By Faha

Sure enough, as I was writing a new blog on the implications of this years Census, Faha beat me to it, this is fascinating so I’d encourage you all to comment or ask the questions as you think best – BD

A week ago, LucidTalk released an opinion poll on voter preferences for the 2022 Assembly election. Their previous poll on Assembly preference was released 4 months ago in January. The panel sample was 1,410 likely voters (it excluded undecided and non voters).

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The polling was carried out after the new leaders of the DUP and UUP were known. The sample of voters by religious background was;

Protestant     40.35% 

Catholic         37.94%

None             20.78%

Other              0.78%

Voter preference is as follows and changes are from the January poll:

Sinn Fein                  25.1%            + 1.5%

SDLP                         12.3%            – 0.4%

PBP                              2.2%            + 1.0%

Aontu                          1.1%            + 0.7%

Total Nationalist     40.7%            + 2.8%

Alliance                     16.2%            – 1.7%

Green                          1.8%            –  0.1%

DUP                            15.5%           – 3.3%

UUP                            14.0%           + 2.1%

TUV                             11.3%           + 0.9%

Other Unionist            0.5%            – 0.7%

Total Unionist             41.3%          – 1.0%

Most of the changes are minor compared to January and are not statistically significant. However, the 3.3% decline in the DUP appears to be a real decline.

 There are a few important findings in this poll. The total unionist and total nationalist vote are essentially equal. It is not possible for the unionist parties to achieve a majority of the 90 MLAs so it appears the days of a unionist majority in Stormont will never return to the pre 2017 era.

The collapse of the DUP vote is dramatic and unexpected. The DUP received 28.1% of the vote in the 2017 Assembly election and have lost nearly half of those voters. The TUV is the main beneficiary with their voter preference almost 9% higher than the vote they received in the 2017 election. The UUP vote is up only 1% since 2017.

The UUP vote is only 1.5% less than the DUP vote in this poll. This has major implications for the 2022 election and which unionist party will hold the position of Deputy First Minster. Of course, all 3 of the unionist parties will try to persuade unionist voters to vote for their party to prevent the election of a SF First Minister. The difficulty the DUP have with this approach is that they are now statistically even with the UUP in the polls so the UUP can make the same claim that they should be the choice of unionist voters. The only source of transfers for DUP candidates is the TUV. However, recent elections have shown that TUV transfers go equally to the DUP and UUP. The UUP will also receive significant transfers from the Alliance Party and to a lesser extent the SDLP.  

I will now explore the implications for the 3 main unionist parties. The poll broke down voter preference by 4 regions. This is the voter preference by region for the unionist parties. I am including the Alliance preference since it has a significant influence on the number of unionist seats.

North (Foyle, East Londonderry, North Antrim)

DUP          11%

UUP          11%

TUV           13%

Alliance     17%

Historically, the UUP, TUV and Alliance vote has been much less than the DUP vote in Foyle. This implies that the Alliance vote would be above a quota in both East Londonderry and North Antrim.

The 2019 Westminster results did show a large increase in the Alliance vote in both those constituencies. This would result in only 2 unionist seats in East Londonderry and 3 in North Antrim.  Since there is little TUV and UUP vote in Foyle the other 2 constituencies combined would have a TUV and UUP vote that each exceeds the DUP vote. There would be quotas for the UUP and TUV.

The DUP would have a quota for a seat in North Antrim and possibly one in East Londonderry. If the Foyle turnout is the same as Westminster, then the quota will be near 8,000 and with a marked decline in the DUP vote they will lose their seat in Foyle. They would also lose at least one seat in East Londonderry and one in North Antrim.

West (West Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Fermanagh South Tyrone)

DUP          14%

UUP          10%

TUV            7%

Alliance     12%

Although the total unionist vote is 31%, it would be higher in Fermanagh South Tyrone and less in the other 2 constituencies. Thus, there would be only 1 unionist elected in Mid Ulster and West Tyrone as occurred in 2017. The TUV vote is too low here for a seat. It is likely there would be no change in the unionist seats though it is possible that if the UUP vote exceeds the Alliance vote after TUV transfers that the Alliance candidate could be eliminated and a UUP candidate elected in either Mid Ulster or West Tyrone.

South ( South Down, Newry and Armagh, Upper Bann, Strangford)

DUP          18%

UUP          17%

TUV            9%

Alliance     11%

This region is more difficult to analyse since the constituencies are so different from each other. South Down and Newry & Armagh are heavily nationalist. Strangford is heavily unionist.

In Strangford, the 2019 Westminster election indicated 2 Alliance seats.  This poll shows the DUP and UUP basically even . Also, the ratio of the TUV to the DUP vote matters since the DUP vote is twice the TUV vote. If the TUV vote is more than half the DUP vote in a constituency or if there is poor balancing among DUP candidates then the TUV could win a seat in Strangford or Upper Bann.

In Upper Bann the DUP will almost certainly lose one of their seats. If Alliance polls well then there could be an Alliance seat and the DUP would lose a seat. If Alliance is eliminated then the UUP are in a good position to elect 2 with a large number of Alliance transfers.

Newry & Armagh is another potential DUP loss if the UUP are almost even with the DUP since Alliance transfers would elect the UUP candidate.

East (4 Belfast, East Antrim, South Antrim, Lagan Valley, North Down)

DUP          16%

UUP          15%

TUV           13%

Alliance     20%

Green          3%

The DUP vote would be much less than 16 % in West Belfast. So, the other 7 constituencies would average 17% to 18%. Six of those constituencies had a range for a DUP vote from 32% to 41% in the 2017 Assembly election. With such little variation in 2017 it is likely that the DUP vote would be slightly over one quota in all 6.

In East Antrim the 2019 Westminster results strongly point to 2 Alliance seats so based on these numbers there would be one each for the DUP, UUP and TUV. The DUP would also lose a seat in South Antrim, Lagan Valley, North Down, East Belfast and North Belfast. South Belfast is another possibility especially if there are enough excess non unionist voters that transfer to the UUP.

Overall, the large decline in the DUP vote would result in the loss of anywhere from 11 to 17 seats. It is possible that the Alliance Party could win more seats than the DUP.

The DUP would have a minimum of 11 seats and a maximum of 17 seats.

It would be helpful to have polls for each constituency. I realize this would be difficult to do since it would require at least 400 voters to give a statistically accurate count.

If the Alliance Party decides to designate as Unionist (as they did once previously) there could be a Sinn Fein First Minister and an Alliance Deputy First Minister.