Some thoughts about #le19

We are less than 100 days away from the Local Council elections in Northern Ireland which are set to take place on May 2nd.

As candidates are selected and the campaign gets under way I thought I’d put up some things to watch out for in this election.

  1. Context is King-Before you look at the election that is coming up, you need to remind yourself about the circumstances of the previous one. In 2014, we were beginning to see the electoral signs of frustration with the DUP-Sinn Fein Executive. For both parties it was a difficult contest, they lost votes and seats across Northern Ireland. Each were able to make this result with strong showings for Martina Anderson and Diane Dodds in the European Elections but the overall picture was disappointing for both in 2014.
  2. Who gained? As with every Northern Ireland election for the most part you really have two minor elections; one within Nationalism and the other within Unionism, they run in parallel with each other but rarely meet. Let’s start with Unionism; the big winners here were the TUV who gained 13 seats in DUP heartlands in Mid and East Antrim, Causeway Coast and Glens along with an inroad in Belfast. Along with this you also had the UUP performing well, taking a good proportion of the anti DUP vote in places like Belfast, MEA, Antrim, ABC and Causeway Coast & Glens councils. Then the Nationalist contest saw Sinn Fein lose seats to other independent candidates and minor parties. The SDLP did not manage to capitialise on the decline in Sinn Fein’s support.
  3. Fast forward to 2019-Neither the UUP or TUV are in great shape, expect the DUP to gain back lost ground in most of the Unionist dominated councils and they’ll also increase in strength in Belfast. Likewise, Sinn Fein will do well at the expense of other parties such as the SDLP.
  4. Who has most to lose? The simple answer is the UUP, they had a strong showing in 2014, they saw that election as turning a corner for their party, if they slide back, it will merely confirm their continued demise as a political force. In contrast, the SDLP who actually didn’t have that bad of an election in 2014, they lost just one seat, have less to worry about as 2014 was generally regarded as poor for the party and there is less expectation about gains.
  5. Alliance Works? Alliance are in a really interesting position, looking at their results in 2014 they are in a strong position. Of the 30 plus seats that they hold, it’s very hard to see many vulnerabilities for the party. They will be looking to make some gains outside of the greater Belfast area and broaden their vote outside of the main urban centre. Look out for gains in Newry Mourne & Down and Mid Ulster.
  6. People Before Profit and the Greens-Both of these parties emerged stronger in 2014, they gained footholds in Belfast and for the Greens made their presence felt in Ards & North Down. However, many of the candidates they had who delivered these gains have now gone. Gerry Carroll won his seat in Black Mountain and was replaced by Matt Collins. Likewise Ross Brown for the Greens in Belfast & John Barry out in Ards. These known faces not being on the ballot leave them vulnerable to a resurgence DUP and Sinn Fein.
  7. Turnout-In 2014, the decline in the Nationalist vote was becoming evident. If the 2017 uptick continues expect to see more Sinn Fein gains and potentially lower SDLP losses. Likewise, if the Unionist vote goes behind the DUP in similar numbers you could see surprise gains for the DUP, at the moment they’re on track to take around 64-66% of the Unionist vote.
  8. Ground Game-Local Elections are decided by often a handful of votes, bad vote management and poor organisation are killers for parties. Forget who is active online, in a DEA, it’s the candidate who pounds the streets, points at pot holes and promises to empty the bins who will do well.