It is 15 months away, but lockdown boredom and messing around with numbers, he is the lay of the land going into the next Assembly Election.
The happiest people looking at this are the Alliance Party, gains to be seen across Northern Ireland and on numbers, none of their 8 seats are under threat. Around 10 target seats are there for them, with varying degrees of effort required. The low hanging fruit are places like North Belfast and South Down. If they miss out there, it will be a real disappointment for them, but if we see them start making gains in places like North Antrim, you know they’re in for a great day and will likely end up around 15 seats.
It’s a mixed bag for the SDLP. Starting with opportunities, the party narrowly lost Fermanagh and South Tyrone last time and with the right candidate they will be hoping that a slight lift in their first preference vote, alongside better transfers can help them regain this seat. They will also have their eyes on building on the momentum in places like Foyle and South Belfast, where 2019 saw them win with huge victories. Although South Belfast is tricky due to the Greens holding a seat. They are also under huge pressure from Alliance in Lagan Valley and South Down. If any of the results in 2019 are close to repeated, they will lose both seats. A good day would see the party hold their 12, but if there are no gains, they could end up on 10 seats.
Sinn Fein have a major problem in that 7 seats that other parties are eyeing up belong to them. Why? Because 2017 could not have gone better for the party. They are defending seats across Northern Ireland, with Alliance as the main threat. This is new for the party and how they combat it remains to be seen. The only real chance of any gain would be Upper Bann where the SDLP were able to make a comeback in 2017. Aside from that, it is a sandbag operation in many constituencies. If they lose seats like the second in Foyle and North Antrim, the party will come back with no more than 23 seats.
The DUP are in an electoral no mans land at the moment. A moderate swing to them doesn’t yield any more seats, but equally a moderate swing away doesn’t see big losses for the party either. 2017 was a poor result for the party, they lost net three seats with some high profile casualties. They are under pressure in Strangford with their third seat, but the other seats they have look relatively stable. In terms of looking for advancement, they always eye up West Belfast and of course, in the leaders home patch, they will look at Fermanagh/South Tyrone, but both are not easy wins. The party under this scenario would be on 27 seats.
The UUP had a bad result last time, but are still vulnerable in places such as Upper Bann and East Antrim. The elections in 2019 provide little comfort for the party, but they will be hoping that a potential lift could help them hold the two vulnerable seats that they have and maybe look to South Belfast for a pick up, which was very close last time for them. A bad result would see them on 8 seats.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs