The last Lucid Talk poll before the election appears in today’s Belfast Telegraph. It was conducted between Friday 22nd and Sunday 24th April. This means that some of the contributors will have been declaring their choice almost two weeks before the election itself. That’s only about halfway through the formal campaign. It’s important to remember that much can change before an election in that time frame.
Historically many people only finally decide how they will vote in the last few days before the poll. As we have only recently seen in France, opinion polls – and the ultimate vote shares – can change substantially.
That said, Lucid Talk has a good reputation for their final election polls, so what does this one tell us?
- SF 26%
- DUP 20%
- UUP 14%
- Alliance 14%
- SDLP 10%
- TUV 9%
In a few days, we will get the detailed poll figures for all the parties – including the smallest – given to one decimal place. Those will be the figures to which the margin of error applies (usually about 2.3% for Lucid Talk polls). But by then the real election will already be upon us.
Rounding the figures to the nearest decimal place, as they are quoted here, introduces an additional 0.5% of potential error.
At this stage we do not have enough information to draw conclusions on the overall share for nationalists, unionists and others which will be vital in estimating potential transfer flows – and ultimately seat number.
What we do know for certain is that the DUP must have risen by at least 0.9% since the last poll, and Alliance must have dropped by at least 1.0%.
I have allowed my imagination to invade the dreams and nightmares of the parties and asked myself whether the poll points to pleasant slumbers or night terrors for each of them.
- Take First Minister position.
- Hold on to all 27 seats they won last time. This may sound unambitious – but actually, it would be a real achievement. SF punched above its weight in 2017 taking 2 seats more than its strict vote share. It may even need to increase its vote share just to stand still.
- Gain more than 27 seats. There are only three constituencies where there is any chance of an SF gain. In reality, they would probably need a vote share of 30% or very near it to make net gains.
- TUV voters move back to DUP. DUP wins FM.
- SF lose 4 or more seats. On the previous Lucid Talk I estimate that there are 9 that they have to defend. To be clear that does not mean that they are in any danger of losing all 9 – far from it. It is simply that they cannot be certain which of the nine they will retain. Provided they still take the FM position there would probably be no great public attention devoted to SF losses – but their strategists would be highly concerned.
On the evidence of this poll the first, and arguably the most important, part of the SF dream is still very much alive. Although the pea under the mattress, in the form of the possibility of DUP recovery, has become a little more uncomfortable.
The poll gives little prospect of holding 27 seats as it places the party still below the 27.9% it received last time out. In fact it points to somewhere between 21 to 26 seats, with a strictly proportional 23. The nightmare cannot be totally banished.
- SF stumble and DUP retains FM position.
- TUV vote share drops below 6% as voters return to DUP. All the extra TUV votes are wasted – spread across so many constituencies that they make no gains and instead transfer back to the DUP. (This is also the TUV nightmare.)
- TUV vote comes in near 10%. This could put them some change of a gain in 9 seats. A cohort of 8 to 10 TUV MLA’s could pose a very real challenge to the DUP for future leadership of unionism. (And this is the TUV dream.)
The poll gives the DUP no clear indication of whether to dare to dream or prepare to scream. SF have not stumbled. The TUV remains on 9%. But there are faint indications of DUP recovery. A one percent recovery may be underwhelming, but maybe it could be added to in the time remaining. And 9% for the TUV could still see lots of transfers coming the DUP’s way.
There is no prospect held out for the party to retain the 28 seats it won last time. The poll points to a likely minimum of 16 and a likely maximum of 23 or even 24. There is an unusual degree of uncertainty surrounding the potential maximum given the level of TUV support. A strictly proportional number of seats would be 18.
All in all, still several uncomfortable nights to come for the DUP.
Strict proportionality would award the TUV 8 seats for its 9% in the poll. But the expected geographical spread of the TUV vote makes that unlikely – bad luck could see them win as little as two seats, although 4 or 5 could be possible. But those candidates who fail could transfer a lot of much needed votes to the DUP.
On the other hand, most comment had expected the TUV vote to be shrivelling by now. The fact that it has not less than two weeks before election day keeps all bets open.
- Vote share of 17%, plus favourable transfers, doubles their 2017 seat numbers to 16. Many in new constituencies – with at least one in the West.
- Clear position of third party – with credible base to aim for second (or even first) in 2027.
- Increase vote share substantially from 2017, but narrowly miss out on gains in a number of new constituencies, and also on second seats in stronger constituencies. Result – piles of wasted votes. Net increase in seats restricted to 3 or 4.
It would take a 3% uplift to deliver all aspects of the Alliance dream. That’s either at the very edge of the margin of error or a big last-minute uplift in voting intentions.
The poll would give them a 5% increase on their 2017 share and lift their seats from the eight won then to somewhere between 11 and about 14. Strict proportionality would be 13.
- 16%+ poll share and favourable transfers increasing seats from 10 to 15 or 16.
- TUV eat into DUP, putting UUP only 3 or 4 seats behind. Good starting position in the subsequent three-way battle for leadership of unionism.
- No increase on 10 seats. TUV makes gains from DUP. Recriminations in party. Future in doubt.
This poll may not promise the fulfilment of all UUP dreams, but should stop nightmares troubling their rest. Strict proportionality would deliver 13 seats, with a minimum of 11 and a maximum of 14. Although another Claire Sugden victory in East Londonderry would probably subtract one from each of those projected numbers.
- Hold the 12 seats they won last time. Like SF they punched above their weight in 2017 – taking one more seat than their strict vote share. So they too might have to increase their vote share slightly just to hold what they have.
- Win one or more of the four seats that they have some hopes of gaining. Top of their wish list would probably be a third seat in Foyle – to cement dominance in Derry, while West Belfast or Fermanagh South Tyrone would have powerful symbolic significance for them.
- Dropping below 12 seats (single figures would be catastrophic and probably prompt a period of intense internal questioning). They are fortunate that they have no rival for the position of second party of nationalism – which would spare them the existential challenge that the UUP could face under similar circumstances.
Alone of all the major parties the SDLP will find little comfort in this poll. They took 11.9% and 12 seats in 2017 – and haven’t gone above 10.7% this year. Strict proportionality would hand them only 9 seats, with a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 10. They will hope that their transfer friendliness will put them at the top end of their potential.
The poll gives us nothing to go on regarding the Greens and PBP. And when parties are sitting somewhere around 2%, and fighting in all constituencies (as the Greens are) or 12 (the PBPA), changes of a fraction of a percent can be the difference between joy and disaster. That is too fine for a poll to safely call. But here are their dreams and fears for the record.
- Holding their current two seats.
- Coming a good runner up in East Belfast (the wildest of their dreams might stretch to winning – but to do so the combined Alliance + Green vote would have to grow by something like 5 or 6 points.) And building their share in North Belfast.
- Loss of one or both of their current seats.
The small drop in the Alliance share since the last poll could be helpful to the Greens in their battle to hold their current two seats.
- Winning a second seat in Foyle.
- Loss of West Belfast.
For PBP the good news is that SF has not picked up since the last poll so their nightmare looks unlikely.
Neither the PUP nor Aontú are likely to have any dreams of winning a seat in this election. For each of them, their fight is to establish a base in a number of constituencies from which to contest the Local Government elections in two year’s time.
For each of the parties, there is still much to play for in the final seven days of this campaign.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.