Today’s LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph shows the Alliance Party and the TUV are continuing to gain support with the Northern Ireland electorate, with the DUP suffering a significant decline in support following the fallout from the row over the Irish Sea border.
The latest LucidTalk NI Political-Party poll scores – LT NI 'Winter 2021' NI Tracker poll (2,295 responses NI-Wide – poll-period: 22/1 to 25/1/21), as covered in today's @BelTel.. pic.twitter.com/xoCdacCKOg
— LucidTalk (@LucidTalk) February 1, 2021
The poll has the DUP on 19% (down 9% from the 2017 election), Sinn Féin on 24% (down 4%), Alliance on 18% (up 9%), the SDLP on 13% (up 1%), the UUP on 12% (down 1%), the TUV on 10% (up 7%), the Greens on 2% (no change) and People Before Profit on 1% (down 1%).
If replicated at an Assembly election, then the plunge in the DUP vote would put at risk several seats that previously would have been considered safe. The increase in the Alliance vote seen at the 2019 elections appears durable, and the TUV surge puts them in position to provide company to Jim Allister at Stormont.
The following is an extremely unscientific guess at how I reckon an election with these first preference shares would go. I haven’t built a forecast model, and I haven’t seen any data other than the numbers above.
The TUV polled strongly at the 2019 local elections in North Antrim, and it appears a strong possibility that the TUV will gain a second seat in North Antrim at the DUP’s expense.
Parties to the right of the DUP have historically done well in East Antrim (UKIP narrowly missed out at the 2016 Assembly election), and if the TUV are going to pick up seats then East Antrim seems a reasonable shout. A second seat for Alliance, at the UUP’s expense, is a distinct possibility too.
I reckon Alliance will gain a seat from the DUP in South Antrim.
North Belfast is a tricky one to predict, and there a number of possible permutations here. It seems very likely that Alliance will make a gain here, and again I think it will be most likely at the DUP’s expense.
No change here. Before their collapse, the DUP might have eyed a gain at the expense of Sinn Féin’s fourth seat, and the SDLP will view this as a potential gain, too.
Again, no change here. Both the SDLP and Alliance will be aiming for a second here, but I think it’s more likely that Green Party leader Clare Bailey will retain her seat.
I’m going for a TUV pickup from the DUP here.
Alliance look a good shout for a second in North Down, most likely a gain from the Greens.
Strangford is the only constituency where I think the DUP will lose two seats; one to the TUV, and another one to either the SDLP or Alliance. Alliance are just about the favourites for a second seat here.
I went for another TUV gain from the DUP here, and an Alliance gain from the SDLP.
Alliance are favoured for a gain here, most likely at the DUP’s expense.
Alliance have been knocking on the door in South Down for a while now, but on an 18% share across Northern Ireland, they’d surely be favourites to actually win a seat this time. I have a hunch that the UUP could gain the unionist seat from the DUP both here and in Newry and Armagh.
Newry and Armagh
This is one of three seats where I think Sinn Féin could lose a seat on a 24% share. Alliance and the SDLP will be vying for a seat if SF lose their third, and as with South Down I’m taking a punt on the UUP making a gain.
Fermanagh & South Tyrone
Sinn Féin seem likely to lose a seat here, with the SDLP better placed than Alliance to make a gain.
West Tyrone is a realistic prospect for Alliance, with Sinn Féin the most likely to lose out.
Mid Ulster is the only constituency (except for West Belfast) where I think Sinn Féin will hold all three of the seats they won in 2017.
A few things could happen in Foyle, but I suspect People Before Profit will fail to make a gain and the DUP will hold on.
Finally, East Londonderry could see a TUV gain from the DUP.
I’ve summarised these guesses in the table below. Green denotes a gain, red a loss, and dark red a loss of two seats.
If these guesses were correct, then the number of seats for each party would be as follows.
Sinn Féin 24 (down 3)
Alliance 18 (up 10)
DUP 16 (down 12)
UUP 11 (up 1)
SDLP 11 (down 1)
TUV 7 (up 6)
PBP, Greens, Independent 1 each
This would result in 35 Unionist MLAs, 35 Nationalist MLAs, and 20 MLAs designated “Other”.
In this scenario, Sinn Féin would provide the First Minister, and the DUP would provide the Deputy First Minister as the largest party from the second largest designation.
David McCann and myself worked out that these results could yield two ministers each for the DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance, and one each for the UUP and the SDLP (if all parties participate in forming the next Executive).
The next Assembly election is well over a year away, and there is plenty of time for the support for the various parties to shift. The TUV, in particular, will struggle to recruit candidates with the name recognition of party leader Jim Allister and may find it difficult to convert their newfound support into seats.