The graphs below show the breakdown of the percentage of the vote received by nationalists and unionists at each DC election since 1985.
There is a clear pattern shown by these two graphs of nationalist advance and unionist retreat. The downward trend of the unionist proportion is reversed in all four DEAs in Dungannon. The overall vote in the district shows a fall in the unionist percentage from around 50% at the start of the generation to around 40% at its end. Nonetheless, in 2005 a slight rebound in the unionist percentage is visible. Does this represent a real gain for unionism, however?
To test this, the graph below shows the actual number of nationalist and unionist votes over the generation:
Over the period in question, unionism declined both in absolute terms, and as a proportion of the electorate, whereas nationalism was more volatile – its trend was upward, but it exceeded the trend in 2001, and dropped below it in 2005, thereby giving the appearance of a resurgent unionism, when this was not, in fact the case – unionism did not benefit from nationalism's reduced vote, and ended in 2005 with 1310 fewer votes than at the start, while nationalism has enjoyed a net gain of almost 2900. The apparent increase in unionism in 2005 was entirely due to a drop in nationalist turnout, compared with 2001 (which may have been an exceptional year).
What does the demography of the district tell us about its future, or indeed its past?
The graph below shows the breakdown by religion (Catholic, Protestant, or none) by age in Dungannon in 2001 (census table s306, for the enthusiasts).
Firstly, as a percentage of each age cohort:Then in actual numbers at each age:
This makes abundantly clear that Dungannon has moved from being a relatively evenly balanced area in the past, to one with an increasing Catholic majority. The last 60 years has seen a clear widening of the gap between the proportion of Protestants and Catholics born in Dungannon each year and remaining there (Catholic birth rates may always have been higher than that apparent from the graph above, but Catholics may have had to emigrate). At age 18, both communities lose a third of their young people (to university, emigration, or jobs in bigger cities)
The groups on the left of the graph above are not yet all in the electorate. The census was a snapshot taken in 2001, which means that by now (2008) almost all of those aged 10 and over are likely to be voters, but a large proportion of those at the other end of the graph (that on the right) will have died. This represents the loss to the electorate of a group (the elderly) that is at least 50% Protestant, and the gain of a majority-Catholic group (the teenagers of the graph above, of whom almost 70% are Catholic). There is no evidence in the graph that this situation will change – indeed it appears to be accelerating, as a clear wedge opens up between the two lines above. Thus the proportion of the electorate that will be Catholic (and thus largely nationalist) will continue to increase. The nationalist vote as a percentage of the electorate (see graph above) is likely to continue to rise, while the unionist proportion of the vote continues to fall.
In 2001, the population of Dungannon that was aged 18 or over (i.e. potential voters) was 65924, of which 58.2% were Catholic, and 41.2% were Protestant. These figures are almost identical to the proportions that voted nationalist (57.7%) and Unionist (40.4%) in the 2001 local elections in the district. There is little or no evidence that voters in Dungannon cross community lines (in either direction), and so the close correlation between religion and politics can provide some indication of the outcomes of future elections. An approximately equal number of the elderly will have died in both communities, but around 200 more Catholics than Protestants will have joined Dungannon's electorate each year. By 2011, the date of the next local elections, this may mean that nationalism may gain 2000 more new voters than unionism (though somewhat fewer additional votes, due to the turnout).
Catholic parents (roughly those in their mid-20s to mid-30s), who make up some 60% of their cohort, are having around 65-70% of the children. Their Protestant counterparts, some 35-40% of the cohort, are having barely 30% of the children. The fertility rate amongst Catholics is clearly higher than that amongst Protestants, and if this continues, it will ensure a constantly increasing Catholic proportion of the population.
In 2011 Dungannon Borough Council will disappear, to be merged with Magherafelt and Cookstown in a new Mid-Ulster District:
We looked at Cookstown previously, and will look at Magherafelt in a later blog – both of them, however, have become more nationalist over the period 1985-2005. The new district is destined to be a clearly nationalist one, along with its neighbours to the west, and the Newry City and Down District Council.