Monday 20 July 2009

The 2008 balance sheet

As last year (Part 1 and Part 2), this blog will examine the changes in the sizes of the two main religious blocks (Protestant and Catholic) during 2008 in order to get some idea of the changes in the relative sizes of the two main political blocks (unionist and nationalist).
Since we do not have any reliable statistics on migration, we are left with only the other components of the 'natural' evolution of the population to look at: births and deaths. In the context of politics, of course, a voter is 'born' at chronological age 18!


NISRA published their Press Notice on Deaths in Northern Ireland in 2008 in March, which provides the actual number of deaths for each age band (in Table 3). Combining this with the results of the 2001 Census (Table S306: 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 2008, 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 14,907 deaths in 2008, around 5,321 are likely to have been Catholic, 9,388 Protestant, and 198 'other' or no religion. From a political perspective, of course, only voters matter, so if we take only those of voting age, around 5,186 were Catholic, 9,270 Protestant, and 176 'other' or no religion. So, in the course of the single year 2008 unionism lost 4,067 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 4,067 potential votes would normally represent only 2,518 actual votes (61.9% x 4,067). However, older people have a higher than average turnout rate, and thus the real losses to the two blocks through death is actually higher. 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%. So, out of the loss of 4,067 potential voters due to deaths the actual net loss to unionism may have been 3,254 actual votes, or 7.7% of its 2007 advantage. If the evolution of the electorate was dependent on deaths alone, unionism's lead would be cut to zero within 13 years!

But there is another factor - the new voters that the two main political blocks can expect to gain as voters reach their 18th birthdays.

New voters

This is a fairly easy calculation, as the people who turned 18 in 2008 will largely be those who were 11 in 2001, when the Census recorded their religions (in Table S306: 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 11 year-olds in 2001 was as follows: Catholic – 12,902 (49.7%), Protestant – 11,904 (45.8%), other religion or none – 1,157 (4.5%).

So around 25,963 new voters came of age in 2008. For 1,157 of them no real conclusions can be drawn, 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 998 potential voters (though remember their low turn-out rate). If we combine these figures with those for deaths, we can calculate a rough balance sheet for 2008, taking the votes in the 2007 Assembly election, adding the new voters and subtracting the deaths. Allowance is made for the different turnout rates of younger and older people. While no data on this has been published specifically for Northern Ireland - a very politicised society - evidence from Britain shows that youthful disaffection is massive. This analysis will take this into account by estimating a conservative turnout rate of 80% for the older voters, and 50% for new voters.


The calculations below include the balance sheets for 2007, as calculated last year (Part 1 and Part 2):

(1) Nationalism
2007 Assembly election: 293,767 (42.6% of the total)

2007 gains - New voters: 13,352 x 50% = 6,676
2007 losses - Deaths (voting age only): 4,874 x 80% = 3,899

2008 gains - New voters: 12,902 x 50% = 6,451
2008 losses - Deaths (voting age only): 5,321 x 80% = 4,257

New total: 298,738

(2) Unionism
2007 Assembly election: 335,888 votes (48.7% of the total)

2007 gains - New voters: 11,941 x 50% = 5,970
2007 losses - Deaths (voting age only): 9,517 x 80% = 7,614

2008 gains - New voters: 11,904 x 50% = 5,952
2008 losses - Deaths (voting age only): 9,388 x 80% = 7,510

New total: 332,686

(3) Others or no religion
2007 Assembly election: 60,658 votes (8.8% of the total)

2007 gains - New voters: 1,110 x 50% = 555
2007 losses - Deaths (voting age only): 145 x 80% = 116

2008 gains - New voters: 1,157 x 50% = 579
2008 losses - Deaths (voting age only): 176 x 80% = 141

New total: 61,535

At the end of 2008, therefore, we might have expected a voting electorate of 692,959, of whom: 298,738 will vote nationalist (43.1%), 332,686 will vote unionist (48.0%), and 61,535 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 33,948, representing a reduction in this gap of 8,173. In only two years, therefore, unionism would have lost over 19% of its numerical superiority over nationalism.

2009, of course, allowed us an opportunity to test these assumptions, but in the European Parliament election the turn-out was disappointingly low, making any comparisons with 2007 unsafe. Nonetheless, it was instructive to notice that the percentages that voted for the three blocks were very similar to those calculated above (unionist 49.0%, nationalist 42.2%, and others 8.8%), and the gap between the unionist and nationalist totals was 32,763.


Last year we estimated that unionism had less than 10 years of numerical superiority left. The updating of the statistics to include 2008 shows that this estimate still stands, but since one of those years has now passed, unionism probably only has nine years left before it is equalled or overtaken by nationalism. This is a purely statistical calculation and turn-out rates or 'novelties' (like the TUV) may influence the actual outcomes at each election – but in the long run the trend will probably continue, unless one or other block succeeds in attracting votes from its rival politico-ethno-religious group.


Anonymous said...

So you won't mind if I come back in 15 years and remind you that Northern Ireland is still in the Union?

Dewi Harries said...

I just wonder if "Protestants" live longer. Generally more well off andtend to abstinence? I've never seen a study mind.

hoboroad said...

38,000 views well done Horseman onwards and upwards you are well on your way to Internet stardom.

hoboroad said...

I see the splits have started in the TUV Charlie Tosh has left the party blaming the leadership for being control freaks. Just what he blamed Big Ian for when he left the Dup. Charlie is a businessman and has donated large sums of money to both parties so it's bad news for Jim Allister.

hoboroad said...

Jim Allister is predicting several defections from other parties towards his own. Anybody got any ideas I think maybe Willie McCrea he has been very quiet recently and we all remember his stomach problems!

Anonymous said...

I just don't think its going to be that easy...I just don't see those Orangemen going gently into that good night....and even if the whole island is unified the republic will still have a significant hostile and troublesome Protestant community to deal with - a problem it currently DOESN'T have. I still wonder if a partition might not be better. Take three or four counties in 10-15 years time and wait a generation or so after that to get the rest.. This would give the republic time to 'digest' N.I. in stages....

hoboroad said...

Why is there not a left of centre Unionist party? There are plenty of right of centre parties. The PUP is not going to convince many left wing Unionists to join it's ranks any time soon so who does a Unionist from a working class background vote for maybe that's why the Unionist vote keeps shrinking.

Mack said...

Hi Dewi,

I did a blog on differences North and South a couple of minutes ago. There isn't much difference in alcohol consumption north and south, which would suggest that there isn't much difference between Catholics and Protestants when it comes to alcohol consumption either (despite common perception).

Equally I'm not sure if the wealth disparity is that great any more. Northern Ireland's private economy is very small, fair employment legislation has been in place for a generation. I noticed on a recent rich list that the bulk of the top ten richest in NI were from a Catholic background (the richest man in Ireland, Sean Quinn is a Northern Catholic too). Average life expectancy may be slightly lower, for older Catholics, but I imagine differences in life expectancy at birth are negligible. Again, contrary to popular myth some of the poorest /deprived and depraved areas in Northern Ireland are loyalist sink estates. Something like 1% of pupils on the Shankill attend a grammar school, and I noticed in blog by Horseman last year that about 30% more Catholics than Protestants go onto to higher education in the north.

Mack said...

Hoboroad -

Realistically almost every party in Northern Ireland is left of centre - I'd bet even the CU's if push comes to shove.

It's just too dependent on social transfers. Horseman is probably one of the most right wing (economically) Northern bloggers there are (based on the recent dependency blog and business blog entry at least)!

hoboroad said...

Horseman has been noticed though for his Business Blog I seen it mentioned twice on Twitter! And it is not just in Ireland I have seen this Blog mentioned by American micro bloggers on Twitter.

Horseman said...

Wow, Mack, that's the first time I've been called right wing (except by people trying to rise me). I would see myself more as an extreme liberal, and used to dabble in anarchism as a youth. Now as a property owner, of course, I've changed some of my views, but I would recoil at the 'right wing' label. I think that people should work, and should seek to contribute to society rather than sponging off benfits. But I do think that benefits should be there for those who need them, when they need them. They just shouldn't be a life-long thing. And, of course, as a taxpayer I am conscious that all benefits are paid ultimately out of my taxes, so I want to see moderation and responsibility. Is that right wing? I hope not.

Anonymous said...

You are right. I`d say the vast majority of taxpayers, where ever they are on the political spectrum would whole heartily agree with your sentiments in relation to benefits.

Where is this Business blog?

MPG .....

hoboroad said...


The Business Blog is the one you and Andrew McCann added 42 comments too!

Mack said...

Right-wing is something of a dirty word in Northern nationalist circles. Both 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' are catch alls that mean many different things.

In economics, I regard left and right wing as differentiators marking the degree to which the belief holder believes that economic activity should be centrally planned and directed by the state (left-wing) and the degree to which they believe that economic activity should be driven by millions of daily interactions between private enterprise and consumers.

Both left-wing and right-wing economics can raise living standards, for all, at least for a while. Though I think in the long term right-wing policies (market interaction) is much more effective. Businesses compete for customers and customers desert businesses that aren't meeting their needs satisfactorily. Poor businesses die, good businesses prosper and the dynamic continues always pressuring business to meet their customers needs (Joseph Schumpeter described this effect as Creative Destruction).

The state can lift living standards via the creation of various instituitions or state companies but once entrenched state instituitions are much less susceptible to improvement and evolution - regardless of what their customers or potential customers would like. Funded out of state subsidies not revenues they often prevent private competitors from entering the market, so unhappy customers often have no-where to go. And once people are employed by a state instituition unions become a powerful force for resisting change.

Even the poorest today having living standards far above the aristocracy of two or three centuries ago - e.g. central heating, refridgeration, cookers, electricity, sewage, hot running water (Royals changed their clothes multiple times a day, but bathed once every few months), food from all over the world, cars, foreign holidays, computers, mobile phones. All of these improvements came about as a result of a mixture of left and right wing policies, but I think it's private enterprise that provides ensures things keep improving. In his book The Age of Turbulance, Alan Greenspan described seeing ploughs and other farm machinery in operation in Soviet Russia, that seemed to be 100 years old. When he asked his hosts why they still used them - "Because they work" was the answer. Once the Socialists had a working solution there was no inherent dynamic to drive innovation to improve it...

hoboroad said...

How much does Northern Ireland cost the British Taxpayer? I heard 3 Billion a year but that was some years ago the troubles were still going then.

Anonymous said...


Did I? I have forgotten it already!

Since I have come back from my holliers, I have been busy fencing with the abusive Englishman elsewhere on my favorite blog. He reckons that I`m an hermaphrodite of all things, I wonder how he could know. I would swear that he is speaking from personal experience. I have recommended that he exhibits his extraordinary talent to as wide a audience as possible.

Keep those little ditties coming!

MPG .....

hoboroad said...

What if the voting age is reduced to 16?

Faha said...

Excellent demographic analysis. One factor that is difficult to analyze is the effect of migration. NiNo statistics indicate an in migration from the ROI of 2000 per year. There are also unknown tens of thousands of foreign nationals who have arrived since the 2001 census. The 2011 census is less than 2 years from now and it will probably be the most accurate census in Northern Ireland since 1961 as it will be conducted during a time of long standing peace. This will eliminate the factor of non-response-boycott that distorted the results of the 1971,1981 and 1991 census statistics. Even in 2001 the census office had to adjust for a non response from 75,000 people. Preliminary results will be available in 2012 with full results in 2013.

hoboroad said...

Roll on 2018!

hoboroad said...

I think the polish people are here to stay and they are very welcome!