Background to Council Elections: Mid Ulster…

This council has 40 councillors.

At the last election Sinn Féin won at least one seat in all seven District Electoral Areas (DEA’s). The SDLP and DUP did so in 6 each, while the UUP won representation in 5. Two DEA’s also returned Independents.

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This is the only council area which did not see a growth in share for ‘others’. Part of the reason was that the voters had very few ‘others’ candidates to vote for. Alliance only stood in two DEA’s and there were no Greens or PBPA.

The nationalist vote figure includes Independent candidates, two of whom were elected.

Only two seats changed hands in 2019, a very low number compared to other councils. The UUP lost a seat to the DUP in Magherafelt, and in Torrent SF lost out to an Independent, Dan Kerr.

The full make-up of the council in 2014 and 2019 can be seen in the chart below.

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The only large movements in party vote share took place between the unionists.

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While the Other Unionists comprised the TUV, UKIP and an Independent, almost all their loss was down to the TUV. The DUP had a very good day, recording a substantial 6% point increase. It is unusual for such substantial vote swings within a designation to result in only one seat changing hands and suggests that a relatively small improvement in share could bring disproportionate rewards at the expense of the UUP.

SF had a poor performance here last time, being the only nationalist party to lose both vote share and a councillor.

Five of the council’s seven DEA’s lie in the constituency of Mid Ulster and two almost entirely in Fermanagh South Tyrone. Between the 2019 council election and the 2022 Assembly the unionist vote share dropped significantly in these two constituencies, -5% and -4% respectively. The nationalist share rose modestly, 1% and 2%. ‘Others’ rose 4% and 1%.

Sinn Féin put on big increases in that period. In Mid Ulster it was up 7% while the SDLP dropped 5%, and in FST it put on an astonishing 14%, while the SDLP again lost 5%. This is, no doubt, in large part a reflection of votes that it took in the Assembly election that had been cast for Independents in the proceeding council election. Opportunity or threat? You can read it either way.

Some Independents appear to have read things the same way. Long-term Independent councillor Barry Montieth (Dungannon), first elected for SF in 2001, and Dan Kerr, elected in Torrent as an Independent in 2019, have joined forces to fight the election under the banner of Independent Republican. The group is putting forward running mates for both outgoing councillors and also contesting Clogher Valley. While the group will pose an immediate challenge to both SF and SDLP candidates at this election, SF will be concerned for the longer-term strategic implications.

They will each appear as ‘Independent’ on the ballot paper.

Were the group to perform well they could constitute a significant threat to Sinn Feín competing directly with them on the grounds of left-wing activism, local campaigning and effectiveness of delivery, free of party political constraints.

Outlook by DEA

As well as giving the historical data for the last election in 2019, each table contains two projections.

The first, headed ‘Based on Ass’22’, shows an estimate for the change in the party quota based on the change in its vote between 2019 and 2022 in the relevant constituency or constituencies. I then show where this might put a seat under threat or present a possible gain.

The second projection is changed in the light of the headline figures in the latest Lucid Talk poll. However, since the detailed tables are not published until later, I have been unable to use some of the information I normally rely on.

I have departed from the Assembly vote and the Lucid Talk poll in one respect. I have assumed that Independents who were elected in 2019 will hold onto all or most of their vote in this election, based on the tendency for this to happen in previous council elections.

Please remember that this is not intended to be a prediction. In contrast to my conservative treatment of Independents seeking re-election, I have included party gains and losses which are a long shot, as well as those which are more likely. This is to reflect the degree of uncertainty inherent in making these estimates. Treat them as a guide as to what to look out for, or for making your own judgements.

My Best bet for each DEA is just a bit of fun. It is too simplified to capture all the possibilities and may therefore be wrong as often as it is right.

Carntogher

All five outgoing councillors are standing for re-election.

The UUP have not stood a candidate this time, which makes the re-election of the DUP candidate a virtual certainty.

It does mean that unionists will probably release their transfers early in the count, which would be very welcome for the SDLP who face a determined challenge from Sinn Feín. I had the impression, rightly or wrongly, that SF had planned to run only three candidates here. I would be interested to know if the fourth candidate was in fact a late addition.

Last time nearly half of the unionist surplus came to the SDLP, while most of the rest was simply not transferred. Aontú transfers might well favour the SDLP over Sinn Feín, and would certainly be more helpful to the SDLP since those destined for Sinn Feín would have to be shared between 3 or 4 candidates.

In addition, the SDLP will benefit from the absence of a centrist candidate which could slightly reduce the party’s estimated vote loss.

It looks so close that I would hesitate to make any bet, but…

Best bet: No change

A screenshot of a computer screen Description automatically generated with low confidence Clogher Valley

Four of the six outgoing councillors, including a co-opted DUP, are standing again. Neither of the Sinn Feín members are. But there will still be a Gildernew on the ballot paper; Phelim is standing down, but Gael is standing up.

This is one of the three DEA’s being contested by the Independent Republican group, their candidate is Kevin McElvogue. Unfortunately for anyone attempting to estimate his potential vote there was no equivalent candidate in 2019 to provide a precedent, so the estimate must be speculative. When Dan Kerr first stood in Torrent at the last election, he took 21% of the total nationalist vote. A similar share in Clogher Valley would be worth 0.6 of a quota. However, it is important to acknowledge that the size of Kerr’s vote was highly unusual for a first-time non-party candidate. So, while 0.6 of a quota could be regarded as a reasonable maximum for McElvogue, it is more likely that the actual figure would be lower. On the other hand, McElvogue enjoys the benefits of being part of a group which other first-time Independents have not had. I have chosen 0.5 which recognises that one cannot close off the possibility that he could be successful.

Sinn Feín have increased that possibility by their decision to run three candidates. Here’s why.

Unionists have around three and a half quotas, but only three candidates. So, all three will be elected at the start of the count. Most of their transfers will go to the SDLP, who will then be elected.

Sinn Feín will receive few transfers from the SDLP, because those transfers did not originate with people who voted SDLP 1, but from the surplus which came from unionist voters. Some of them might transfer on to the Independent as an anti-SF vote.

Now on my estimate SF would still hold their two seats. But remember it is speculative. if the SDLP do better than I estimated, or the Independent better, or SF not as well, or a high proportion of the unionist surplus transfers first to SDLP and then to the Independent, Sinn Feín could drop a seat.

Once the SDLP candidate is elected you could be looking at 4 candidates competing for around 2.5 quotas worth of votes. If the Independent is ahead of one of the SF candidates, that SF candidate would be excluded. But not all of their votes would transfer to the other Sinn Feín candidates. The level of non-transfer can vary considerably. In the last council elections the lowest number was 4.2% of the candidates first preference votes, and the highest 22.3%. The average was 12.5%.

The Independent’s total vote, first preferences and transfers from the SDLP, would probably need to reach between 0.7 and 0.8 of a quota to put him in the running.

Every election produces at least one surprise. This could be it. For that reason….

Best bet: Independent gain from Sinn Feín.

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Cookstown

Independent Louise Taylor’s platform is to challenge the major parties who, she says, have all failed the environment, women, the disabled and on issues of LGBTQ, race and social class. I have no basis for estimating her vote, which would probably interact most with Alliance.

It certainly appears on paper that the second UUP seat is up for grabs, and both the DUP and TUV have it in their sights. If the DUP balance as badly as last time, when they threw away a chance of a second seat, the TUV might slip through. But the DUP would be more transfer friendly.

There are certainly likely to be a lot of nationalist transfers sloshing around. It is hard to see why Sinn Feín has restricted itself to three candidates. However, it should mean that their three candidates plus the SDLP one will be rapidly elected.

Alliance will certainly be hoping to pick up most of those nationalist transfers, but there are still likely to be 3 unionist seats at the end of the count.

Best bet: DUP gain from UUP

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Dungannon

Only three of the six outgoing councillors are going forward again, the Independent Republican Barry Monteith, SF and Aontú.

The Aontú candidate, Denise Mullen, took 0.6 of a quota when elected for the SDLP in 2019. I have guessed at her receiving about 0.2 this time (about twice the level the party received in Fermanagh S Tyrone in the Assembly election), but as a sitting councillor first elected in 2014 she may have built a personal vote which would put her even higher.

Mullen’s old party are in a poor position to win back the seat. If my estimate is right, it will go to Sinn Feín. However, my estimate cannot deal adequately with the new grouping of Independent Republicans. I have assumed, as for other DEA’s, that elected Independents retain their 2019 vote, but it is perfectly possible that they will also absorb a good part of the vote that went to the unsuccessful Independent last time, and that Monteith will be able to leverage his personal standing to the advantage of his running mate. For this reason, I have made an Independent Republican gain an alternative possibility.

There is no basis for estimating the Cross Community Labour Alliance vote. I have assumed that most of it comes from Alliance and would transfer back there. It is possible that CCLA will have a wider appeal, but with the exception of Donal O’Cofaigh, who built up his following over a number of years before winning a seat, no CCLA candidate has come anywhere near to competing for a seat.

Best bet: Sinn Feín gain from SDLP

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Magherafelt

All five outgoing councillors are standing again.

Neither the TUV nor Alliance stood here last time, so there is no form to go on for making the estimates. Either of them would have to do significantly better than I have estimated in order to be in the running for a seat.

Barring that, the DUP would seem to have the two unionist seats sown up.

Sinn Feín have only run an unambitious two candidates which should see them both elected on the first count, with a healthy surplus taking the SDLP over the line.

Best bet: No change

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated with medium confidence Moyola

Of the five outgoing councillors only one, a Sinn Feín, is not standing again.

It is doubtful that the UUP can hold onto its seat. If it falls it will not be to another unionist. Almost certainly it would go to the SDLP. It may be for this reason that Sinn Feín held off from running a third candidate, preferring the good chance of a unionist loss to the less certain prospect of an SF gain.

There is a thin chance that the UUP seat could go to Alliance instead.

Best bet: SDLP gain from UUP

Torrent

Of the six councillors elected in 2019 three are standing again. Sinn Feín have had a clear-out. They have one co-opted councillor up for re-election while the other two stood down.

The DUP look set to take the UUP seat.

Best bet: DUP gain from UUP.

 


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