another,

    I can see where you are coming from, but once Morrow gets eliminated we have things roughly as they had been on the 9th count, with SF on an extra few votes as they would have still been in.

    8 remaining candidates and 6 seats, with McKinney and his 3100 votes going next. Previously SF and Alliance had already been elected, but with 5 seats neither would make quota.

    Based on what happened, I could see apx 2500 going to Hannah, 200 Greens, 100 SF and 100 Alliance, giving Hanna a surplus of 1400 – say it splits in favour of the greens with 400 Greens, 200 SF and 200 Alliance, this is the state of the game, with 1 candidate elected and 6 fighting for the remaining 4 seats:

    SF – 5700
    Alliance – 6000
    Greens – 5200
    DUP 1 – 5100
    DUP 2 – 4400
    UUP – 3300

    SF and Alliance are safe (and I have underestimated the SDLP surplus transfers their way), as the UUP elimination would need to work out fairly exact to put Greens and DUP 2 ahead of them.

    For greens to stay in they would need to hope that the DUPs second candidate doesnt get 800 more than them from the UUP, looking at other constituencies I think this highly unlikely.

  • Gaygael

    In 2011 in west Belfast, when the Uup were eliminated, almost 80% went to a sole DUP candidate.
    In 2016, in North Belfast, when the uup candidate was eliminated, (the fantastic rev Carroll) 62.9% of her transfers went to DUP candidates with no other unionist left in the field. 12.7% went alliance (as no green present, ahem) and 20% went in the bin with the remainder going SDLP and latterly SF.
    I think south Belfast 2016 is a significantly more ‘liberal’ constituency than North Belfast.

    In North Belfast, the DUP got 63% of the uup transfer when there were no other unionists left to transfer too. Only 63% stayed unionist. I think that’s interesting of itself.

    Being generous, we might say that 60% of the uup transfer would go to the DUP in south Belfast. That’s Maybe being very generous. It would need to be exactly split between Pengelley and Stalford, to get him ahead of Bailey. 30% is just over 1,000 votes. He is around 800 behind. And I think there is a significant but small UUP transfer to the greens, maybe 10%. UKIP transfer at around 5-10%. Cons at around +10%. Uup, is hard to track, but it’s prob gene pool similar. If another 1k went to Pengelley, she would still just be under (new) quota and therefore having no surplus to help Stalford. Even if she did unbalance and get enough to be elected, there would be little to transfer, and it might be surprising what came Green.
    I would also say that UUP transfer would elect alliance with a marginal surplus that would then be heavily green. If alliance got a similar 10-15% from the uup, even at the lower end of 10% (with Green still in) Bradshaw would be elected. Her small surplus would also help. The couple hundred she had would be 70%+ green.

    I think it would be to the wire. But I do think based on 2016 results, the greens would just shade it.

  • Gingray

    It is close, but I don’t think the UUP would transfer as strongly to Greens as you would hope – Alliance have increased the vote here by taking many of those liberal unionists.

    But you make a good point re potential surplus alliance votes.

  • Gaygael

    Not to labour the point, I had some time to look at UUP transfers in similar situations.

    UUP Transfer analysis 2016

    North Belfast. UUP eliminated in round 11 with only 3 DUP left as other unionists.
    62% to DUP. Biggest was to P.Bradley at 29.8%.

    East Antrim. UUP eliminated in round 12 with 1 DUP and 1 UKIP left as unionists. 49.4% went in the bin. 17.6% went UKIP. 31.5% went to the sole DUP.

    East Derry. UUP eliminated in round 9 with 1 DUP left. 50% went in the bin. 22.8% went to DUP. 16% went to Sugden as independent unionist. Interestingly, 10.7% went to SDLP.

    I can’t see Stalford getting above 30% would is my estimate of what he would need to overtake greens.

  • Gingray

    I take your point here, but I think the scenarios you give are not like for like, given the population breakdown in the areas, and the voting profile.

    In South Belfast for example the change in FPV from 2003 to 2016 was as follows:

    UUP: 27.1% – 6.7%
    DUP: 20.8% – 22.0%
    Green: 1% – 9.6%
    Alliance: 5.9% – 16.4%
    Other U: 2.0% – 7.4%

    Even with demographic changes, its fairly obvious that a good chunk of the more liberal UUP vote has already hived off to the Greens and Alliance – these increases are comparable to North Down and East Belfast rather than the constituencies you have named.

    With this hiving off, the UUP rump, and the surplus votes it has picked up from Other U’s, is more akin to the DUP, and as you see with the other Unionist votes, there is less waste in South Belfast, perhaps because it is so well canvassed.

    In my calculations I assumed best case scenario for the Green Party – to be honest I was shocked that the SDLP surplus from Hanna, with no SF or Alliance candidates to give to, only went 50% to the GP.

    Bit of dancing on pin heads here obviously, but looks like we will
    have a chance to test the 5 seat scenario in the next few weeks. You be
    the GP guy in NB again if it is?

  • Gaygael

    Fair enough, lets disagree.

    If I put my hat in the ring and if the local group choose me I will be very humbled.

  • Gingray

    Timescales could be tight! Have the party a selection date in mind?

    BTW, I think the Greens will win South handily enough this time around.

  • Stigni – Go Lincoln Go

    I don’t understand in Londonderry East why you say that the sixth seat is the Sugden one.

    McQuillan go over Sugden only in count 8 when PUP votes are distribuited.

    But if it is a 5 seats costituency Bradley-Robinson do not reach the quota in count 4. So they get some Watton vote in count 8.

    So I think that is the McQuillan one the last seat.