The Electoral Reform Society has today released findings from their survey of how we voted last May and the findings really blows a hole in the idea that transfers will be flowing from Unionists to Nationalists or vice versa.
The study draws on data from thousands of respondents – over 4,000 – to create the largest database of voting patterns for NI. It shows that while only a small number – 4% of Catholics and 2% of Protestants – give their first preference to an ‘opposite’ bloc party (what would likely be their vote under First Past the Post).
Some of the other interesting finds were
- 18% of all Protestant preferences and 25% of Catholics’ go to cross-community parties
- Overall, 21% of all voters’ preferences express some preference for a cross-community party –allowing a possibility for ‘crossing the divide’ that would be far more difficult under a majoritarian, winner-takes-all system like FPTP
- 24% of all Protestant preferences and 33% of Catholics’ preferences go to non-unionist and non-nationalist candidates respectively
- 8% of preferences expressed by Catholics are for a unionist party at some point on their voting paper, and 6% of preferences by Protestants are for a nationalist party.
- 17% of Protestants and 20% of Catholics first preference a ‘centrist’ (i.e. cross-community) party – votes which would most likely not result in Stormont representation under a First Past the Post system
- Nearly a third (32%) of all preferences were for candidates outside the ‘Big Four’ parties (DUP, SF, UUP, SDLP) – a ‘window for diversity that simply wouldn’t be there without Northern Ireland’s proportional voting system,’ say the ERS
Nearly 2,500 filled out mock ballot papers reflecting how they voted in their constituencies – allowing a rigorous look at how they expressed their preferences under the STV system – focusing on the different communities, including the extent to which unionists and nationalists vote for other blocs.
The research and analysis was conducted by Prof John Coakley and Prof John Garry at Queen’s University Belfast, as well as Dr Neil Matthews at the University of Bristol and Prof James Tilley at the University of Oxford.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs