After December's intra-nationalist election in The Glens area of Moyle District Council, the unionists will have their turn on 13 February in Dromore DEA, part of Banbridge District Council area.
The resignation of sitting Councillor Tyrone Howe (UUP) has opened up a can of worms amongst, and even within, the various unionist parties. Rather than allow the UUP to co-opt a replacement, the DUP has insisted upon an election for the vacancy, and has nominated Paul Stewart, an aide to MP Jeffrey Donaldson. The UUP, in its turn, has had a nasty little squabble over the nomination of their candidate, before selecting Carol Black. And to round off the pack, Jim Allister's new Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) has announced that it will stand a candidate, solicitor and Orangeman Keith Harbinson.
The two nationalist parties have yet to nominate candidates, while the Alliance Party has nominated David Griffin. The Alliance Party has no hope whatsoever of actually getting Griffin elected, of course – they haven't stood a candidate in Dromore for over 10 years, and even then only got 202 votes (4,3%). What the SDLP and Sinn Féin choose to do is also fairly irrelevant; the nationalist electorate of the DEA is around 19%, and so neither of the nationalist parties has any chance in a by-election for a single seat. Dromore is a fairly Protestant part of the north-east of Banbridge District, though the Catholic proportion of the population is creeping upwards, reaching around 37% amongst teenagers. Nonetheless, amongst the electorate, Protestants, and therefore unionists, account for almost 80%.
With only one seat at stake, and no chance of winning it, most nationalists will stay at home. A few may even vote for the UUP candidate in the hope of upsetting both the DUP and the TUV, but they will probably not influence the outcome at all.
The Dromore DEA used to be a UUP stronghold. In 1993 they got 63,5% of the votes, but this has dropped since then, even more precipitously than their share of the overall vote in Northern Ireland. In 1997 the UUP got 57,8%, in a by-election in 2000 they lost the top spot to the DUP and polled only 37% of the vote. In 2001 the UUP just squeaked in front of the DUP again, but in 2005 the trend was confirmed, and the DUP received almost 50% of the vote, compared with the UUP's 31%.
The real interest in this contest is the effect that Jim Allister's new party – the TUV – will have on the outcome. Since the unionist voters in Dromore have drifted right-wards in the last decade, Allister may be hoping that they will continue all the way over to his TUV. However, the DUP voters who are ex-UUP voters may not be as right wing as the TUV, and may either stay with the DUP or even revert to the UUP.
The unionist party that comes in third will decide the outcome. If it is the UUP, then the DUP will easily win, because most UUP voters will transfer to the DUP far quicker than to the TUV. If the TUV comes in third, its votes will also benefit the DUP. If Allister surprises everyone and out-polls the DUP, then the DUP transfers will probably go to the UUP – the problem may be that many DUPers will simply not transfer.
However, all things considered, it is unlikely that the TUV will make much impact, and on its first electoral outing it will be contemptuously crushed by the DUP.