NI Assembly Election 2022 – What the data tells us…

I am not breaking any new ground here, but am one of those people that needs to visualise information to actually take it in. So, with that in mind here’s an historical overview of party first preference votes with the Apr 22 LucidTalk poll extension included (data collected in Mar 22). Traditionally, the poll-on-poll comparison compares just that, the voter intention between polls. With the election only circa 2 weeks away from now, I figure this is as close of a snapshot we will get to predict the rise and fall of the parties.

The LucidTalk extension used a sample size of 1,616 responses NI-wide and assumes a 95% confidence level. When asked the question, ‘If a NI Assembly election was held tomorrow which political party would you vote for as first preference?’, the results are shown below.

Clearly there is likely to be an inversion of the two big parties, with Sinn Fein comfortably outstripping the DUP by around 7%. Interestingly, the TUV could have seemingly increased its voter intention by around 6.4%, and so appear to be directly tearing strips out of the DUP; not surprising after the recent strategically weak performance by the largest party that seems to have alienated some of it’s more extreme followers. Is it too late to expect a hardening of the DUP position in an attempt win back those voters by 5 May?

As for the UUP and SDLP, they seem to be experiencing similar poll results, with the UUP demonstrating a slightly more stable performance. Interestingly, the Alliance Party are polling strongly, with a 6.9% predicted increase since 2017. Although Alliance shares a similar trajectory and growth as the TUV, it is less clear where their voter increase will likely come from, but it looks to be the result of the combined desertion from the DUP and more modest outflows from the SDLP and Green Party (to a predicted lesser extent) as their first preference vote shares shrink across the board.

Even with the vote transfers we see in the Proportional Representation – Single Transferrable Vote system (PR-STV), closing the potential 7% gap between Sinn Fein and the DUP via this means would be exceptional if not impossible. Indeed, vote share often doesn’t translate directly to Assembly seats, but with a relatively close race between the UUP and SDLP, they will be hoping for transfers to make the difference.

Looking at how parties would designate in the Assembly, when grouped below, the LucidTalk results indicate that it will likely be a close race to claim the highest vote share by community. With a margin of error of +/- 2.3%, it really could go down to the wire.

Notwithstanding that, this election is going to be critical for the continued operation of Stormont as we know it. The DUP’s predicted fall from grace alongside Alliance’s nuclear growth and concurrent call for reform of Stormont’s community designation system, are expected to clash seismically as unionism risks becoming a political and community minority. In fact, the DUP’s paranoia has been well and truly stoked to the size of Larne’s Craigyhill bonfire, by Boris Johnson’s past willingness to throw them under the bus and abandon his fellow unionists. I seriously doubt his recent ‘considering’ of legislation to unilaterally suspend parts of the protocol will be enough to repair the catastrophic damage he has already dealt to the DUP’s hull which is taking on water.

All in all, the next fortnight is going to be political catnip for those that follow it. Despite the LucidTalk poll suggesting that in terms of vote share there is likely to be a combined unionist win, this may not be translated into seats, as is often the case. The result of seats won, and voter share perspectives might just give Sinn Fein its most credible call for a border poll yet. That said, a lot can change in a short period of time, so let’s see how this cookie crumbles and if the parties have any aces to play as the 5 May approaches.

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