Wednesday 9 July 2008

The 2007 balance sheet – Part 1 (Deaths)

This blog believes quite strongly that (constitutional) political preferences in the north of Ireland are very closely related to religious affiliation. In short, most Protestants are unionists, and most Catholics are nationalists.

The relative sizes of the two main political blocks (unionist and nationalist) can therefore be judged, between elections, by the relative sizes of the two main religious blocks (Protestant and Catholic).

Changes in any population are basically caused by four elements; the size of the population at the start; births; deaths; and migration. In the case of Northern Ireland, the religious or political affiliations of migrants cannot be known until they vote, so we are left with only the 'natural increase' (births less deaths) to examine.

As regards deaths, NISRA have recently published their Press Notice on deaths in 2007, which helpfully provides the actual number of deaths for each age band (in Table 3). Combining this with the results of the 2001 Census (Table S305: Age By Sex And Community Background (Religion Or Religion Brought Up In)), and moving the 2001 cohorts forward to more closely match their actual ages in 2007, it is possible to estimate the religious (and thus political) affiliations of the deceased people, and thereby to estimate the relative losses for each of the main political blocks.

The result is as follows. Of the 14,649 deaths in 2007, around 4,972 are likely to have been Catholic, 9,517 Protestant, and 159 'other' or no religion. From a political perspective, of course, only voters matter, so if we take only those of voting age, around 4,874 were Catholic, 9,430 Protestant, and 145 'other' or no religion.

So, in the course of one year – 2007 – unionism lost 4,556 more potential votes than nationalism through death.

In the 2007 Assembly elections unionism won 335,888 votes (48.7% of the total), to nationalism's 293,767 (42.6% of the total). The gap between the two main blocks was therefore 42,121 votes.

In the 2007 Assembly election the turn-out was only 61.9%, so the 4,556 potential votes probably represented only 2,820 actual votes (61.9% x 4,556). However, at this rate of attrition unionism has barely 15 more years of numerical superiority (42,121/2,820), and this is even before the question of new voters is examined (that will be done in The 2007 balance sheet – Part 2, to follow later). However, older voters are much more likely to vote than young ones, and the proportion of Protestants (and thus unionists) amongst the old is much higher than amongst the young. Thus the real loss to unionism may be higher than 2,820 votes per year, and thus unionism's life-expectancy may be less than 15 years.


Anonymous said...

Not quite, if the Catholic proportion of the population is growing the 'rate of attrition' will actually slow, as proportionally more Catholics die each year than the year previous.

Horseman said...

You are quite right, anonymous (10 July 2008 12:04). I did not build this into the calculation as (a) it would have necessitated another paragraph of explanation, and (b) the effect will not be that great, and is unlikely to affect the outcome significantly.