2022 election analysis: Unionist transfers to SDLP and Alliance would cost Sinn Fein seats
The Alliance and TUV are expected to see substantial increases in their vote share, the DUP is expected to see a significant drop, with the Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein more or less where they were in 2017.
Small shifts in support can make a significant difference to the final outcome – and no doubt most constituencies will see the final seat decided by a few hundred votes at most, and in some cases lower preference transfers.
Final polls, for example, show the TUV poll between 5% and 9% – at the top tier the party is likely to have some agonizing near misses, particularly in County Antrim, but still come out with just Jim Allister in Stormont ; at this last level, he will comfortably return half a dozen deputies.
Likewise for the Alliance, a poll of 14%, an Assembly record for them, could still result in only three or four wins with many near misses; at 18%, it is starting to win second seats in much of Greater Belfast as well as single seats in rural constituencies where it has rarely even elected councillors, and could even threaten the DUP for second place.
This review assumes the midpoint of these scenarios.
Few will doubt that the surge in Alliance support that began with the 2019 municipal elections is a lasting phenomenon; there is more skepticism among pundits about the possibility of a TUV breakthrough, given that apart from Mr Allister, their candidates are relatively unknown political neophytes.
I remember the UKUP’s breakthrough in 1998, however, with equally low-key candidates being returned partly because of Bob McCartney’s notoriety, but more importantly because there was a segment of the Unionist electorate otherwise unrepresented – secular suburban voters who worried about IRA weapons. , worried that David Trimble had given too much, but also discouraged by the DUP’s incisive evangelism.
Now it’s staunchly unionist evangelicals who may find themselves looking for a new political home, having lost faith in a DUP that not only failed to prevent protocol, but also gay marriage and abortion. legal.
More generally, the pandemic has revealed how worn out public services are now in Northern Ireland and how patchy the quality of public administration is. There is a mood for sweeping political change among the electorate, and the question is whether it boiled over in time for this election.
With Sinn Féin and the DUP having been the dominant parties for 20 years now, they will inevitably be the main losers if voters decide to shake up the system. I have the impression that there is a difference in mood between each of the supporters of the two major parties.
Sinn Fein’s mainstream voters are disappointed and unimpressed with the party’s performance, but not yet angry, although they are ready to defect to well organized alternatives with strong candidates, such as the SDLP in Londonderry and Alliance in Greater Belfast.
Some previous DUP voters, on the other hand, have clearly given up altogether, with rural evangelicals moving to the TUV and pro-business pragmatists considering the UUP or the Alliance. Nonetheless, Sinn Fein has some tough defenses of narrowly won seats in 2017, since then the election has shown a slight but sustained drop in support for the Republican Party. Which of them will be the biggest party overall will come down to very tight margins.
The centrist rebranding of the UUP has taken many years, is probably necessary for the long term survival of the party and the Union, but I don’t expect it to produce results overnight. next day, especially in the face of a resurgent Alliance.
The SDLP now feels stabilized from the days of a decade ago, when it seemed to be in permanent collapse; he now has a secure and loyal electoral base, and his excellent results in Westminster have shown that he has considerable potential for growth, but it will probably be necessary to wait for the political mood to change more for that to happen, just like the Alliance had to wait until the 2000s and early 2010s.
I suspect the Green Party will also win votes thanks to the general pro-change mood, and in east Belfast they are clearly targeting a third MP.
Your vote may make a difference in the outcome, as will your transfers, a factor not appreciated by many voters. For example, Sinn Fein would lose seats in many rural southern and western constituencies if Unionist voters were transferred in large numbers to Alliance and SDLP candidates, but relatively few do so.
Much attention in this historic election will focus on whether NI elects its first-ever Nationalist Prime Minister. But perhaps more importantly, his results will underscore the extent to which defenders of the Union and promoters of Irish unity will have to woo an electorate that increasingly refuses to give automatic support to either other field.
• Final seat predictions:
Sinn Fein 24 (-3), DUP 22 (-6), Alliance 16 (+8), SDLP 10 (-2), UUP 9 (-1), TUV 5 (+4), Green 2 (no change) , PBP 1 (no change), Ind U 1 (no change).
• Former executive director of the Alliance and longtime NI election expert, after converting from Catholicism, the Reverend Gerry Lynch is now an Anglican cleric from Wiltshire.
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