GE ’24: Newry and Armagh Constituency Profile…

Newry and Armagh delivered a 9,287 majority for Micky Brady (Sinn Féin), with William Irwin (DUP) in second place. The constituency was only created in 1983. For the first three years it had a unionist MP but has been nationalist ever since.

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The changes made to the constituency boundaries last November were not substantial.

Candidates

Pete Byrne, SDLP

Dáire Hughes, Sinn Féin

Sam Nicholson, UUP

Keith Ratcliffe, TUV

Samantha Rayner, Conservative

Liam Reichenberg, Aontú

Gareth Wilson, DUP

Helena Young, Alliance

Candidates’ Electoral History

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Vote shares by designation

There were no changes to the boundaries between 2010 and 2023.

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Please note that some Local Government electoral areas cross constituency boundaries which means that the LG figures have been estimated.

Nationalist have trended almost flat over the period (down 1% point), unionists have dropped 5% points, falling below 30% in the last two elections. Others are up 6%.

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Vote share by party in Assembly and Local Government Elections

In the majority of constituencies there is an element of tactical voting in Westminster elections. Changes in the underlying strength of the principal parties within a constituency can best be understood by looking at their performance in other elections.

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The bottom half of the chart is very crowded, so I reproduce that part below at a bigger scale.

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As well as those shown, Aontú took 2% in the last three elections. Independent unionists and nationalist have stood in several elections as follows.

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Sinn Féin has trended up 9% points over the period, while the SDLP has fallen 12%. Independent nationalists, standing intermittently, have trended up 1%.

The DUP has deviated erratically from a trendline which is essentially flat. The UUP has lost 12% points, and the TUV, which missed the two middle Assembly elections, is up 6% points. Independent unionists have trended up 2%.

Alliance is up 6% points.

Vote share in Westminster elections

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When it comes to Westminster designations normally become more important than individual parties.

The DUP did not stand in 2015 as part of a pact with the UUP. However, when they returned to the contest in 2017 and 2019 the DUP were seen as the stronger alternative by a third or more of UUP voters who switched to them tactically. Even though the DUP stood no chance of winning. This is not an anomaly. People tend to think of tactical voting as being about switching your vote in marginal seats to stop another party being elected. Just as often it can be about reducing the majority of the inevitable winner in a rock-solid safe seat.

The boundary changes

Calculating the effects of changes to constituency boundaries is not straightforward since there is no record of precisely how past votes for each party were distributed geographically. Necessarily this involves estimates and assumptions, and these may differ. For many years the UK media have all used the calculations provided by two academics, Rallings and Thrasher, to provide a notional result of how each constituency would have voted at the previous general election if the latest boundaries had been in force. For Northern Ireland their inputs are provided by Nicholas Whyte. These will be the base from which the media will report voting swings when constituency results are declared.

I used different assumptions for my own calculations of the notional vote which resulted in slightly different outcomes. In the following chart the Actual result in 2019 is compared with my estimate and the R&T estimate.

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This gives almost identical notional majorities for 2019.

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Resources

In addition to money, the other key resource for an election campaign is the level of constituency work running up to the campaign, and the manpower available in the campaign itself. When it comes to constituency work MP’s and MLA’s have the advantage of an allowance for constituency offices and for a staffing. The amount of staffing money is specified, but MP’s and MLA’s can choose to allocate it to fewer higher-paid staff or a greater number of lower-paid staff.

When it comes to manpower for canvassing and leafleting a party’s elected representatives normally form the core of the group available. Party’s may also choose to bring in helpers from neighbouring constituencies which they have no hope of winning.

The Index Total for each party gives some idea of the relative strength of each party locally.

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The dominant Sinn Féin machine became that little bit more so last year.

Factors possibly assisting Sinn Féin

18.3% points ahead of DUP at the last election.

Boundary change. Could add 1% point to SF share.

Share increase since 2019. Comparing 2019 Westminster and Council to 2022 Assembly and 2023 Council shows increase of 7 and 9% respectively.

Factors possibly assisting DUP

Could TUV intervention assist DUP to squeeze 2 or 3% points more from the UUP vote?

Factors possibly damaging the DUP

The TUV Reform UK candidate could subtract up to 6% points share from DUP, at the TUV’s 2022 Assembly vote share. (Watch the LucidTalk polls. If the TUV share falls below 6%, the TUV can be expected to hurt the DUP proportionately less. If the TUV goes higher than 6% the damage may be proportionately more.)

Conclusion

There is no doubt about the winner. The balance of possibilities point to a substantially increased Sinn Féin majority. The TUV intervention might allow the SDLP to come second.

 


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