This chart clearly shows a shift from unionists to others over the last two elections in East Londonderry.
But the shifts at the party level have been even more dramatic:
The DUP benefit substantially from tactical votes in Westminster elections, even though there is no doubt that they will win. SF has been on a sharp downward slope since 2017, to the obvious benefit of the SDLP which even finished a whisker above them. The long-term slow decline of the UUP continued, unable to match their Local Government vote shares in Westminster elections because of tactical voting for the DUP, nor in Assembly elections where they haemorrhage votes to the Independent Unionist. Alliance has been on an accelerating growth curve since its low point in 2016. And the Independent Unionist has dug in.
Projecting the Assembly vote from an all-NI poll is heavily complicated by Claire Sugden, the Ind U.
The most reasonable assumption to make is that she will continue to hold her vote share as she did in 2016 and 2017. That being so, where should we take that share from? My conclusion is that all, or almost all, of it comes from votes that would otherwise be UUP. I set out my reasons in the next four paragraphs – which you can safely skip if you wish.
The UUP MLA David McClarty was deselected by his party in 2011. He then stood as an Independent Unionist in the Coleraine district in the Local Government elections taking 3.6% of all the votes cast in the East L’derry constituency.
On the same day, he also stood as an Ind U for the Assembly, achieving 8.6% of the vote. While his vote was 5.0% higher in the Assembly election, the UUP vote dropped 7.1%. Alliance was also down by 0.5%, but since the SDLP was up 0.7% (which did not come from SF) it is likely that only part, if any, of the Alliance loss went to the Ind U.
Before McClarty died he nominated Claire Sugden to be co-opted to replace him and she fought and won in 2016 and 2017.
By 2017 the Ind U vote was up 3.1% compared with 2011, while other unionists were down 4.5%. Alliance was also down 1.1%, while Greens and PBP, who did not stand in 2011, took 0.7% and 1.1% respectively.
My Central projection from the Lucid Talk poll (amended to take account of the Ind U) is shown above (remember to allow for the margins of error in the poll and in this projection).
Which would mean that quotas per candidate might look something like this. Seats won in 2017 are highlighted in gold.
This would give 1 Safe seat to each of the DUP, Ind U, Alliance, and SF. The final seat would be a Likely for a DUP second, but with the TUV being a Long Shot to take it instead.
However, that would not be the only potential outcome. The only point on which all my projections agree is 1 Safe seat each for DUP, Ind U and SF.
One projection sees unionists reduced to 2 Safe seats (DUP and Ind U) with only a Long Shot chance of taking a third (either TUV or second DUP), with 1 Safe seat also for each of SF and Alliance and a Good Possibility of a second SF seat.
The other has straight Safe seats: 2 DUP, 1 Ind U, 1 SF and 1 SDLP.
It’s a very brave, or very foolhardy, man or woman who would claim to call East Londonderry.
To add to the mix there are three further Independents standing.
Stephanie Quigley is a Coleraine Councillor. Elected for the first time in 2013 under the SDLP banner, she left the party in 2020. It is not possible to estimate her effect on the SDLP 1st preference vote. I have assumed that she will fall short and that her transfers would restore the general pattern above.
Niall Murphy and Billy Stewart are also standing and if they or anyone else wants to tell us more about their positions please write a comment.
NOTE ON METHOD:
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.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.