I have used the most recent Lucid Talk poll for my projection of party shares in the constituency.
Unionist vote share has slipped in West Tyrone from a consistent 33% or 34% in all elections up to and including 2017. Since then, it has not gone above 32% and hit 29% at the last Westminster election.
Nationalist performance has been a little more uneven over the period, with no discernible trend. While Others bumped along the bottom of the chart, until the elections of 2019 when we see the uptick that we have noted elsewhere.
As in other constituencies where no unionist had a hope of being elected to Westminster, we still see tactical voting by UUP supporters for the DUP presumably to limit the size of the SF majority.
Strangely enough, the last Westminster vote also has the unusual feature of noticeable share increases for both SF and the SDLP. This despite there being no overall increase in the nationalist vote. The reason for the phenomenon is that in West Tyrone nationalist voters are less in love with their two main political vehicles than in most other constituencies. In the 2019 Local Government elections, nearly one in five nationalist voters avoided SF and the SDLP, mainly opting for Independent candidates instead. In the 2016 Assembly election, one in seven did so. It was the same in the Local Government elections of 2011, with smaller (but still significant) proportions in that year’s Assembly Election.
What is more, in 2003 and again in 2007 West Tyrone elected an Independent MLA, Dr Kieran Deeny.
This constituency has some claim to be the North Down of the west.
As a result, any projection based on a NI-wide poll must be taken with a little more caution. West Tyrone has the capacity to surprise.
My Central projection from the Lucid Talk poll gives the following pattern (remember to allow for the margins of error in the poll and in this projection).
Which would mean that quotas per candidate might look something like this. Seats won in 2017 are highlighted in gold.
The Socialist Party of NI is also standing. It has no electoral history in the constituency.
There are also two Independents. Paul Gallagher has contested every Council election since 2001, in his first two as an Independent. In 2011 he stood under the IRSP banner. He was finally elected in 2014 for the Sperrin district as an Independent having built his 1st preference vote to 978. He further increased his vote to 1106 in 2019, which would be worth a little under 0.2 of a quota in the whole constituency on Thursday. In neither of his last two elections did his vote transfer, so we do not know for certain whose vote will be most affected by his intervention. It seems likely to be SF, in which case even if those votes transfer back at a later stage, it could disrupt SF’s efficiency at vote management.
The other Independent is Barry Brown, who is also no stranger to the voters of West Tyrone, having stood as CISTA in the Assembly elections of 2016 and 2017. He gained 547 and 372 votes respectively. In 2019 he contested Omagh in the Council elections taking 101 votes.
My Central projection shows 5 straight Safe seats: 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP and 1 UUP.
One of the alternative projections agrees with this; while the other puts the UUP seat in question, giving the third SF and the UUP candidates equal Good possibilities.
How, you may ask (and I did too), can unionists have such a strong likelihood of taking two seats, when they failed in 2017 and their vote has fallen since? The answer is that an Alliance elimination would free up a lot of transfers, with only the SDLP, the third SF and the UUP still waiting in line. Those transfers would certainly bring the SDLP home, while only about a quarter of them would be needed to put the UUP ahead of the third SF.
The UUP candidate, former Seanad Éireann member Ian Marshall, would likely prove transfer attractive to many Alliance voters.
Unfortunately for the UUP, his selection has not proved to be universally popular with UUP members. The Constituency party issued a statement stating that members would not support his campaign West Tyrone UUP ‘unanimously’ rejects party leadership’s choice of Assembly election candidate – Belfast Live and it has recently been reported that the party’s own Disciplinary Committee has been highly critical of the selection process. No sanctions against local UUP members after party’s selection process reviewed | We Are Tyrone
If these controversies cause the UUP to lose only a little more than a tenth of their vote, the whole picture changes. After the UUP candidate was eliminated, the next elimination would be one of three candidates, who could be within a couple of hundred votes of each other. If the TUV candidate was knocked out, the final result would be 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance, 1 DUP.
If the SDLP candidate were the unlucky one, then 3 SF, 1 Alliance and 1 DUP would be elected.
And if the Alliance candidate fell, there would be 2 Safe SF, 1 SDLP and 1 DUP. The last seat would be Likely to go to the third SF, but the TUV would be the Long Shot alternative.
West Tyrone will keep its secrets until Friday or Saturday.
NOTE ON METHOD:
There is no perfect way to translate a national poll to a local constituency level. Still less so in a PR system. We must recognise a level of uncertainty. I have used the last Lucid Talk poll as my base for party shares, and information from the previous poll which tracked how voters for each party at the last Assembly election intend to vote this time. This allowed me to make two projections for each constituency, one based on vote switching since 2017, the other on changes in party vote shares since the 2019 Local Government elections. (I used the LG elections due to widespread tactical voting at the later Westminster.) To be clear both of these projections give the party shares shown in the latest poll.
The two different projections mimic two different patterns of changes in party support. In one, a party that is growing strongly will see a bit less of that growth where it is already strong, and a bit more where it was previously at its most weak. Conversely the parties that have lost voters will suffer a bit more in their strongest constituencies.
The other projection has the opposite effect. Either may prove to be a more accurate reflection of reality. And while the differences between the two are not massive (they both must total to the same poll shares across all constituencies) they can still sometimes produce different outcomes.
I should stress that while the Lucid Talk bears the responsibility for the original poll, the projections are entirely my responsibility.
For each 1st preference projection, I have used recent transfer patterns to identify all candidates who have any chance of winning on a scale ranging from Safe to Long Shot.
To avoid burdening you with all this detail I have averaged the results of the two projections and shown them as a Central projection, merely noting where one of the other projections produces a noteworthy difference.
Where a party is running more than one candidate, I have generally split the party vote between them in the same proportions at the last election. I have had to make my own assumptions when a party has a different number of candidates this time.
Michael Hehir is a retired sales and marketing manager. He studied in Northern Ireland but now lives between England and Italy.