The most unpredictable Assembly election in many years just became more unpredictable, thanks to the latest poll from Lucid Talk.
First the published results:
SF 26% (-2 compared to Assembly ’17)
DUP 19% (-9)
Alliance 16% (+5)
UUP 13% (n/c)
SDLP 11% (-1)
TUV 9% (+6)
Green 2% (n/c)
PBP 2% (n/c)
Aontú / Other parties / Independents share 2% (-2)
Given that seats won will be roughly proportional to first preference votes cast this would mean that the largest designation would be unionist – with between 36 and 40 seats. A very lucky day could just see them hold the 40 they won in 2017.
Nationalists would take 32 to 35, down on the 39 they took last time. Remember they got the lucky breaks last time, winning 3 seats more than their strict proportional vote share.
Others, who go into this election with 11 seats, would emerge with 17 to 19.
The biggest party, winner of the First Minister title, would be Sinn Féin who would drop a little from their current 27 seats to somewhere between 21 and 26. That higher figure would be a very good result for them. The force was certainly with them in 2017, when they took two seats above their strict proportional share, and they do face a number of constituency contests which are likely to be very tight.
The most intriguing outcome from this poll has been the change in the DUP’s position since January. Many had predicted that, as polling day approached, the TUV poll ratings would collapse and revert to the DUP. This poll shows some movement in that direction – but the DUP has only gained two points. Not enough to erase the question mark hanging over the party’s future role. You could say their ratings have improved from ‘catastrophic’ to ‘appalling’.
On these figures, the DUP would suffer a large loss in seats – from 28 in ’17 down to somewhere between 15 and 21. In each of the last five Assembly elections, they have received a seat bonus from the transfers of smaller unionist parties and independents. That was worth 3 seats last time. So they can reasonably hope to come in at or near the top of that range – although nothing is guaranteed.
If both the DUP and SF win 21 seats then the FM position goes to the party with the most votes – which would be SF.
TUV dropped 3% from the last poll, but that would probably still bring them 6 to 9 seats. They would enter the danger zone if they were to fall much below 8%. Around that point the relationship between votes and seats can break down – particularly if a party does not have its vote concentrated into a few constituencies. That is what the DUP is counting on. But TUV supporters may be more than a little relieved that their polled support has stood up so well – and will no doubt point to the margin of error and the rounding of results which between them amount to over 2.5%.
Alliance look to be consolidating their position as the expected major winners from this election. On this showing they would take between 13 and 16 seats, meaning they could stand a chance of doubling the 8 they took last time.
The UUP could also be in line to add between 1 and 3 seats to their current 10. While the SDLP could drop a similar number from their current 12.
It’s impossible to project the seats of parties with a 2% poll rating. Rounding means that the true figure could be anywhere between 1.50% and 2.49%. That could be the difference between the Greens losing one or both of their two seat – or coming back home safely with both. While PBP could lose its seat or have a chance of a gain.
We do not have figures for the other parties or independents.
At this point it is very important to stress all the caveats that make a prediction – and especially any attempt to translate these figures into predictions for individual constituencies – a mugs game.
Margin of error.
Time. (The poll was taken between March 18th and 25th. That gives 6 weeks for people to change their minds.)
And we have the particular circumstances of this election. No one can say for certain how the large numbers of additional Alliance and TUV votes would be distributed across the constituencies. Nor the exact amount by which each of the other candidates would be affected.
Also we have at least four independents whose previous electoral record could put them in a position either to win a seat, or to effect who does.
For all parties and most candidates, there is certainly still all to play for.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.