What if #AE17b happens ?

It’s been a tumultuous week, to say the least, at the end of what had been a very boring election, with a number of historic and fascinating political developments going on. There’s been plenty of analysis of the wider political configuration on Slugger for the past while, so I thought I’d have a look at what might happen closer to home, specifically if there is another Assembly election.

If the March 2017 Assembly election was about the nationalist surge, the June 2017 general election in Northern Ireland was about the unionist surge in response. It shouldn’t be underestimated how strong the surge was, with Unionist MPs romping home with the kind of results seen no more than once or twice during the past 40 years in places like East Antrim, East Belfast and even the Paisley heartland of North Antrim. It should be lost on nobody that the previous occasions within the past five decades when Unionists won these kinds of results were associated with the UWC Strike and the Anglo Irish Agreement.

Between these two elections, the combined Unionist vote added 4.4 percentage points,  from to 44.8% to 49.2%. In terms of total votes it went from 358,818 to 398,921, an extra 40,103 Unionist voters turning out, every one of them for the DUP. The DUP vote increased beyond even this, a total of 66,903, belying what everyone already knows – suggesting that above the increased turnout, the DUP attracted around 27,000 voters away from other Unionist parties.

Sinn Féin sustained their results and drew out an additional 14,670 voters to bank 238,915 votes, which was more votes than the DUP had in March, and would have made SF the largest party had the DUP not been able to successfully rally Unionists to its cause.

The other side of the coin is a number of serious defeats inflicted upon the UUP and SDLP. The UUP lost just under 20,000 votes, which clearly must put a number of assembly seats in jeopardy. The SDLP lost only 539 votes, its three seats disappearing under the sheer weight of increased Sinn Féin and DUP turnout. The PUP, UKIP and TUV mostly stayed out of this election, substantially to the benefit of the DUP.

So, if there were an assembly election tomorrow, what would happen ?

There’s obviously a huge risk in triggering an election over the issue of voter fatigue.

However, looking solely at numbers, there is a clear opportunity for the DUP to run another campaign urging supporters to complete the circle by reinstating the DUP and Unionism to the dominant position it lost in March, and returning control over the Petition of Concern back to the DUP’s hands.

It’s almost a perfect storm for the DUP. While on one hand a number of Unionist seats were lost in March due to nothing other than poor Unionist transfer discipline, on the other hand there are no obvious opportunities for Sinn Féin to make additional gains. Moreover, SF would have trouble resisting calls for another election, having urged adherence to the law which, strictly speaking, requires a further election following the failure to appoint an Executive back in March.

The UUP and SDLP, reeling from the loss of five Westminster seats (and the attendant financial support) between them would be poorly equipped to mount a fightback at this early stage and are both vulnerable in a number of constituencies.

Ordinarily, a British government might try to account for the possible cost of squashing the smaller, centrist parties; but with the DUP pulling the strings in the Commons all bets are off for this kind of calculation.

Below we’ll take a quick look at the seats, and I’ll make my prediction of the Assembly makeup and the possible d’Hondt Executive configuration that could follow. The usual health warning applies; these are rough estimates based on a back-of-an-envelope attempt to tie together polls conducted under two very different electoral systems – anything could happen between now and the next Assembly poll. I’ve not done a detailed analysis of small changes effecting earlier stages of each count – but there are a number of scenarios where small shifts in opinion could significantly effect the outcome in a constituency.

Belfast North

Both Finucane and Dodds polled remarkable results here. Nearly 4000 extra voters came out over and above the Assembly election, and it appears that almost all of them went for the DUP and SF. For both parties, their two assembly seats here are completely safe, but the SDLP seat now looks wobbly.

That said, traditionally, the SDLP has always polled in North Belfast well behind its Assembly result and Nichola Mallon has successfully inherited Alban Maginness’ personal vote, seeing off a reinvigorated Alliance challenge. In the event of extra DUP and SF candidates, the result would end up being decided by Alliance transfers which should secure the seat for Nichola.

Prediction 2 SF 2 DUP 1 SDLP (no change)

Belfast East

The story of the election here was one of Gavin Robinson consolidating the DUP’s position, adding 4000 votes from his previous total. Alliance held onto enough votes to keep their two seats safe. PUP voters got Andy Allen elected in March, but in the general election they clearly rallied behind Robinson. If they repeat this pattern, the DUP will take the third seat from the UUP.
Prediction : 3 DUP 2 All (DUP +1 UUP -1)

Belfast South

The Sinn Féin vote here appears to have reached peak in the March election, with several hundred voters peeling off this time in an effort to keep Pengelly out by voting for McDonnell. The DUP carefully calibrated their campaign here, keeping it low key, aiming to squeeze between the warring centrist factions.

In March, the bleary-eyed but valiant Greens stayed #AwakeforBailey, with their candidate just about nicking it when UUP voters failed to uniformly transfer to the DUP. However, if the pro-DUP mood among Unionists prevails from the Westminster election, more UUP voters could be persuaded to the DUP, and the likelihood of transfer leakage should be lower.

(this is my least favourite prediction  …. )
Prediction : 2 DUP 1 SF 1 SDLP 1 All (Green -1, DUP +1)

Belfast West

This is an unusually interesting one, for two reasons. PBP clearly lost ground with respect to the Assembly election here. In an ultra-safe seat that Sinn Féin literally cannot lose, this is not good news for Carroll. Nonetheless, those who did not vote for either SF or the DUP would be expected to mostly transfer to Carroll which should see him elected, although possibly under quota.

Meanwhile, it was really interesting to see the DUP’s Frank McCoubrey poll 5455 votes, 500 votes behind the last Sinn Féin seat in the Assembly election, a point which the DUP will take care to press home on the Shankill Road. However, I still don’t think they’ll quite make it, so:
Prediction : 4 SF 1 PBP  (no change)

North Down

In the general election the only change here was a significant swing from Sylvia Hermon to the DUP. This implies that there is still one clear seat for the UUP, which should keep Alan Chambers safe. Overall, it’s “as you were” in North Down.

Prediction : 2 DUP 1 UUP 1 All 1 Green (no change)

South Down

Normally, Margaret Ritchie would poll strongly on tactical votes. She still polled strongly, but SF’s turnout – which leapt ahead even from the tally in March – ensured that this was not enough, with Hazzard claiming nearly 40% of the vote.

Tactical voting for both SF and the SDLP here overestimate their overall levels of support. In the Assembly election, Alliance’s Patrick Brown was 500 votes behind McGrath which endangers this seat, while SF got two seats over quota with a surplus of 2615 votes. However hardly any of these transferred – which means that the SDLP cannot hope to get the trickle-down of any further SF surge.

I’d quite fairly stand accused of bias if I predicted an Alliance victory (although I’ll say that Brown’s chances are probably better than Frank McCoubrey’s chances in West Belfast, with a roughly similar gap to close), but the SDLP will need to be careful not to allow the loss of the Westminster seat to effect their morale if they wish to retain two assembly seats here.

Prediction : 2 SF 2 SDLP 1 DUP (no change)

Lagan Valley

The DUP romped home here, one of their safest Westminster seats, with the equivalent of what would in an assembly election be well over three quotas. In March, this seat caused a shock when Jenny Palmer’s transfers favoured Pat Catney over the third DUP candidate, Brenda Hale. I suspect, though, that UUP voters are in no mood to shore up the SDLP, which will deprive Catney of the seat. Catney’s transfers on exclusion should, in turn, secure the Alliance seat.

Prediction : 3 DUP 1 UUP 1 All (SDLP -1, DUP + 1)

East Antrim

East Antrim was a bit of an anomaly in the Assembly election, with the UUP surprisingly scoring two seats on the back of a collapse in the UKIP vote (in turn, UKIP had narrowly missed out on the last seat in 2016 – once again due to the failure of UUP voters to transfer to UKIP in sufficient numbers, handing the seat to Sinn Féin).

There was no such ambiguity in this election, with Sammy Wilson reaching almost 57%, the best result of any MP in this seat since the Anglo Irish Agreement fallout period in 1987. If this is sustained, as seems likely, the DUP have three easy seats.

Prediction :

3 DUP 1 UUP 1 All (UUP -1, DUP +1)

South Antrim

Back when the election was called, I opined here on Slugger that this seat might be the subject of a DUP-UUP pact, with the UUP agreeing to stand aside in South Belfast in exchange for a free run to hold their seat here. The DUP had other ideas, correctly anticipating that a return in support to their (locally well known and well regarded) candidate would seal the deal without any pact. I doubt we’ll see any change here.

Prediction : 2 DUP 1 UUP 1 All 1 SF

North Antrim

In the Assembly election the UUP pulled in quite convincingly from the start of the count with Swann getting elected ahead of both the DUP and Jim Allister. However, in Westminster, Ian Paisley romped home with nearly 60% of the vote, a result not obtained even by his late father since the Anglo Irish Agreement period in 1987, and before that since 1974. If that vote holds up, the DUP could return with three seats, however Jim Allister’s cachet remains strong and Robin Swann polled convincingly last time.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that North Antrim will want the Petition of Concern reinstated so that the DUP can block gay marriage, causing a DUP swing against the UUP here which knocks out Swann.

Prediction : 3 DUP 1 SF 1 TUV (UUP -1, DUP +1)

East Derry

Not so much dramatic change here. The swing away from the UUP will probably not hurt the independent Clare Sugden. Sinn Féin polled very roughly the same number of votes as they did in the assembly, with the SDLP slightly ahead, so I suspect there will be no change.

Prediction : 2 DUP 1 Ind 1 SF 1 SDLP (no change)


A heartland seat for the SDLP, it provided the shocker of the night when it switched from the SDLP to SF, with SF pulling in 6,577 votes over the result obtained in the Assembly election in March. However, the two parties remain evenly balanced in the seat, so it is unlikely any seats will change hands in the Assembly election. Absent a well-known local figure, SF might judge it unwise to attempt to run three candidates here.

Prediction : 2 SDLP 2 SF 1 DUP

West Tyrone

Here’s a seat where Sinn Féin could actually be in a bit of trouble. Barry McElduff attracted 739 new Sinn Féin votes over the assembly election; but Thomas Buchanan added 2654 votes, about 1401 of which came from the UUP’s Alicia Clarke. Numerically, there is scope for a second Unionist candidate to squeeze past the third Sinn Féin incumbent, but this would only happen if there was no transfer leakage from Buchanan to Clarke.

I’m predicting that there will be leakage in the DUP->UUP direction, hence:
Prediction : 3 SF, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP

Mid Ulster

Interestingly, Sinn Féin lost 752 voters here between the Assembly election and the General –  where the DUP gained 2997, in the face of an overall drop in 4159 votes in the turnout. In March, only 1190 votes need to transfer to the UUP candidate to beat the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone. The SDLP are set to lose this seat unless they come out fighting hard.

Prediction : 3 SF 1 DUP 1 UUP (SDLP -1, UUP +1)

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

This seat was surprisingly interesting during the assembly election. At the second count, 67 seats separated the SDLP from the third Sinn Féin candidate. The elimination of the third SF candidate could secure the seat for the SDLP, but only if SF voters transfer. The failure of SF voters to transfer here could ironically return the fifth seat to the DUP.

The gap with the UUP was wider but still only a matter of 587 votes ahead of the SDLP. A reversal here with the elimination of the UUP would have given the DUP a second seat.

In addition, the Unionist side of the house is harder to call due to the Unionist pact. Since the seat is already dominated by the DUP and SF, the safe but unadventurous bet is that it would remain unchanged provided that the UUP vote holds, and that SDLP transfers upon elimination continue to support the UUP. The UUP seat would probably be safest if Elliott stood for the Assembly; otherwise there is an outside chance for a DUP upset here.

Prediction : 3 SF 1 UUP 1 DUP (no change)

Newry and Armagh

No big surprises here in the Westminster election. Without a pact, the Unionist vote share was very slightly higher, but with four nationalists elected with only one of them (slightly) below quota, there’s not enough to offer the UUP a convincing chance of regaining their seat here.
Prediction : 3 SF 1 SDLP 1 DUP (no change)

Upper Bann

The SDLP win here came as a little bit of a surprise to some commentators. In the Westminster election, there was a swing from the UUP to the DUP which would probably mostly swing back to the UUP in an Assembly election, safely returning Doug Beattie.

Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd banked 14,325 votes here, against 14,328 in the Assembly election, so interestingly SF actually lost three votes here. They’ll need 2712 votes to get ahead of Dolores, so outside of either a further spike in SF’s vote or a spectacular collapse in the SDLP vote, SF are unlikely to regain their second seat.

Prediction : 2 DUP 1 UUP 1 SF 1 SDLP (no change)


Another 30-year high for the DUP, with Jim Shannon landing 60%, the highest result again since 1987. The nationalist vote is basically nowhere in this constituency, unaffected by the nationalist surge, and there aren’t enough Unionist votes for the DUP to to take the risk of running four candidates.

Prediction : 3 DUP 1 All 1 UUP

Overall prediction and Executive makeup

If there is an Assembly election in the short term, I believe we will see

  • DUP 33 (+5)
  • SF 27 (no change)
  • SDLP 10 (-2)
  • Alliance 8 (no change)
  • UUP 8 (-2)
  • PBP 1 (no change)
  • Green 1 (-1)
  • TUV 1 (no change)
  • Independent Clare Sugden 1 (no change)

The clear story is a consolidation of the DUP vote at the expense mainly of the UUP, with the restoration of DUP control over the Petition of Concern and clear spacing of the DUP as the largest party. The Green and SDLP seats lost to Unionism via transfer leakage will almost certainly returned provided the mood of the Unionist electorate carries over into the Assembly election.

This would yield an Executive of 3 DUP, 2SF, 1 SDLP and 1 UUP. The UUP and Alliance are tied in terms of seats; the tie is decided by the number of first preference votes, which would probably give the seat to the UUP. If Alliance take the Justice Ministry, the next seat would go to the UUP.

Correction 15/06/17

In the original version of the article I’d counted an SDLP seat in Lagan Valley instead of a UUP seat. The UUP would be level with Alliance and would be line for the final Executive seat.




  • Gaygael

    Thanks Brendan and good to see you back.

    I would dispute South Belfast with you. We would conduct the biggest ground campaign in South Belfast ever to ensure that we retain that seat.

  • mickfealty

    Brendan you’ve just cheated the UUP out of a seat in LV? 😉

  • Brian Walker

    All this energy, all this ingenuity devoted to harvesting votes. And for what? A permanent referendum in a battle of the turnouts, taking us ever further away from stable government and a contented people? Where are the people with the judgement to turn towards making power sharing work better? At the moment we are warring tribes government by a small permanent elite . We’re luckier than we deserve that they have a highly developed sense of public service to counter the infantalism of the political battles.

  • Ciara 007

    Excellent piece. However in Foyle the turn out figures make the DUP a little shy of a full quota. Could that be an issue? Also, it’s important to keep in mind those migrant voters who cannot vote in Westminster elections, especially affecting mid ulster.

  • Granni Trixie

    Well researched and insightful Brendan, appreciated.
    An aside re Strangford: In GE17 Kellie Armstrong got more votes than both the SDLP and MIke Nesbitt. Indicative of consolidation or growth for Alliance in AEb?

  • Nicholas Whyte

    HI Brendan,

    I too have crunched the numbers and I see them as even better for the DUP than you do. I agree with you on all except the cases specified below, and in particular I agree on South Belfast.

    In West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Newry and Armagh, the Westminster election results see Unionists closer to the second quota than Nationalists are to their fourth – in Mid Ulster, the Unionist vote last week was actually a hair above two quotas. And in all three seats, the DUP are so far ahead of the UUP on Westminster votes that a second Unionist seat would be a second DUP seat.

    In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the UUP won the second Unionist Assembly seat due to a fortunate conjunction of circumstances including an SDLP performance that was not good enough to get elected but good enough to provide the UUP with transfers. In the context of the overall shift, I would be inclined to call that as another likely DUP gain if there were another Assembly election this year.

    In North Down, the DUP vote increased to the point that three well-balanced candidates would have a chance of picking off the Green Party (or Alliance in a bad year).

    On the Westminster numbers, the Alliance seat in South Antrim is also vulnerable, but to the UUP – the combined Unionist vote last week was well clear of four quotas.

    Given that the SDLP vote is down a bit and SF up a bit more, I reckon the SDLP seats in East Londonderry and Upper Bann are also vulnerable. (And on East Londonderry, the DUP must surely also have a good chance of winning Sugden’s seat.)

    So a new Assembly election is likely to further consolidate the two leading parties at the expense of the centre.

  • Sean79

    I suspect it would all come down to transfers in South Belfast Gaygael, where do you see Claire getting them?? I’m inclined to agree with Nicholas as opposed to Brendan on the issue of Upper Bann & East Derry, Sinn Féin will have both seats in their sights.

  • Pang

    One of those Mid-Ulster votes moving from Sinn Fein to the DUP was my uncle, an older man with a learning disability from a nationalist background. He made the change based on what he felt were broken promises from his local SF rep about services for the disabled. Part of his learning disability is clearly that he doesn’t understand that he isn’t meant to vote according to the quality of the representatives & their policies, or their record, he is meant to vote according to his tribe. Every able-minded voter knows that. Poor eegit, I’ll have to explain it to him for next time.

  • The Lagan

    Event with the unionist surge, they would still be in a minority with 42 MLA’s out of 90. The Westminister figures really only result in 4/5 seats changing hands. Would be good for DUP and very bad for UUP as they could fall behind Alliance.

  • epg_ie

    When we say – “It shouldn’t be underestimated how strong the surge was, with Unionist MPs romping home with the kind of results seen no more than once or twice during the past 40 years in places like East Antrim, East Belfast and even the Paisley heartland of North Antrim” – we should be careful. Is it the first ever Westminster election with no popular vote majority for political unionism? I make explicitly pro-union candidates out at 50.2% in 2015. So the large numerical votes for unionist MPs in East and North Antrim, say, are based on population growth of the unionist people and the UUP losing 1/3rd of its votes.

  • Karl

    “…the June 2017 general election in Northern Ireland was about the unionist surge in response”

    And still unionism managed to take less than 50% of the popular vote. You’ll be telling us that they ‘surged’ into the low 40s for the next election.

    The next stage in the electoral cycle sees constituency reform, which the Tories need to counter Labour. This see a majority of nationalist MPs. You can see the Westminster election as a reinvigoration of unionism if you want, but most people will see it for what it is, the last thrashing of a group set to become a permanent political minority.

    The DUPs campaign to smash SF has seen them go from 11% in 1987 to 30% in 2017. Was that the intention of unionism?

    The centenary of NI will see a majority of nationalist MPs, MLAs in NI and councillors in Belfast.

  • Granni Trixie

    There are probably more people than we know who hold values like you and your uncle – squeaky wheel syndrome prevails unfortunately.

  • Karl

    Was it ever designed to be power sharing? Rather more the division of power. It is working as designed.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Great analysis Brendan ! Well done throughly enjoyed reading through it.

  • lizmcneill

    In my line of work we might call it “broken as designed”.

  • ted hagan

    Stable government and a contented people? Sure there’s no craic in that.

  • Jag

    Sound and interesting analysis and projections Brendan, thanks.


    “Belfast South

    The Sinn Féin vote here appears to have reached peak in the March election, with several hundred voters peeling off this time in an effort to keep Pengelly out by voting for McDonnell. ”

    As SF will themselves tell you, the SF vote has nearly doubled in the past 12 years from 9.0% in the Westminster election 2005 to 0% in Westminster in 2010 when SF abstained to 13.9% in Westminster 2015 to 17.9% in the Assembly election in March to 16.3% last week.

    It did indeed reduce from 17.9% at the Assembly election in March to 16.3% in the Westminster election last week, but the difference, as you well know is, in March, SF had a chance of a seat (SF topped that poll) whereas in a 1-seat First-Past-the-Post, there will naturally be a tendency for tactical voting, and the SDLP is likely to have benefitted from that. To say SF has “reached peak” is nothing short of wishful thinking.

  • Jag

    “permanent referendum”? Demographics suggest the balance will alter within a decade and from then on, will only go in one direction. Nothing “permanent” about it.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Brendan: your Lagan Valley entry doesn’t make sense. You might like to correct it.

  • Mike the First

    The DUP’s “campaign to smash SF” did not last from 1987 to 2017. It was a slogan in one election.

    And it wasn’t really a campaign at all – just an appeal to vote for the DUP. They’ve certainly managed to increase their vote considerably over the period you mention.

  • Jag

    I wonder what impact the RHI had in March, and whether the impact could be restored in an September election. From 6th December to mid-March, the media was wall-to-wall RHI. It has since largely disappeared from the national discourse, with the setting up of the inquiry under Paddy Coghlin. According to Paddy his intention was to commence oral hearings in the early autumn of this year. These will be held in the Senate Chamber of Parliament Buildings.”

    Early Autumn means August/September, right? So, RHI could once again be hogging the headlines as we have another Assembly election. This time, we’ll have names and be seeing how useless the DUP efforts to cap the cost of the scheme have been,

    So, might the DUP surge last week vanish? Might DUP supporters once again stay at home, and might the anger around RHI bring yet more voters out in support of SF?

  • Pang

    In the few years after the GFA when it took ages to get it all up and running people said that separate to each party’s mandate, there was an overall mandate to work together – a large majority in favour of power sharing.That seems forgotten now. Maybe instead of another assembly election we need a referendum asking if people want uninterrupted power sharing. A big Yes vote would be hard to ignore.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I have in the past complained that Mr Featured’s predictions were wrong, but he countered that they were not predictions, merely mapping of one past election onto another, or something like that.

    So what we have here is a mapping of the #GE2017 results onto the #AE2017 results.

    But that assumes that the DUP will be able to maintain its electoral surge. This I hold to be reasonable. However, as someone else pointed out, the fact FST was lost means they have no further Garden Centre votes up their sleeves. The Unionist vote will hold, but will not increase.

    It also assumes that SF and the SDLP will not find any further voters. This I do not believe. The voting pattern in AE elections will be different to GE ones, because there are more prizes to be won: and in a turnout war, it is now the Nationalists’ turn to up the ante and find extra voters.

  • Gaygael

    Transfers from everywhere and the biggest ground game in South Belfast will pay off. In AE17 she bagged 2,550 transfers from ‘Others’ and ‘Nat’ both surplus and eliminations. There was a small portion of that came from Unionists. In AE17, we did not really see any ‘Unionist’ transfers. At the final stage, after Pengelley’s elimination, The UUP candidate was 1541.28 votes behind Clare. There was only a surplus of 1,491.5.

    It led to 4,247 first prefs earlier this year. We generally expect that our vote cuts in half in a Westminster election.

  • mjh

    By and large I agree with these calculations – I would have differences or reservations in only half a dozen cases. But I strongly question the benefit of the exercise – because in all previous Westminster elections we can see that voter shares at Westminster and Assembly elections are not the same.

    Historically turnout is often substantially different. There is often a marked tendency for nationalist, unionist and cross-community voters to rally round their perceived designation champions in each constituency. And there is also consistent evidence of cross-designation tactical voting in several constituencies.

    If anything these factors were stronger than ever last week, producing a ratcheting up of turnout; an overwhelming dominance of the DUP, SF and Alliance within their individual designations; and the appearance of particularly high levels of cross-designation tactical voting in South Down, South Antrim and South Belfast.

    To see how this has the potential to invalidate Assembly projections based on Westminster voting take South Down as one example.

    In the last Assembly election SF ran 2 candidates, gained 2.3 quotas (38.6% 1st Pref vote share). The SDLP gained 1.5 quotas (25.2% share). Both parties won 2 seats. But a transfer analysis shows that if SF had run 3 well-balanced candidates (which they certainly will next time) the second SDLP candidate would not have received the SF transfers which put him just ahead of Alliance for the final seat. The last Assembly votes therefore suggest a prediction of 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP and 1 Alliance at the next Assembly election.

    Yet because Margaret Ritchie received the 5,000 odd tactical votes which she normally commands in Westminster elections (at least since 2010) a Westminster based prediction shows the second SDLP seat as rock solid safe.

    Perversely the SDLP can lose their Westminster seat in reality and appear to substantially improve their Assembly prospects on one and the same set of figures.

    So I would treat all Assembly predictions based on Westminster with extraordinary caution.

  • tmitch57

    Nicholas, With you and Brendan doing the analysis for free, the center ground parties can save their scarce resources and devote them to running in the few constituencies in which you indicate they have a realistic chance. I must say, it takes some getting used to seeing predictions for five seats per Assembly constituency instead of the former six.

  • Brendan Heading

    It was depressing to write about Brian. Sectarian politics is as ingrained as it every was.

  • Brendan Heading

    And still unionism managed to take less than 50% of the popular vote. You’ll be telling us that they ‘surged’ into the low 40s for the next election.

    The “surge” term, as applied to both unionist and nationalist results in recent elections, is relative to recent electoral history. You’ll note that the nationalist result is called a “surge” even though the total is a little more than 41% which is well below the historic high watermark of the nationalist vote during the 90s and early 2000s.

    Commentators certainly did call the last assembly election wrong, but predictions of the Westminster election were closer to the mark based on awareness of changing trends within the electorate (toward the extremes).

    The centenary of NI will see a majority of nationalist MPs, MLAs in NI and councillors in Belfast.

    Opinions like this amount to nothing without some kind of substance to back them up.

  • Brendan Heading

    er, the DUP have used the “smash Sinn Féin” slogan in several elections. For a long time they spoke of little else.

  • Brendan Heading

    Nick, I avoided doing the kind of detailed analysis you are doing here – thank you for adding it. Reviewing the numbers, you are of course right – Mid Ulster has two quotas and it would be relatively low-risk for the DUP to run two candidates here as, provided they balance, both should come well ahead of the UUP candidate.

    I proceeded on the unwritten assumption that the DUP would run a low-key, fairly risk-averse campaign, without running any additional candidates to ensure convincing results.

    Regarding Sugden, I think we’re watching the makings of another Sylvia Hermon. We all thought Sugden was gone in March, especially after a decidedly ropey ministerial performance, but she polled very convincingly which makes me think she has a personal vote that the DUP won’t get.

  • Brendan Heading

    now fixed!

  • Brendan Heading


    To say SF has “reached peak” is nothing short of wishful thinking.

    If I said that SF had not reached peak would that not also be wishful thinking ? or is it only wishful thinking when someone makes a prediction that SF don’t like ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Now fixed, thank you.

  • Mike the First

    Evidence? In all my time interested in elections (going back to 1992) I have never once seen it used as an election slogan.

  • Colin Lamont

    I’ve been reflecting on this lately too. I have a friend from uni days who I ran into recently at a training day (from a traditionally nationalist background in North Belfast) who was telling me he was considering voting for a unionist party as he saw the SDLP and Sinn Fein as ‘too socialist’. Whether he did or not I don’t know, but it was an interesting conversation all the same.
    Personal aside, my grandfather was a Catholic from Ballymena who faithfully voted UUP at election time (or so my mother tells me!).

  • Colin Lamont

    This is true. Another example would be South Antrim- always seems much more unionist at Westminster elections due to the UUP ability to pick up nationalist and non-aligned votes to keep out the DUP.

  • Colin Lamont

    Surely it’s only a matter of time before Sinn Fein are out-polling the SDLP in South Belfast, now that the tactical incentive for McDonnell is gone. At the March election Sinn Fein weren’t far off them if I remember correctly?

  • Vince

    Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen. Elections are just becoming a recreational sporting activity here rather than an endeavour ultimately aimed at improving the everyday lot of the population. We have surely had enough.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Sure – but this is a projection, not a prediction. And past voting behaviour is the best predictor of future voting behaviour!

  • Vince

    God forbid there is another election but it must be possible that SDLP would run Margaret Ritchie in South Down (most likely instead of Colin McGrath)?

  • mjh

    Yes, I accept that you have projected the Westminster results onto a Stormont election, and that it is not a prediction. However, such projections should come with the warning that they are more than likely to be seriously misleading if they are used on their own to predict or to suggest the likely results.

    I agree that past voting behaviour is the best predictor of future voting behaviour – which is all the more reason why any analysis looking to draw lessons from the Westminster results must take account of the known differences in voting behaviour in different types of elections – and such known differences should be factored in to any constituency based analysis. That won’t give us a projection, let alone a prediction for each constituency, merely an indication of the range of any potential changes.

  • mjh

    Yes Gaygael. The Westminster results suggest that it will be an uphill struggle for the Greens in SB. But we should compare like with like.

    At the 2015 Westminster election the Greens took 2,238 votes in SB. That did not stop them winning an Assembly seat in March off 4,247 first preferences.

    Last week they took 2,241 votes – virtually the same as in the previous Westminster election. So the Westminster figures do not suggest that their Assembly poll would drop.

    The worrying news for the Greens could be that the turnout has increased. From 60.3% at the 2015 Westminster, to 64.0% at the March Assembly, to 66.1% last week. So it is possible that 4,247 first preferences might not hack it if the Assembly turnout is higher than last time.

    On the other hand they now have the benefit of incumbency. Claire Bailey will be that bit better known come the next Assembly election.

    It is just another demonstration of how careful you need to be in interpreting the significance of the Westminster results when translated onto a Stormont constituency

  • Karl

    I understood that the accepted analysis of the new boundaries had SF on 8/9 seats Dodds gone, a new East londonderry seat being renamed and becoming more nationalist and upper bann greening. I didnt think it was that controversial. If i can find it, i will post it.

    I should say that i dont mean to snipe from the sidelines. I enjoy the pieces and appreciate the effort, i just don’t agree with the conclusions

  • Ciara 007

    The number of times people have predicted Sf to have reached peak is very numerous. If we have learned anything from recent events we should have learned that we know nothing of tomorrow and even less of the next election.

  • Ciara 007

    The Green seat is as solid as any seat in SB. With a strong first preference and transfers coming from everywhere, it’s unimaginable that it could be lost. Moreover, the long term hard core Unionist vote is in terminal decline across the Province due to population changes, the green vote is most likely to grow sufficiently to hold on.

  • Jimmy

    If nationalism bases its hopes on demographics and not hard work it will end up the same way as Hillary Clinton, losing. Hillary thought the latinos would stand straight behind her, they did not turn out in as large numbers. Nationalism needs to remember that there are a large number of Catholics who classify themselves as Northern Irish. They are unlikely to vote for the Union, but perhaps may not vote at all.

  • Brendan Heading
  • Brendan Heading

    If you google “smash Sinn Féin” it’s the first result that comes up. It was a campaign slogan from the 80s.

  • Brendan Heading

    The number of times people have predicted that the SF vote will continue to rise is also numerous. The past two elections are anomalous compared with elections over the past ten years.

  • Brendan Heading

    There’s roughly 1000 votes between SF and the SDLP. But the SDLP are more transfer friendly.

    Not even Sinn Féin believe they can expand their vote in South Belfast – if they did, they would run two candidates.

  • mjh

    That could be a good option for the SDLP, Vince. It should give them a higher 1st preference vote than they would otherwise obtain. It could, however, present the party with difficulty in achieving the very fine balancing which they would still require.

    Might it be enough to make the difference? Without doing a full analysis I honestly couldn’t say.

    Then there is the factor for which there are no numbers. If an election were held very soon, to what extent might the successes and failures of the parties last week in themselves effect voting patterns?

    I suspect that they would have an influence – although that could quickly fade as time passes and future political events have their own impact.

  • whatif1984true
  • Mike the First

    Yes, that would be the “one election” I referred to in my opening post.

    Where’s your evidence of the “several elections” you mentioned?

  • Ciara 007

    To be pedantic, their vote island-wide has continued to rise. But I understand what u mean.

    Save us all from politicians predictions, they are nearly always as in accurate as polarised commentators . For those of us who study voting patterns and population shifts etc, we could have told them a Uí had no chance in 2016, or 2021 to be honest.

    All parties need to ask themselves the questions you pose. Hopefully none of them ever actually figure it out. A party with a 100% share of the vote is not good.

  • Colin Lamont

    I’d dispute that. Mairtin suits the profile of the constituency well, and my personal hunch (and that’s all it is I admit) is that Sinn Fein’s share vis-a-vis the SDLP has been artificially stunted due to tactical voting. Those circumstances arguably no longer exist, the SDLP has no MPs and they can now argue that in future they are the only alternative to the DUP in the constituency.

  • Brendan Heading

    To be pedantic, their vote island-wide has continued to rise. But I understand what u mean.

    Hello Robin.

  • Brendan Heading

    Karl, the boundary changes are interesting because it’s an FPTP electoral system; the predictions are based upon the splits that this will cause, not on the long term trend of the electorate.

    You mentioned council seats (essentially nothing to do with the Westminster boundaries) and MLA seats (which are effected by the boundary changes, but where proportionality should blunt the effect). I haven’t looked closely at Belfast city council closely, but the prediction that Sinn Féin and the SDLP combined are going to find another 7 councillors somewhere within the space of five years seems optimistic.

  • Brendan Heading

    Yes, that would be the “one election” I referred to in my opening post.

    You’ll understand my confusion given that you said “In all my time interested in elections (going back to 1992) I have never once seen it used as an election slogan.”

  • Ciara 007

    It’s built steadily over the last number of years so never say never.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    In fairness, SF and the SDLP combined need only 5 more, not 7, for a majority in Belfast (already on 26).

    But your main point is absolutely right; the only potential Nationalist gain from Unionists that I see in Belfast is Castle, where SF lost by only 112 votes last time. (I can see potential SF gains in Lisnasharragh, Collin and Black Mountain – where they lost by only 8.43 votes – but those would all be from the SDLP, so won’t affect the Nat/Un balance.)