Assembly Election 2022: Upper Bann

Upper Bann is a constituency comprising towns like Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge as well as villages like Waringstown, Aghagallon and Derrytrasna.

Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2), UUP (1), Sinn Féin (1), SDLP (1).

Previous to 2017 when it was a six seat constituency, the sixth seat was held by UUP. At the last “six seat” election, Sinn Féin made a play that three seats could be nationalist. It was on one hand highly optimistic but totally dishonest. Their real aim was a second seat for themselves. The pitch on the doorstep was to tell voters NOT to vote for Dolores Kelly as she was “safe” or tell voters not to vote for her as “Dolores is toast”.

The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.

In 2017, with a quota of 8,592 one DUP candidate was elected as over quota and with a combined vote of nearly 17,000 it was inevitable DUP would take two seats. UUP with 10,500 votes and took one seat. JoAnn Dobson lost her seat.

Sinn Féin got over 14,000 votes but the party is not transfer friendly and they failed to pick up surplus votes from winning and eliminated candidates.

The bulk of transfers from the losing candidates helped SDLP to get elected.

In 2019, the Alliance Party were allegedly on a surge, having won one of the three Norn Iron seats for the European Parliament. I am not sure if the “Brexit” election of December 2019 is part of the surge or if it marks the high tide for Alliance.

Of course a Westminster election in Upper Bann is a foregone conclusion. Unionists will rally round the party most likely to win….in this case DUP. Many nationalists wont vote and of course Sinn Féin does not take seats in Westminster.

Leaving aside percentages, we can say this was a facile victory for DUP. In terms of votes actually cast, Sinn Féin lost over 2,000 votes, SDLP lost 500 and UUP lost 4,500 votes.

But Alliance gained 3,500 votes. Probably a significant number of “unionist” were anti-Brexit enough to back Alliance.

At first sight, projections for an Assembly election suggest that DUP would hold their two seats, UUP and Sinn Féin would hold their single seats and Alliance would take the SDLP seat.

The “devil is in the detail” and some drilling down is required. Brexit is a major factor. The full ramifications of the Brexit Agreement and the Norn Iron Protocol had not been realised. Britain would leave EU a month after the Westminster Election. So as well as the “unionist versus nationalist” agenda, there was also a pro and anti Brexit dimension.

In North Belfast, SDLP and Green stood aside for Sinn Féin who won the seat. In South Belfast, Sinn Féin and Green stood aside for SDLP who won the seat. In East Belfast and North Down, SDLP, Green and Sinn Féin stood aside for Alliance to win (it only succeeded in North Down).

Alliance was not part of this defacto pact.

There was no pact in Upper Bann. DUP was obviously a Brexit party. UUP was ambiguous. SDLP, Sinn Féin and Alliance were anti-Brexit. But Alliance did benefit from remainer UUP votes and lukewarm Sinn Féin and SDLP campaign.

I do not think that Alliance increasing their vote at the expense of the other pro-European parties is a long term thing. But the narrative created around an alleged “Alliance surge” is more problematic.

So where are we in 2022? The first consideration is Turnout and Quota. In 2017, the quota needed was over 8,500 votes. Are people more apathetic about an election which might lead to stalemate? Are nationalists motivated to get out and vote by the prospect of a Sinn Féin “First Minister”? Are unionists more motivated to vote DUP to block a SF “First Minister”?

I suspect that the quota in 2022 will be slightly less than the 2017 quota. I am basing this on sheer guesswork but 8,000 votes sounds about right.

Which party…which candidate can reach 8,000?

I cannot see DUP replicating the 2017 and 2019 figures. They are the Norn Iron party most responsible for the Brexit debacle. And for the dreaded Protocol. But is their core vote so stupid that they let the DUP off the hook? The DUP are a religious fundamentalist party. They have no difficulty in believing that GOD blesses his people. In this context, the Dodds family, Nigel and Diane have been blessed. Both have been ministers in the Norn Iron Executive. Diane has been a Member of the European Parliament. And co-opted to replace Carla Lockhart (Westminster MP) in the Assembly. Nigel has been a MP and is now in the “House of Lords”.

Their blessings overflow. While at least one DUP seat is assured, the electorate might want to see the lesser blessed Jonathan Buckley get over the line first.

The Buckley poster was seen in Portadown and the Dodds poster was seen in Lurgan. I have not been in Banbridge but I assume that area has been allocated to Dodds.

The UUP are fielding two candidates. The poster of Doug Beattie (Party Leader) was seen in Portadown and I have also seen his posters in Lurgan. I have not seen posters of running mate Glenn Barr, the current Mayor of the Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon Council.

Doug Beattie is something of an enigma. A British officer “war hero” who appeals to traditional “Queen and Country” conservative UUP voters. On the other hand, he is presenting himself as a modern unionist who talks about a “union of people”, re-branding unionist outreach to nationalists.

He purports to be realistic about the Protocol problem and will not appear on platforms and parades showing unionist unity against the Protocol. He says such protests raise community tensions.

It seems like a gamble. Putting distance between UUP and the nastier side of unionism/loyalism might well cost votes and transfers from DUP and TUV but might endear him to the “middle ground”.

Will the real Doug Beattie please stand up?

More so……will the real UUP stand up?

I have not seen posters of Beattie’s running mate Glenn Barr. While Beattie did not speak against the Protocol at a protest in Lurgan a few days ago, Barr paraded with his local Orange lodge. This might make him more transfer-friendly to DUP and TUV. But the bottom line for UUP is that they don’t have two quotas in Upper Bann. I would estimate a maximum of 10,000 with Beattie getting the greater share.

Sinn Féin need a perfect storm to get two seats. They will need nationalist votes to stay steady and even get better along with a decline in unionist turn-out. This is a constituency where unionist in-fighting is acrimonious and with big names like Beattie and Dodds. At a rally last week, some of the anti-Protocol protestors drew a noose on a Beattie election poster. To be fair it was condemned by Donaldson and Allister but this is the price DUP and TUV pay when the rhetoric gets out of hand.

The itself was bizarre in itself, not least the appearance of Pastor Rusty Thomas, all the way from Texas.

How this turns off moderate unionists or directs them to UUP and Alliance remains to be seen. Or how much unionists are motivated by a potential Sinn Féin First Minister.

The weakness in Sinn Féin is that they are not transfer-friendly. They need a lot of first preference votes. A second weakness is that both candidates are from the Lurgan end of the constituencybut O’Dowd is originally from near Banbridge O’Dowd already a veteran MLA has a constituency-wide profile. Interestingly some O’Dowd posters have replaced Mackle posters which might indicate Sinn Féin have re-thought the allocation of their canvassing strategy…or maybe the guys who climb the ladders got it wrong.

Sinn Féin have a tendency to balance greybeards like O’Dowd and Mackle with a younger, photogenic candidate. Not this time.

The worst case scenario for Sinn Féin is just one seat but the seat going to Mackle, who is hardly inspirational. This would repeat the 2003 election when O’Dowd was elected instead of the favoured Dara O’Hagan.

SDLP know they have a fight to keep their seat. They probably need 6,200 votes to stay in the count to the end. They need to claw back some Alliance votes. The good news for Dolores Kelly is that she heads a good team of councillors and they had a good 2019 local government election where they outvoted Sinn Féin in some parts of Upper Bann.

There is a feeling that Sinn Féin are lazy and/or complacent. They just take their votes for granted.

Eóin Tennyson faces a big election. Many think he can take a seat for Alliance. He is even hyped as a potential future Leader of the Party. Yes…really. Certainly, based on his 2019 votes, this is a possibility. On the other hand, I think of him as believing the hype around him. He has never really been scrutinised at this level.

Darrin Foster (TUV) is unlikely to get elected but is probably one of the “kingmakers”. It is certainly possible that he could get 2,000 votes and the real question is where do they transfer….DUP most likely.

Lauren Kendall (Green) is also a kingmaker. Difficult to see how they get beyond 1,000 votes and the real question is where do they transfer. Certainly the Greens think of themselves as left of centre (I am not really sure of this)…other parties do green issues better. And hard to see how Greens can turn knitting their own muesli, vegetarianism and cycling into real politics. But more than likely the transfers will go to Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Aidan Gribbin (Aontú). I cant see more than 500 votes. But it could be crucial. Aontú is essentially a single issue party…Abortion…and they can draw votes away from SDLP and especially Sinn Féin. While the party might seem like a distraction to the two nationalist parties, it might mean that Aontú at least provides a platform for people who would otherwise abstain. And the second preference votes might actually be more telling than the first preferences.

PREDICTION?

Not going there. All I do is present the facts.

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6 Responses to Assembly Election 2022: Upper Bann

  1. Derek says:

    I would agree that Beattie has taken a risk by positioning away from the hardline kind of DUP politics. I’d agree there is a risk to Beattie that he goes the way of other leaders of the UUP who are seen as too soft. In this constituency that has happened before. What I’m interested in is how much the UUP picks up first preference votes from Alliance and how much (if any) they lose to DUP. I think SDLP and UUP both want Alliance to go out early here.

    • This whole election is full of contradictions.
      Beattie is allegedly moderate but his running mate is marching in a private capacity with his lodge to the same protests that Beattie says raises tensions.
      The common thing Barr and Beattie have in common is that they are in the UUP.
      What Beattie says in interviews is different from what he says in POrtadown and Lurgan.
      Certainly giving Beattie a preference would require local GAA people overlooking Beatties previous comments on a clubs colours.
      Second preferences are something a party wants to get but never wants to give away.

  2. hoboroad says:

    Do election posters work? I don’t think they do to be honest. I have never met someone who voted because they saw an election poster. What then is the point of them apart from marking out territory? If I was in charge of putting them up I would stop doing it to be honest. If SF and the SDLP stopped erecting them it would also deprive Loyalists of something to burn every 11th night.

    • I have often wondered that myself.
      I think it is about visibility as much as territory.
      I travelled on the glider from Beechmount in West Belfast across town to Ulster Hospital and back to Twinbrook and back to Central Station …specifically to take pics of posters.
      Some surprises…a lot of Putin Before Profit oops People Before Profit all along the Upper Newtownards Road.
      Back in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s we used to joke that the number of votes the Workers Party (Stickies) got was much lower than the number of posters they put up.
      Maybe Putin Before Principle…oops People Before Profit are the natural successors to the Stickies.

      I actually think posters are a good thing.
      Certainly the Greens dont think they are using too much paper.
      I think I like campaigns in the sense that for a few weeks everybody is equal and should be equal right up to the first vote being cast at 7am on Polling Day…indeed right up to 10pm.

  3. hoboroad says:

    Someone on Slugger pointed out that People Before Profit used to be a Workers Party election slogan back in the day. I wonder how long they can continue to be successful before the inevitable split given their political heritage. Something they also have in common with the Stickies.

    • I was on the New Lodge Road in Belfast yesterday. A constituency profile before Easter I hope.
      Saw two PBP “leafleters” near the corner with Antrim Road.
      Gerry Carroll got a big vote in 2016 and elected on first count. Not so good in 2017.

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