The 2014 European and Local Government elections were held on the same day, unlike this time around when the Council election will be held three weeks before the European election. Some might think that the local government election results will be a sure-fire way to predict the results of the European election but there are a number of reasons why this might not be the case. As I have mentioned before, no party is standing in every DEA in the council elections so not every voter will have a chance to vote for every party and, whilst that is different in the European election, when every voter will have the chance to vote for every candidate who is standing, not all of the smaller parties are running for Europe
Looking back at how people voted in both elections in 2014 there is clear evidence of a considerable amount of ticket splitting. Ticket splitting, or split-ticket voting, is when a voter votes for candidates from different political parties in different elections, as opposed to straight-ticket voting, when a voter chooses candidates from the same political party regardless of the position up for election. Back in 2014, there were ten different parties contesting the European election but a total of twenty different parties, and a number of independents, contesting the council election. Even though both elections were held on the same day, almost 4,000 people who actually voted in the council election failed to cast their vote for any European candidate. In the council election 7.3% of voters supported parties who did not stand for Europe, such as the PUP, Workers and People Before Profit. It can therefore be assumed that in the European election, they cast their vote for a different party.
The most striking difference is that almost 76,000 voters backed Jim Allister in the European election, but only 28,000 voted for TUV candidates in the council election. In 2014, the TUV only ran candidates in 45 DEAs, meaning that only 55% of the NI electorate could vote TUV in the council election, but everyone could vote TUV in the European election. However, for the TUV to have polled almost three times as many votes in the European election than in the council election suggests that their support base may have been wider than they thought and that, if they had fielded more candidates in the local government election, they may have seen more councillors elected. It may also have been the case that people who voted for Jim Allister in the European election would not have voted TUV in the local election. In a similar way, UKIP performed much better in the European election than in the local government election, which could have been down to the fact that they only stood in 25 DEAs and only 32% of the electorate could have voted for them for council, or may simply have been the fact that Henry Reilly and UKIP were more appealing in a European election than they were in a local government election.
On the flip side, both the DUP and UUP significantly over performed in the council election compared to the European election, with almost 32,000 more people voting for the DUP and UUP for council than for Europe. Based on transfers, this could imply that a significant proportion of unionist voters were content with DUP and UUP representation at council level but preferred someone else at European level. It could also suggest that some voters, particularly unionist voters, are voting for ‘the candidate’ in the council election but might be voting for ‘the party’ or ‘the policy’ in the European election.
The full list of candidates standing for Europe will be published on Thursday evening and it will be interesting to see which parties are standing, as the results of the two elections in 2014 indicate that there is a significant section of the unionist electorate who are unconvinced by the DUP and UUP when it comes to Europe and, if they do not come out to vote on 23rd May, they could have a significant impact on where the third European seat ends up.
Niall Kelly is a former Belfast City Councillor who has worked on various political campaigns during the past 15 years. He has an interest in politics and data, and how they interact with each other. Follow at @nkbelfast