Data background to the Assembly contests in East and North Belfast…

With the Assembly election fast approaching I have compiled an overview of some of the constituencies and hope to complete more in the time available. It is many years since there was so much uncertainty about the outcome of the election. Usually, it is possible to be confident of the results for at least four seats out of the five in each constituency. This time it is more often three.

Each profile outlines the historical voting patterns in the constituency and attempts to illustrate the relevance of the current polling information to the range of possible outcomes next month. The aim is not to predict – but to show the range of potential outcomes.

In fact, you might like to use them as a form guide to making your own predictions.

The historical vote share information is not shown in the form of the usual percentages, but as the number of quotas, they would deliver in next month’s election.

There is no perfect way to translate a national poll to a local constituency level. Still less so in a PR system. We must recognise a level of uncertainty. I have used the last Lucid Talk poll as my base because, as well as giving party shares, it also tracks how the voters for each party at the last Assembly election intend to vote this time. This allowed me to make two projections for each constituency, one based on vote switching since 2017, the other on changes in party vote shares since the 2019 Local Government elections. (I used the LG elections due to widespread tactical voting at the later Westminster.)

The two different projections mimic two different patterns of changes in party support. In one, a party that is growing strongly will see a bit less of that growth where it is already strong, and a bit more where it was previously at it most weak. Conversely, the parties that have lost voters will suffer a bit more in their strongest constituencies.

The other projection has the opposite effect. Either may prove to be a more accurate reflection of reality. And while the differences between the two are not massive (they both must total to the same poll shares across all constituencies) they can still sometimes produce different outcomes.

I should stress that while the Lucid Talk bears the responsibility for the original poll, the projections are entirely my responsibility.

For each 1st preference projection, I have used recent transfer patterns to identify all candidates who have any chance of winning on a scale ranging from Safe to Long Shot.

To avoid burdening you with all this detail I have averaged the results of the two projections and shown them as a Central projection, merely noting where one of the other projections produces a noteworthy difference.

Where a party is running more than one candidate, I have generally split the party vote between them in the same proportions at the last election. I have had to make my own assumptions when a party has a different number of candidates this time.

For those who would prefer to use the Liverpool poll, a rough rule of thumb would be to award all or most of the TUV potential gains to the DUP, and marginally improve the stated chances for Green, Alliance or PBP wins.

Oh, and don’t forget to allow for the 2.3% margin of error in the original poll.

EAST BELFAST

We will start with the relatively straightforward constituency of East Belfast before venturing into deeper waters.

In most constituencies, you can look at the elections as a series of different contests, one within unionism, a second within nationalism, and sometimes a third within the centre/others. Then there is the contest between the centre and the two other groups for the affection of individual voters. Ironically in an Assembly election, despite all the noise and grandstanding, the element of competition between nationalism and unionism on the doorsteps is absent beyond campaigns to increase turnout among their own supporters.

Here are the shares of the three designations– shown not in the usual percentages, but in how many quotas the votes would be worth in May’s election.

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We can see straight away that it would take a major movement, or considerable transfers, from unionists to others to stop unionists from taking three seats this time.

When we look at the parties that could be in contention for a seat the lines on the graph become far more complicated.

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It is immediately obvious why many have queried the UUP decision to split their vote between two candidates.

Note the roller coaster effect on party shares of tactical voting in Westminster elections. We will see this pattern again and again in other constituencies.

There is a far smoother – although not perfect – relationship between Local Government and Assembly results.

Projecting the last Lucid Talk poll to these two starting points gives a Central projection that looks something like this.

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Remember the margin of error – for the Lucid Talk poll was 2.3%. Also, this is a Central projection averaging two separate projections. (One is based on applying the change in party shares since the 2019 Council elections across NI to this constituency, and the other using the switches in party support since the last Assembly election). It should be treated as a broad picture.

The quotas per candidate might look something like this. Seats won in 2017 are highlighted in gold.

Timeline Description automatically generated with low confidence

The Workers Party are also standing. They last contested the Assembly here in 2011 taking 102 votes – less than 0.1 of a quota.

The following seats would be Safe: 2 Alliance, 1 DUP and 1 UUP. Either the DUP or TUV would take the final seat. Greens would be a good runner up – with perhaps near three-quarters of a quota after transfers. One of my projections even makes them a Long Shot to take one of the 3 unionist seats. But the combined Alliance and Green vote share would have to be about 5% higher than in this poll to make a Green gain almost certain. (The Liverpool University poll puts the combined vote nearly 2% higher.)

NORTH BELFAST

Once again the data for designations show the marked, and temporary, the effect of tactical voting in Westminster elections.

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This is even more strongly visible in the party shares.

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In North Belfast candidates at Council and Assembly elections from outside these parties gather significant numbers of votes. So, it is important to view both the designation and party shares together.

My central projection of the LT poll gives the following pattern (remember to allow for the margins of error in the poll and in this projection).

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Which would mean that quotas per candidate might look something like this. Seats won in 2017 are highlighted in gold.

Graphical user interface, application Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Also standing are the Workers Party which fielded candidates at all elections in the constituency, with the exception of two Westminsters. Its average poll is around 300, but did hit 476 in 2016, which would be worth less than 0.1 of a quota. It also scored 919 in the 2015 Westminster.

There is a Socialist Party of NI candidate. The party has no previous form in the constituency.

Completing the card is an Independent, Stafford Ward. If anyone has information on his platform please comment.

My three different projections agree that there would be 2 unionists, 2 nationalists and 1 Other. 1 DUP, 1 SF and 1 Alliance would be Safe.

The Central projection indicates that the UUP would have a Good possibility of taking the second unionist seat, although the second DUP would have a Lesser possibility. The SDLP would be more likely win the second nationalist, although the second SF would have a Lesser possibility.

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