GE ’24: Fermanagh & South Tyrone Constituency Profile…

This was the most marginal Westminster constituency in the UK in 2019, with only 57 votes separating the winner, Michelle Gildernew, from Tom Elliot (UUP). The seat has seesawed back and forth between unionist and nationalist ever since it was created as a single member constituency in 1950. Gildernew first won the seat in 2001, lost it to Elliott in 2015, and regained it again in 2017. Neither of them are standing in this election.

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The boundary changes were not substantial. They should make the seat less marginal.

Candidates

Diana Armstrong, UUP

Paul Blake, SDLP

Gerry Cullen, Cross Community Labour Alternative

Pat Cullen, Sinn Féin

Carl Duffy, Aontú

Eddie Roofe, 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.

There is an optical illusion when looking at the green nationalist share line, it appears to be rising, but if we add a linear trend line (in red below) we can see that in fact the nationalist trend has remained essentially flat.

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It is possible to argue that most of the “Unknown” vote in the Assembly 2022 column belongs in the nationalist column, but definitive proof is lacking. However, that 0.7% would have little impact. At best it would change the nationalist trend from flat to a 1% point increase.

There is no need for the assistance of trend lines to see that unionists have declined, by 7% points, mostly over the last seven years. For the first time, in the last two elections, the unionist share has fallen below 40%. Others, meanwhile, have trended up by 6% points.

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Turnout at the last Westminster election was a little lower than in 2017 and 2015, and a far cry from the 1950’s to the early 80’s when near 90% was the order of the day.

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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No other party has achieved over 2% in any election.

There is significant volatility in the Sinn Féin vote which registers a substantial drop in Council elections. This was particularly marked in 2019 (and averaged 7% at the other three) when the principal beneficiaries were Independent nationalist candidates, but the SDLP also enjoys a small boost. So far, no party has emerged to attempt to exploit this weakness, although five Independent candidates did campaign on a joint Independent Republican ticket last year, three of them successfully. Nevertheless, SF has trended upwards over the period by 5% points.

Although the DUP abstain from the Westminster elections in the constituency, there has been an ongoing struggle for primacy within unionism with the traditionally dominant UUP. In the last five non-Westminster elections this appears to have been resolved in favour of the DUP. This has been brought about by a 9% downward trend in the UUP vote while the DUP trend has only dropped 1%.

The SDLP has dropped 4% points and Alliance risen 4%.

Vote share in Westminster elections

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In FST Westminster elections almost nothing changes except the result.

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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As can be seen the principal difference is that R&T assumes that if voters are moved into a constituency there would have been a candidate to vote for, whereas I assume the candidate choice remains as it was. As a result, I have no DUP or Aontú votes.

This gives different 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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Although the DUP are not standing I have shown them here because there will undoubtedly be co-operation between the two unionist parties in support of the UUP candidate. They will both be used to this over previous Westminster campaigns. However, it is hard to imagine that when two groups have been competing against in all other elections their cooperation will always be free of some tensions and inefficiencies.

The SDLP has taken a serious hit in the last Council elections, which may hamper their efforts to win nationalist votes from Sinn Féin.

Factors possibly assisting Sinn Féin

0.11% points ahead of UUP at the last election.

Boundary change could add about 1% to that lead.

Last Assembly and Council elections suggest that the total unionist vote has declined by 4% points.

The last Assembly election suggests that the SF vote has risen by about 1% since 2019.

Factors possibly assisting the UUP

There is nothing to be found in the data.

While it is impossible to predict the result with any certainty, the balance of possibilities favours an increased Sinn Féin majority, perhaps to as much as 3,000.

 


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