Assembly Election 2022: Strangford

Strangford is a constituency comprising towns like Newtownards, Comber, Ballygowan and Saintfield as well as the Ards Peninsula which includes towns like Portaferry and Kircubbin. So it is a mix of (almost suburban) Belfast and rural areas.

Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (3), UUP (1), Alliance (1).

It is overwhelmingly unionist…a mix of middle class UUP voters and traditional loyalist voters who are usually DUP supporters. Although the SDLP has almost won a seat on a few occasions, Catholics and nationalists have tended to transfer to Alliance.

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.

If there is really disenchantment (Brexit, Protocol etc) on the unionist side, then the quota might be as low as 6,000. How does that pan out?

I was in Holywood and Bangor (North Down) today and went on to Newtownards. Very few posters in the town.

DUP look set to lose a seat. And on 2017 figures, veteran Peter Weir is the most vulnerable but co-opted Harry Hunter is less well known. Michelle McIlveen is probably safe. The party is vulnerable to TUV on its right and a re-organised UUP on its (relative) left. It is hard to see how they can make two quotas.

Peter Weir seems to have been allocated Newtownards.

The loss of Simon Hamilton , once touted as the future Leader of DUP is massive. He was a young and believed more secular than his fundamentalist colleagues.

Alliance are hoping and even expected to gain a seat here. But the Alliance numbers are hard to read. One candidate and only 600 votes below Quota was a safe seat. The Alliance “surge” and tactical voting and Alliance got over 10,500 and that can point to two seats. I put the actual Alliance core at between 7500 and 8000 votes split between two candidates.

And 7,500 to 8,000 votes could be the difference between one seat and two.

Kellie Armstrong is better known but she has courted controversy with her infamous 2019 tweet. “Can Unionists or Nationalists be non-sectarian”. She apologised as people always do and she has fought an election since but it is offensive. Especially as she knocks doors and asks people…unionists and nationalists for a second preference vote.

I know nothing about Nick Mathison but I hope he outvotes his running mate. His posters are in Newtownards.

The UUP are in an odd position. With only one seat in 2017 (Michael Nesbitt retained his seat and Philip Smith lost his seat), they appear to be lost over the last five years.

A combined vote of just 7,800 votes in 2017 was never going to translate as two seats. The UUP fared even worse in 2019 when sole candidate (Smith) got only 4,000 votes. It is pretty obvious that moderate anti-Brexit unionists voted Alliance.

But “TV Mike” and Smith are fully signed up to Doug Beattie’s “union of people” nonsense and if they think that they can get two seats here, then it has to come at the expense of a DUP seat or taking back votes from Alliance.

SDLP has been on the brink of taking a seat in Strangford for some years but always come up just short.

Strangford is geographically and culturally divided. Places like Saintfield are effectively dormitories for Belfast. Places like the Ards Peninsula are more remote, rural. SDLP have a reasonable vote but the key is towns like Newtownards, Comber and Ballygowan where the SDLP vote is small.

It seems like a paradox.

But historically Catholics, nationalists or if you prefer the term “people from a nationalist or Catholic background” in these towns do not vote for SDLP.

There are two reasons. One is that being a minority in these towns is no picnic. Better to keep a low profile and just vote Alliance. Secondly SDLP has made no real effort in these electoral districts at council level.

This is a problem that Alasdair McDonnell the former SDLP highlighted at a SDLP conference in March 2012. He talked about a “horseshoe” of areas around Belfast Lough, Larne to Newtownards where SDLP was invisible.

There may not be many votes in Newtownards, Comber and Ballygowan but the point is that a mere 200 votes could make a difference.

In fairness to veteran, Joe Boyle who is Portaferry based he is very active in Conor Houston’s campaign but it seems a good move to pick Conor (who I have never met). Sexual orientation should not matter but being openly gay and from a background that is not SDLP is a welcome development.

Sinn Féin are weak in Strangford. There is probably less than 1,000 votes for newcomer Róísié McGivern. But most transferrable votes will go to SDLP.

Maurice Maccartney (Green) stood in the 2019 Westminster election. He is probably going to get 1,200 votes, most of which will transfer to SDLP and Alliance.

Stephen Cooper also stood in 2017. The TUV did not stand in 2019 so some of Jim Shannon’s vote is tactical voting from TUV. Probably in excess of 2,000 votes.

The field is made up with Ben King (Independent).

It seems a strange contest. DUP will lose votes to both TUV and UUP. But will UUP lose votes to Alliance. Will Alliance lose votes to moderate UUP candidates and to SDLP. Will SF and Greens transfer in sufficient numbers to put SDLP over the line?

PREDICTIONS

None. I only do Questions. I do not do Answers.

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6 Responses to Assembly Election 2022: Strangford

  1. hoboroad says:

    I see the entire DUP Party Officer Team in South Down has resigned and is now backing the TUV candidate.

    • The fascinating thing in Strangford and North Down (I hope to have North Down blog up later today) is the re-alignment within unionism and South Down and other places.
      I should have mentioned yesterday that Peter Weir started off as UUP and became DUP and was once North Down rather than Strangford.
      I think these defections and fall outs are as much to do with personalities rather than politics.
      And I will edit the Strangford profile to show that Simon Hamilton was once regarded as a potential leader of the modernised DUP.
      But walking around Holywood, Bangor, Newtownards, its fascinating that these people are in some way bound by Orange lodges, masonic lodges (they havent gone away ya know), this congregation, that congregation, British Legion.
      I am at home today catching up. South Down,,.maybe the last one I do.

  2. Derek says:

    SDLP gain seems very likely.

  3. hoboroad says:

    I notice that only one of those who resigned is female in South Down. Are the DUP going to have to bus people into South Down from outside the area in order to campaign for Ms Forsyth? Jimbo on Nolan this morning going on about the Poots posts blocking off the Six Counties from the UK mainland. No love lost between the DUP and TUV there.

    • Diane Forsythe is the daughter of a DUP councillor. She and her father resigned from DUP and are both now back in the fold since Donaldson became Leader.
      It is not unlike Alex Easton (North Down) who left DUP because he was annoyed at the very personal bickering.
      Easton is standing as an Independent.

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