Thursday 14 February 2008

Banbridge District Council By-Election – Dromore DEA, 13 February 2008 – the result

The by-election in Dromore DEA (part of Banbridge District Council area) on 13 February threw up a few surprises, of which the result was not the least!

In an area where the DUP had collected almost 50% of the votes at the 2005 District Council elections, and thus should have had little trouble winning the seat this time, they were beaten. The UUP's Carol Black took advantage of the split extreme-unionist vote to come through and retain the seat vacated by her party colleague Trevor Howe, who had resigned.

The main interest in the election was, of course, the performance of Jim Allister's new Traditional Unionist Voice, and how it would affect the DUP. And affect it, it did! The DUP scored 28,3% of the first-preference votes, down 21,5% from their 2005 score. The TUV picked up 19,6% – almost exactly the amount that the DUP lost. While other factors may have played a small part, the unavoidable conclusion is that a large chunk of the DUP vote abandoned it, and moved over to the uncompromising old-style tribal unionism of the TUV. In a sense, the TUV has done to the DUP what the DUP previously did to the UUP. By providing a place even further to the right, it could snipe at everything the DUP has done, especially sharing power with the hated nationalists.

The first round of votes went thus (all figures subject to confirmation by the Electoral Office):

DUP: 1069 (28,3%)
UUP: 912 (24,2%)
TUV: 739 (19,6%)
APNI: 357 (9,5%)
SF: 350 (9,3%)
SDLP: 290 (7,7%)
Green: 59 (1,6%)

Round 2: The SDLP and Green candidates were then eliminated, and their votes transferred like this:

DUP: +5 to make: 1074
UUP: +25 to make: 937
TUV: +3 to make: 742
APNI: +122 to make: 479
SF: +157 to make: 507
SDLP ---
Green ---

This round shows two things; firstly that 'moderate' voters find the unionist extremes fairly repellent, and secondly that Sinn Féin is not as transfer unfriendly as previously thought.

Round 3: The elimination of the Alliance Party candidate would normally benefit other 'moderate' parties, but these had already been eliminated, so a large number of transfers reverted to their natural home, the UUP:

DUP: +53 to make: 1127
UUP: +182 to make: 1119
TUV: +59 to make: 801
SF: +60 to make: 567
APNI ---
SDLP ---
Green ---

In this round, unexpectedly, the supposed moderates of the Alliance Party gave the right-wing bigots of the TUV and the DUP 112 transfers. Surprising, also, is the transfer to Sinn Féin, who previously received few if any transfers from the nice middle-class Protestants of the Alliance Party.

Round 4: Having survived miraculously until now, it was Sinn Féin's turn to be eliminated, and with a choice of only three unionist parties for their transfers!

UUP: +75 to make: 1194
DUP: +51 to make: 1178
TUV: +27 to make: 828
SF ---
APNI ---
SDLP ---
Green ---

On the face of it, these transfers are quite odd. However, it is likely that the 414 votes that did not transfer included most of the 'real' (i.e. first round) Sinn Féin votes, and that the transfers were actually votes for other candidates that were simply transiting through Sinn Féin. They favoured the DUP over the two other unionist parties, which is strange if they came from the 'moderate' parties. One would expect them to favour the UUP, but perhaps they were trying to be strategic to stop any possibility of a TUV victory.

Round 5: Now with only the unionist parties left standing, the TUV's turn as kingmaker came. It had to be eliminated, but with only 16 votes separating the other two unionist parties, the breakdown of the TUV transfers decided the outcome. And such was their antipathy for the DUP that they plumped for the UUP, giving Carol Black the seat:

UUP: +377 to make: 1571
DUP: +327 to make: 1505
TUV ---
SF ---
APNI ---
SDLP ---
Green ---

So what overall lessons can Dromore teach us? Firstly, that there is a large part of the DUP electorate that is unhappy with it. The semblance of good-natured cooperation with Sinn Féin sticks in many unionist throats, as indeed it was supposed to have stuck in Ian Paisley's in previous years. To recover these anti-republican votes the DUP will have to start talking and acting tough – but the nature of the mandatory coalition means that their room for manoeuvre is small. They may end up just looking like petulant children. Another option, one that has already been signalled, is that the DUP will decide that it is time to heap all of the blame on Ian Paisley and dump him.

The TUV has done very well, but still remains essentially a protest movement. Whether it maintains its momentum until next year's elections is open to doubt. The DUP will work out a strategy to kill it off, and while the TUV is a one-man party it has few opportunities to argue its case.

On the nationalist side, while Dromore was never going to be a gain for either Sinn Féin or the SDLP, it provided a useful snapshot of their standing in a fairly middle-of-the-road country town. Worryingly for the SDLP, who put in a lot of canvassing before the election, Sinn Féin beat them, thereby strengthening their position as the senior nationalist party. The overall nationalist vote dropped to 17% (from19%), which is not too bad considering that this was a by-election for a single seat that a nationalist could not win.

The Alliance Party, who returned to Dromore's fray for the first time in 10 years, did quite well, taking both unionist and nationalist votes to reach 9,5% of the total. Their votes seem to have come from the SDLP (about 2%) and the UUP (about 7%). This should give their strategists some indication of where to seek gains in the future.

The UUP won the seat, but this was not a victory for them. In 1993 they got 63,5% of the votes in the DEA – in 2008 they got 24,2%. The spoiling tactics of the TUV handed them the seat, but they must know that it is only on loan.

In a previous blog on this election, we said that "if the TUV comes in third, its votes will also benefit the DUP"; but it seems that like many others we underestimated the antipathy of the TUV extreme unionists to the current political arrangements. The TUV, despite losing, will probably have a large impact on the future direction of the DUP, and thus ultimately on the success or failure of the whole Good Friday Agreement implementation.

While this blog is strongly anti-unionist, and relishes the sight of intra-unionist antipathy, vote-splitting and demoralisation, we recognise that the DUP will be unpredictable and therefore dangerous in the next 12 to 18 months. With the unenviable job of replacing Paisley and then facing into a series of elections, the DUP will be like a caged animal. Inevitably, to distract from intra-unionist disputes they will turn their fire on nationalism. It is to be hoped that the loyalist bigots who take their lead from the overall tone of unionist discourse will not feel in any way encouraged to revert to their habitual violence. For nationalism, the period may be a difficult one, but it should remain aware that this period will pass, and when it does, unionism will emerge weaker and nationalism stronger, than at present.

Update, 27 February 2008:

The Electoral Office has published the official result, and these show one tiny difference with respect to the results originally shown above. That difference (+327 to the DUP in the final round, to give a total of 1505) has now been corrected, and the figures above correspond to those of the Electoral Office.


Anonymous said...

There are several important conclusions that can be drawn from this election in Dromore. The first is that 40% of DUP voters have abandoned the DUP for the TUV and the TUV received 27% of the total Unionist vote. If this election were to be extrapolated to the 2011 Assembly election the TUV would receive the following vote:
East Derry: 16.2%
North Antrim: 18.8%
East Antrim: 19.0%
South Antrim: 15.4%
North Down: 19.2%
Strangford: 19.4%
East Belfast: 19.2%
Lagan Valley: 19.2%
North Belfast: 13.8%
South Belfast: 11.3%
Upper Bann: 16.2%
Fermanagh-SouthTyrone 13.2%
Since a vote of 14.3% is required for one seat the TUV would win 9 seats with 2 more possible in North Belfast and Fermanagh-SouthTyrone. Due to Boundary Commission changes there will be 3 SDLP or SF pickups in East Antrim, Strangford and South Down and the SDLP would win a seat in West Tyrone if they stand only 2 candidates instead of 3. The Unionist parties will be in a minority after the 2011 Assembly election and the DUP will have fewer than 25 seats. This will result in a SF First Minister.
Another conclusion is that the UUP continues its decline, dropping 6% from the 2005 Dromore election.The total Unionist vote also declined from 80% in 2005 to 72%. The Alliance and Green vote was 11% compared to only 4% in 1997, the only other election in which the Alliance Party contested in Dromore. This indicates that moderate and liberal Protestants in the UUP are abandoning the UUP for Alliance and the Greens.
Another disturbing trend for the Unionists is the fact that the nationalist vote appears to be the same as in 2005 ( 20% ): 17% for SF and the SDLP and probably 3% that went for Alliance and the Greens. There was absolutely no reason for any nationalist voter to vote in this election, whereas there was intense competition among the 3 unionist parties with much at stake. The fact that the nationalist voters turned out, even though their was no hope of victory for the SF or SDLP candidates, is a worrisome sign for the unionist parties.
The DUP is aware of all this and will not contest the 2011 Assembly election while sharing power with Sinn Fein. They will either collapse the Assembly prior to the 2011 election or attempt to negotiate an end to mandatory power sharing. Only time will tell which stategy they will pursue.

Horseman said...

What you say may come to pass, but three years is a long long time in politics, and the TUV may go up, down, or defunct, by 2011. However, even assuming more or less the same level of support, the 14.3% of the vote needed for a seat refers only to the first round of an STV count. We do not yet know how many transfers the TUV might get (they were the first unionists excluded in Dromore, so there is no way of knowing if they were No 2 on the DUP ballots). Assuming at least a proportion of the DUP, and even UUP, voters transfer to a TUV candidate, they may actually end up with more seats than you estimated.

The UUP certainly have nothing to crow about. Their share of the vote dropped yet again, and they retained the seat by pure luck. If their result is extrapolated, then they are facing virtual extinction - the remnants may be mopped up by Alliance, or they simply stop voting.

Your point about 2011 is interesting. How indeed can the DUP go into one of their typical anti-nationalist election campaigns if they are in a long-standing coalition with Sinn Féin? It would give the TUV an easy target. On the other hand, how can they collapse the Executive without getting the blame? I guess that 'dark forces' are already planning the necessary 'IRA atrocity' that will give them an excuse. However, they will have to face elections in 2009, and perhaps 2010 too, in the same circumstances. The DUP is going to need some fancy footwork, but I suspect that they will mess it up.