Election battlegrounds #GE19 : South Antrim

South Antrim has been a tug-o-war constituency pulling between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP since the by-election held here in 2000.

William McCrea won this seat for the DUP for the first time in 2000 from the UUP by less than 1,000 votes, lost it to David Burnside in 2001 by just over 1,000 votes and then won it back comfortably in 2005. In 2010 Reg Empey again came close for the UUP but it wasn’t until 2015 that Danny Kinahan managed to beat McCrea by just under 1,000 votes saying at the time that he wanted to represent a ‘more progressive type of unionism’.

Kinahan lost the seat to the incumbent Paul Girvan of the DUP in 2017 who now has a majority of 3,208 to defend in December.

There was some discussion in the run-in to the last election about whether nationalist voters and Alliance voters should vote tactically for Kinahan in that two horse race but this did not happen in any significant way to help him defend the seat.

This is an Alliance target seat and the party did well here in May’s council poll taking 18.7% of the vote in Antrim and Newtownabbey council area in total (though this does cover other constituencies).

In Antrim town they are neck and neck with the DUP on first preferences (both just over 26%) and they had more first preferences than the UUP here. In a sample of (solely) South Antrim DEAs Alliance were performing well but the DUP were still comfortably ahead, with the UUP ahead of Alliance in Airport, Dunsilly and Ballyclare :

Antrim Town : DUP 26.43% Alliance 26.26% UUP 16%

Airport : DUP 23% UUP 22% Alliance 17%

Dunsilly : DUP 29% UUP 17% Alliance 15%

Ballyclare DUP 30% UUP 24% Alliance 11%

In the local government elections overall Alliance polled 11.5%, in the European election they got 18.5% of the first preferences and the LucidTalk opinion poll in August had them on 20.7%.

That poll had the main parties on the following in South Antrim:

DUP 33.3% (-4.9)

Alliance 31.7% (+24.3)

Sinn Féin 15.8% (-2.3)

UUP 13.1% (-17.7)

SDLP 3.2% (-2.3)

Others will of course debate the accuracy of the poll but it does at the very least indicate a trend and the UUP will be concerned at the drift of liberal unionist voters to Alliance. As the new UUP leader Steve Aiken considers the response in North Belfast to his intention not to enter a pact with the DUP he will also need to ponder whether a pact with the DUP will impact on those swing voters who are considering whether to vote for Danny Kinahan or John Blair in this neighbouring constituency.

As in South Belfast Alliance are pitching a clear message on the doors (using the leaflet shown) that this is a 2 horse race between Paul Girvan and their candidate John Blair. If the poll proves to be reasonably accurate then Alliance will be keen to encourage UUP, Sinn Féin and SDLP voters to vote strategically to try and get them ahead of the DUP.

However Paul Girvan cannot easily be written off either. A constituency focussed MP that has been using a mobile constituency office to hold surgeries recently he will be hoping that his 2 years incumbency and his previous record as an MLA will help bolster his vote share.

Sinn Féin is again standing their party chairperson Declan Kearney who polled 18% here in 2017. He will be hoping to hold that which will be important for retaining his Assembly seat here should another Stormont poll be called in the near future.

The SDLP is putting forward local councillor Roisin Lynch who had a decent outing in Antrim Town at the Local government election in May. The SDLP’s vote in 2017 was 5.5%.

As Niall’s spreadsheet of declared candidates shows more candidates have already been declared here than anywhere else. It is certainly going to be one to watch.

The recent ‘Alliance surge’ is sure to have some impact here, the question is how much? Can a more liberal unionist candidate such as Danny Kinahan claw back some of the ‘garden centre’ vote? Will Sinn Féin, SDLP and Remain UUP voters decide to act tactically in the voting booth? A further Lucidtalk seat model poll will be released later this month and may give some indication of how the vote is shaping up now that voters will be more focussed on those seeking their endorsement in 6 weeks’ time.

Candidates declared so far :

John Blair (Alliance)

Paul Girvan (DUP)

Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin)

Danny Kinahan (UUP)

Roisin Lynch (SDLP)





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