Upper Bann Constituency Profile – GE’24

This was the eighth safest Westminster constituency in Northern Ireland in 2019, with 8,210 votes separating the winner, Carla Lockhart (DUP) from Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd. The seat was created in 1983 and has always returned a unionist.

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

Candidates

Kate Evans, UUP

Carla Lockhart, DUP

Catherine Nelson, Sinn Féin

Malachy Quinn, SDLP

Eóin Tennyson, 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.

Unionists have trended down by 8% points over the period, dropping below 50% for the first time in last year’s Council elections. Nationalists are down 1%. Others are up 8%.

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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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Aside from those above, the PUP hit 3% and 2% in the elections of 2014 and 2016. UKIP also took 2% in each of those elections. No other party achieved more than 1% at any election.

Unusually the DUP trended up over the period, by 2% points. Sinn Féin also recorded an increase of 5%. The TUV trend lifted by 1% thanks to a large peak at the last Assembly elections. But the biggest upward movement came from Alliance with 9%.

The SDLP dropped 4% points and the UUP 10%.

Vote share in Westminster elections

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The spot on the chart for ‘Various’ represents the total of Conservative, CISTA and Workers Party votes. CISTA campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis.

When it comes to Westminster designations normally become more important than individual parties. However, in Upper Bann there is little in the way of tactical voting until 2017 when a proportion of UUP supporters switched to the DUP. This increased in 2019, by which time up to a third of UUP supporters were voting tactically for the other party, even though a unionist win was not in question.

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 different notional majorities for 2019.

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In most constituencies the two estimates are very similar, but here the difference is the more significant because it moves the first and second parties in opposite directions – doubling the impact on the 2019 notional majority.

However, since the TUV are not standing this remains a safe DUP seat, irrespective of the effects of the boundary change.

I shall need to revisit my estimate in the light of the election result to determine whether I need to change it for future Assembly elections.

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 has maintained its considerable advantage over Sinn Féin, since both made advances in the last Council elections. The UUP has dropped back since the last Westminster election, and the SDLP has collapsed.

The Alliance gain of an MLA and an extra Councillor since the last election has given them higher visibility.

Factors possibly assisting the DUP

16.4% points ahead of Sinn Féin at the last election.

Absence of TUV candidate

(My estimate of notional 2019 result would add 2% points to DUP share. R&T estimate is for little change.)

Factors possibly harming the DUP

Decline in total unionist vote. Down over 2% points in 2022 from the Westminster election, and 5% in 2023. Could subtract 3% to 4% from DUP share.

Could Lockhart’s strong opposition to the Windsor Framework alienate UUP voters who have supported her tactically in the last two elections? Could knock 3% points off DUP share.

Factors possibly assisting Sinn Féin

Growth of total nationalist vote. Average increase 4% in Assembly and Council elections. Could add 3% to SF share.

Decline of SDLP vote since 2019. Down 3% in Assembly and Council elections versus Westminster 2019. Could add between 1% and 2% to SF.

Factors possibly harming Sinn Féin

(My estimate of the boundary change would subtract nearly 3% points from SF share. R&T estimate is for little change.)

Conclusion

DUP to win.

Ignoring any impact from the boundary changes, the worst-case scenario for the DUP is ahead of the best-case for Sinn Féin. (And neither estimate of the boundary changes would assist Sinn Féin.)

 


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