GE ’24: East Londonderry Constituency Profile

This was the fifth safest Westminster constituency in Northern Ireland in 2019, where Gregory Campbell (DUP) clocked up a 9,607 majority over Cara Hunter (SDLP). Campbell has been the MP here for the last 23 years.

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

Candidates

Gemma Brolly, Aontú

Gregory Campbell, DUP

Cara Hunter, SDLP

Allister Kyle, TUV

Jen McCahon, Green

Kathleen McGurk, Sinn Féin

Glen Miller, UUP

Claire Scull, Conservative

Richard Stewart, 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.

The trend has been for a decline in unionist share of about 10% points, largely in the second half of the period. Nationalist share has trended 2% points up. Others remained largely flat for the first few years but overall, they trended up 8% points.

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Turnout is low, particularly for Westminster elections, despite a small improvement. It remains to be seen whether the competition amongst unionists produces an uplift this time around.

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 lower half of this chart is particularly crowded, so I reproduce it below at greater scale.

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Yes, it still takes a lot of following!

In addition to those above, the PUP contested all of these elections since 2014 obtaining between 2% and 4% on each occasion. Aontú has taken 2% or 3% in the last three elections. The Greens, PBPA and UKIP have all stood a number of times, never scoring more than 1%.

Note also that Independent Unionists in Council elections come in all varieties making comparisons with Claire Sugden’s Assembly vote irrelevant.

The interesting thing to note is that, including the Independent unionists, there has been a marked trend for more and more voters to choose candidates outside of the major parties. This is shown in the chart below, with the dotted line indicating the trend.

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The DUP has trended down 6% points and the UUP 5%, while the TUV trend is flat. However the TUV has maintained a constant presence throughout the period, which suggests a better state of organisation than in many other constituencies.

The UUP performs better in Council elections than in the Assembly where a large part of their vote goes to the Independent Unionist, Claire Sugden.

The SDLP has shown the biggest decline, trending down 9% points over the period. Much of this has switched to Sinn Féin, which is up 7%.

The Alliance line is hard to follow in the chart. It now sits less than 1% point below the UUP and a little under 4% points above the SDLP in the last election. It has trended up 4% points.

Vote share in Westminster elections

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

In the last two Westminster elections the absence of the TUV, plus tactical voting by a proportion of UUP and Independent Unionist supporters, has permitted the DUP to harvest 85% of the unionist vote in 2017 and 81% in 2019.

The battle for second place was extraordinarily close. The Sinn Féin share, which had risen dramatically in the 2017 election, plummeted to 30 votes below the SDLP in 2019. In fact the SDLP had their best result of the period. Alliance, bolstered also by the absence of competition from Other parties and Independents, had its best result by a long way, ending 107 votes behind Sinn Féin.

CISTA was a group campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis.

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 only slightly 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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The DUP clearly has a huge organisational advantage over the TUV, and a big one over any other party.

Factors possibly assisting the DUP

24.7% ahead of SDLP.

Three way split last time for second place between SDLP, SF and Alliance muddies the waters for those wishing to vote tactically against DUP. All three parties will claim they are best placed.

23 years’ incumbency.

Could TUV intervention assist DUP to squeeze 1 or 2% points more from the UUP vote?

No reduction in total unionist vote share in elections since 2019.

Factors possibly harming the DUP

Intervention of TUV-Reform UK. At the last Assembly election the TUV took 7% of the vote and the PUP 2%. This gives the TUV the potential to take about 8% from the DUP share if it retains that 2022 vote. The latest LucidTalk poll shows the TUV on 5%, in the same ballpark as the 6.2% they scored in the Assembly election in those constituencies that they are contesting this time.

Factors possibly assisting Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin vote recovered since 2019. 2022 Assembly election share back to 2017 levels. Could cut 11% points from DUP lead.

Possibility of SDLP tactical voting for SF maybe cutting 1 or 2% points from DUP lead.

Factors possibly harming Sinn Féin

SDLP will inevitably trumpet the fact that it came second to the DUP last time. Independent news coverage of the campaign will as inevitably include it. This could blunt the full potential strength of the SF claim to be the most viable nationalist candidate.

Factors possibly assisting the SDLP

The ability to claim that it was the runner up in 2019.

Factors possibly harming the SDLP

The fall to an 8% and then 6% share in the two elections since 2019; 17% points and 23% points respectively behind Sinn Féin.

Factors possibly assisting Alliance

The possibility of gaining some tactical votes from a weakened SDLP.

Factors possibly harming Alliance

Fielding a new candidate who has only been an elected representative as a Councillor for one year. This election may be more a matter of introducing him to a wider electorate before the next Assembly elections in the constituency where they have the greatest chance of making a gain in 2027.

Conclusion

The DUP must be expected to retain the seat, possibly with a considerably reduced majority.

 


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