Thursday 10 July 2008

The 2007 balance sheet – Part 2 (New Voters)

Having pointed out in Part 1 how unionism suffered a net loss in 2007 of some 4,556 potential voters due to deaths (although, thanks to turn-out rates the actual loss of votes only amounts to some 2,820), this second part of the 2007 Balance Sheet will examine the new voters that the two main political blocks can expect to gain as voters reach their 18th birthdays.

This is fairly easy, as the people who turned 18 in 2007 will largely be those who were 12 in 2001, when the Census recorded their religions (in Table S305: Age By Sex And Community Background (Religion Or Religion Brought Up In)). Migration may also play a small part, but since 18 year-olds who move (to university, for instance) tend to remain registered at their home address, if they vote at all, it is likely to be in the same place that they lived as children.

The religious break-down of 12 year-olds in 2001 was as follows:

Catholic – 13,352 (50.6%), Protestant – 11,941 (45.2%), other religion or none – 1,110 (4.2%).

So around 26,403 new voters came of age in 2007. For 1,110 of them no real conclusions can be drawn (more's the pity), but for the vast majority this blog's working hypothesis (reminder: that (constitutional) political preferences in the north of Ireland are very closely related to religious affiliation) tends to indicate a net gain for nationalism of 1,411.

If we combine these figures with the figures previously given in Part 1, we can calculate a rough balance sheet for 2007, taking the votes in the 2007 Assembly election, adding the new voters and subtracting the deaths. However, some allowance must be made both for the actual turnout rates, and for the different turnout rates of younger and older people. While no data on this has been published for Northern Ireland, there are a number of studies that show that older people are very likely to vote (in the order of 85%), while younger people have turnout rates of barely over 50%. It is difficult to extrapolate for Northern Ireland, a very politicised society, from, for example, the UK where youthful disaffection is massive. Nonetheless, turnout in Northern Ireland is also dropping quite fast. Taking these factors into account, this analysis will assume a turnout rate of 80% for the older voters, and 50% for new voters.

(1) Nationalism
2007 Assembly election: 293,767 (42.6% of the total)
Plus - New voters: 13,352 x 50% = 6,676
Minus - Deaths (voting age only): 4,874 x 80% = 3,899
New total: 296,544

(2) Unionism
2007 Assembly election: 335,888 votes (48.7% of the total)
Plus - New voters: 11,941 x 50% = 5,970
Minus - Deaths (voting age only): 9,517 x 80% = 7,614
New total: 334,244

(3) Others or no religion
2007 Assembly election: 60,658 votes (8.8% of the total)
Plus - New voters: 1,110 x 50% = 555
Minus - Deaths (voting age only): 145 x 80% = 116
New total: 61,097

At the end of 2007, therefore, we might expect a voting electorate of 691,885, of whom:
– 296,544 will vote nationalist (42.9%)
– 334,244 will vote unionist (48.3%)
– 61,097 will vote for other candidates (8.8%)

The gap between nationalism and unionism, 42,121 votes in the 2007 Assembly election, would be reduced to 37,700, representing a reduction in this gap of 4,421. In only one year, therefore, unionism would have lost over 10% of its numerical superiority over nationalism.

In Part 1 of the balance sheet we estimated that unionism had barely 15 years of numerical superiority left. However, Part 1 did not take into account either the new voters coming on to the register, or the different turnout rates amongst younger and older voters. Once these factors are added, the life expectancy of unionism's numerical superiority over nationalism reduces to less than 10 years.


sloath said...

Hi horseman,

I find your analysis on a narrowing and eventual nationalist majority compelling. However to suggest that this will lead to a United Ireland within the next 20 years i feel is being too optimistic. Around one quarter of nationalists still if put to a vote would support maintaining the link with Westminister. Also it would be a very unstable Northern Ireland if just under half the population didn't feel part of the re-united Ireland. Would also the threat of civil war not deter Southern voters also? I feel for the country to be reunited a sizable minority of the Unionist population would have to vote for it. Nothing suggests this is likely to happen in the next 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you have covered this somewhere else but the recent stats on 18 year olds who joined the electoral register were very difficult to understand. The figures for West Belfast were very small ( 187 from memory) whereas they were around 500 for east and north Belfast. I have seen no attempt to explain these figures. Any ideas?

Horseman said...

I have no good explanation, I'm afraid. I think the subject was also discussed, without much enlightenment, on Slugger O'Toole.

The Electoral Office apparently went around secondary chools encouraging registrations. Maybe they didn't visit many in West Belfast?