Thursday 18 September 2008

Fermanagh District Council, Enniskillen by-election – result

The first round result of the by-election held yesterday in Enniskillen for the District Council vacancy caused by the death of Joe Dodds is:

Foster, Arlene (DUP) 1,925 votes (30,5%)
Coyle, Debbie (SF) 1,815 votes (28,8%)
Johnston, Basil (UUP) 1,436 votes (22,8%)
Flanagan, Rosemary (SDLP) 739 votes (11,7%)
Kamble, Kumar (APNI) 231 votes (3,7%)
McHugh, Karen (Ind Rep) 158 votes (2,5%)

The transfers from the candidates progressively eliminated will decide the ultimate winner, but it seems clear that this will be Arlene Foster.

This result shows some interesting features:

  • Firstly, the turnout was reasonable (for a district council by-election): around 50%.
  • Secondly, it seems that unionists turned out in more force than nationalists. While the total vote was some 72% of the vote in the last council election (2005), the unionist vote was 79% of its 2005 level. The nationalist vote was only 66% of its 2005 level.
  • Thirdly, the unionist proportion of the vote increased, from 48,6% in 2005 to 53,3% yesterday. Whether this represents an increase in the unionist proportion of the electorate is not clear – this can only be estimated when an election with a comparable turnout to that of 2005 is held.
  • Fourthly, the proportion of the overall vote received by Sinn Féin actually increased (from 28.5% in 2005 to 28.8% yesterday), despite a lower nationalist turnout. The SDLP vote, however, plummeted to 47% of its 2005 level.
  • Fifthly, the threat to Sinn Féin from the independent republican side failed to materialise. Karen McHugh got a mere 158 votes, despite her father's 838 votes in the same DEA in 2005. It seems that the McHugh name alone carries little weight – Gerry McHugh's own seat must be in danger at the next election.
  • Sixthly, the Alliance Party wasted their time (again). This was entirely predictable.
  • Seventhly, the decision of the UUP to call this by-election did not turn out badly for them. The DUP were furious at the time that they had not allowed a co-option to replace Dodds, but in the end the UUP retained 80% of its 2005 vote – a better result in those terms than the DUP, and the best of any party.

At the time of writing the BBC are reporting that Sinn Féin have called for a re-count, though it is unlikely that this will affect the overall outcome. Small changes in the numbers of votes per candidate will not change the fact that the UUP votes will largely transfer to the DUP (in their usual act of tribal solidarity) and ensure Foster's election to Fermanagh District Council again.

What she will do then is unclear. A triple mandate (Councillor, MLA and Minister) is a heavy burden – though of course all Ministers must be MLAs first, so the only 'additional' task is the once-a-month meeting of Fermanagh District Council. However, she may resign her seat once again (as she did upon becoming a Minister in 2007), and dare the UUP to risk yet another by-election – which would be probably won by the DUP again, and leave the UUP looking extremely foolish and wasteful of ratepayers money. However, should she do this, Foster will be showing clearly her contempt for the electorate, and making clear to the worlds that the DUP has no other electable candidates in this constituency. A dangerous lesson to leave behind!

Update: the final result

The complete result is available on the website of the Electoral Office. All the parties will probably carry out their own post mortems, but here are a few of my thoughts:

The transfer to the unionist parties after the elimination of the SDLP, Alliance and Independent Republican candidates (in the first count) was greater than the total Alliance vote. This means that there are SDLP voters who transfer to unionist candidates - mainly the UUP. This is an element that they should bear in mind when next they set out on another campaign to alienate nationalists.

Quite a few votes did not transfer after round 1. If we assume that most Independent Republicans did not transfer, it still leaves almost 200 SDLP and Alliance Party non-transferrers - 20% of the total. So many still find both Sinn Féin and the unionists inpalatable. Something for Sinn Féin to think (and worry?) about.

Even knowing the risks of the seat going to Sinn Féin, over a quarter of the UUP's votes did not transfer to fellow-unionist Foster after round 2. While some of these non-transferrers may have actually been first-round SDLP or Alliance voters, there must be some 'real' UUP voters who preferred a Sinn Féin win to the DUP. Something for the DUP to worry about.


menaiblog said...

The Unionist turnout probably held up because of Arlene's presence - she's devisive locally within Unionism because she left the UUP for the DUP - so Unionists turn out to vote for or against her.

There was no such force working on the Nationalist side of things.

Faha said...

This election was unusual as there was a huge differential turnout difference between unionist and nationalist voters. If you look at the 2001 census data for the wards that comprise the Enniskillen DEA the total voting age population was 13,581. Of that number 7,259 were Catholic and 167 were None/Other. Thus the total nationalist electorate was approximately 7,300 and the unionist electorate 6,281. The nationlist electorate was 54% of the total. In this election the unionist vote was 3,361 for a turnout of 53.5% and the nationalist vote was 2,713 for a turnout of only 37.2%. Adding in the Alliance transfers would only increase these percentages slightly. This is a huge differential between the unionist and nationalist turnout but why? The nationalist turnout has always been significantly lower than the unionist turnout in this DEA but never to this extent. I suspect there must some support for "dissident republicans " and these people boycott elections. However, in this election the SDLP vote collapsed so SDLP voter apathy was a major factor.