Notional 90 seat 2016 Assembly Compared with 2017 results

*Whyte, Nicholas (22 December 2016). “If the 2016 Assembly election had had five seats per constituency…”.
AE17 without the background noise

As Northern Ireland’s turbulent history takes another turn there is a widespread feeling that AE17 has changed the local political situation profoundly. It was a good result for Sinn Féin, there is no doubt about that, and for Alliance too, but what about the others? The DUP admitted to a bad day at the office and Mike Nesbitt has fallen on his sword. That much is clear, but most analysis of the election is fogged by the fact that comparison with the last election is difficult due to the reduction in the Assembly from 108 to 90 seats, meaning that most parties, even if they held their vote, were going to lose seats. The question therefore is not how many seats did the parties gain or lose but rather how did the result stack up against a ‘notional’ 2016 result

The above table, which includes data assimilated by fellow Slugger contributor, Nicholas White, shows what the last assembly would have looked like had it had 90 members. Obviously the parties may have approached the election differently in five seat constituencies, but by crunching the numbers and looking and looking at transfers, Nicholas came up with a notional 90-seat 2016 assembly highlighted in yellow.

As can be seen, the UUP and DUP were both poised to lose five seats in 2017 on a similar share of the vote. The UUP with a small increase in percentage vote lost the expected five seats plus one while the DUP with a modest 1.1% drop in vote share lost not only the five they could have expected to but another five again, double the expected loss. So last Thursday was a particularly bad day for the DUP despite any spin about increasing the overall vote. Foster boosted her vote by the usual ‘keep them out’ tactics but her difficulty was that for every additional DUP voter she got out, she inspired two for Sinn Féin. To add to her woes, the DUP is perhaps now the least transfer-friendly major party which makes picking up the fifth seat in a constituency increasingly difficult.

The UUP decline seems to have bottomed out, for the time being at least, but with the fair wind of the RHI scandal it should have done better and while it slowly increases its vote, the SDLP is losing its support in a similar, glacial manner, though thanks in part to UUP transfers it managed to avoid losing seats.

The centre held, as it was expected to. Neither Alliance nor the Greens were expected to lose seats and neither did. PBP was expected to lose one and it did, ending Eamon McCann’s brief career as an MLA.

The big surprise was of course Sinn Féin. It was expected to lose five seats but ended the day only one down, a gain of four over the 2016 notional result. In a way, the DUP, with crocodile jibes and removing a modest amount of Irish language funding – not enough to save worthwhile money, but enough to provoke –  did most of Sinn Féin’s electioneering for it. The DUP, however, is unlikely to be so generous next time round.



Sam Thompson is an occasional blogger, writer and historian, his latest book is ‘The Lesser Evil: A Political & Military History of World War II 1937-45‘
You can find him on Twitter at: @JarrieSam

  • the rich get richer

    Is that a Total swing (well turnout) of 5.26 to Nationalism/Republicanism……from Unionism….

    Unionism must have poked a sleeping Crocodile or something……..

    Keep up the good Work Arlene………….

  • Ryan A

    Interesting but I believe there’s a school of thought that Bailey would have been a net gain for the Greens on 5 seats?

  • Nordie Northsider

    “The DUP… did most of Sinn Féin’s electioneering for it. The DUP, however, is unlikely to be so generous next time round.”

    The big question being – are they capable of doing otherwise? A very interesting post though. The great inponderable is what the 2017 result would look like played out across the revised constituency boundaries.

  • dodrade99

    Was differential turnout the reason why the DUP lost so many seats despite only a 1% drop in vote share? Why did the UUP finish two seats behind the SDLP despite a greater share of the vote?

  • woodkerne

    An informative, disinterested and illuminating contribution from Nicholas Whyte. (His dad’s book ‘Interpreting Northern Ireland’ remains unsurpassed in analysis of the deep structures of NI’s history, politics and ideologies.)

  • Ronan Hayes

    Shouldn’t the pbp change be zero and overall other zero

  • Skibo

    All to do with transfers. I believe the transfer date from DUP to UUP has reduced while the rate of UUP to SDLP has increased. I believe the transfer rate between SDLP and UUP resulted in SF losing two seats, East Derry and Upper Bann.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Yes, you are right.

  • Croiteir

    I think that is based on vote percentage rather than seats

  • emcg575797

    About the table. but it shows 91 seats in 2016 notional column, and then PBP gaining one seat, when it was only expecting one.

  • Brian O’Neill

    That’s interesting. I did not know it was the family business:

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Are they capable of doing otherwise? Not as long as Arlene is at the helm. She shows no awareness of what is happening around her.

  • Granni Trixie

    Only someone with the breadth of reading of a John Whyte could have written that analysis ….as evidenced by the fact that no one has updated it since it was written in 1990.

  • Ray Lawlor

    I was it’s about to jump in and make the same point.

    I really doubt the DUP are capable of it.

    The problem for unionism is the fact that it has been stung on the head and the toe.

    On one hand the DUP have been told to reign in the hardline and on the other, the UUP have had their fingers burned by reaching out.

    So what are unionist parties to do? What is the lesson here?

  • Neville Bagnall

    There is an error in the table.
    In the December analysis Claire Sugden lost out in East Londonderry. That isn’t reflected in the table, which is why there are 91 notional seats. It also affects the gain/loss column as a gain of one, resulting in a Unionist block loss of 5 rather than 6.
    And as mentioned elsewhere the unaligned block gained 0 rather than 1.