Centre ground parties advance and the DUP consolidate the unionist vote at the 2019 local elections

The centre ground parties, and the Alliance Party in particular, have made significant gains at the May 2019 local elections.

With all of the first preference votes now counted, the Alliance Party made the largest gain of the share of the first-preference vote, up by 4.9% from the 6.6% received in 2014 to 11.5% in this year’s poll. The Green Party more than doubled their share of the vote from 0.9% in 2014 to 2.1%, whilst People Before Profit received over four times the share they received in 2014 to poll 1.4%.

The UUP and minor unionist parties made significant losses. The TUV’s share of the first preference vote fell by over a half to 2.2% from 4.5%. The PUP, UKIP and the Conservatives also all lost more than half of their vote. The DUP were amongst the beneficiaries of the collapse in the minor unionist vote, and their share of the vote was correspondingly up by over one percentage point.

On the nationalist side, the SDLP vote was down by 1.6% to 12%, the new Aontú party claimed 1.1% of the vote, whilst Sinn Féin ticked down by 0.9% to 23.2%.

The map below shows how the DUP vote has changed since the 2014 election. The DUP were the beneficiary of the fall in the share of the vote received by other unionist parties, with some of their biggest gains coming in Mid Ulster Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, typically at the expense of the UUP and the TUV. Aside from their performance in the Court DEA, their vote in Belfast and the commuter belt was flat or down. (I didn’t have the Larne Lough data when the maps were produced.)

The UUP will be dissatisfied with their vote, which as shown in the map below was down in most of the DEAs compared with five years ago. Of the 74 DEAs where they ran candidates in both 2014 and 2019, their vote fell in 54. Their best performances were in affluent DEAs outside Belfast, in areas such as Downshire East, Lisburn South, and Bangor East and Donaghadee.

The TUV experienced a significant fall in their vote. Apart from their strongholds in the Mid and East Antrim Council DEAs of Bannside and Braid, their vote was flat or down in all of the other DEAs that they ran candidates in both 2014 and 2019.

The Alliance Party polled strongly, and held or improved their vote in all 55 of the DEAs that they contested in both 2014 and 2019. Their strongest performance came in the DEAs surrounding Belfast.

The SDLP vote fell in 38 of the 55 DEAs where they stood in 2014 and 2019.

Sinn Féin will be pleased with their results in Fermanagh, South Down and North Antrim, but will be concerned at their votes lost to People Before Profit, Aontú and independents in Derry and West Belfast.

The following maps show share of the vote in each DEA for the DUP, UUP, TUV, Alliance, Greens, SDLP and Sinn Féin.

The advance of the centrist parties aside, a key theme that has emerged is the extent to which the DUP has consolidated the unionist vote. Including independents, the DUP polled 46% of the total unionist vote in 2014. This time, the DUP polled 57% of the combined unionist vote. In terms of first preferences awarded to nationalist, unionist, and other parties, the movement between 2014 and 2019 breaks down as follows.

Whilst both the nationalist and unionist vote fell, the unionist vote fell by significantly more. Of first preference votes, 43% were cast for unionists at this election, down from a narrow majority (50.3%) of votes cast in 2014.

Whilst the DUP’s domination of the unionist votes bodes well for their prospect at future Westminster elections, this election may well be seen as the occasion that centre ground parties began to attract significant support outside of their traditional heartlands in leafy Belfast suburbs and North Down.