Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Elections round-up: Perhaps the UUP should have a look at election patterns?

LucidTalk is presenting a review of each of the political parties, how they fared at the recent elections, and their prospects for the future – here we start off with the UUP

UUP's Jim Rodgers and Sonya Copeland pictured with party leader Mike Nesbitt and Jeff Dudgeon. Pic Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
UUP's Jim Rodgers and Sonya Copeland pictured with party leader Mike Nesbitt and Jeff Dudgeon. Pic Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

A retired neighbour of mine has a hobby of betting on a few horses at the weekend (in a small way!). I see him studying the form at our local coffee shop every Saturday morning.

I once remarked it all seemed hard work, and he agreed, but said ‘predicting the results will be easy when the races are over’! Such is the same with the election predictions and forecasts. We got plenty of barracking and banter about our poll predictions, but I suppose that’s part of the game – everyone sees the 10% we got wrong (not that wrong), and not the 90% we got right!

The UUP got over excited about their local government election results, but I suppose that’s understandable as all politicians like to talk-up their own results. One particular UUP MLA was certainly enthused about their council election results as on the morning of the European election count he told me the party was now really back in business. He should have followed that old elections rule – wait until ALL the results are in before making any real comments, as the mood of the UUP changed as the European election count progressed. We (ie LucidTalk) estimated the Euro UUP vote at 14.2% (Belfast Telegraph – April 30), and they ended up with 13.3% (still well within the bounds of error). I didn’t hear any criticisms from the UUP re. this Euro election prediction, but then I suppose it’s rare for a political party to criticise a polling company for overestimating their own parties support!

The comments from the UUP show a lack of understanding of the different NI elections. If they had reviewed their own election results patterns, they would have seen that the UUP over-perform at council elections by approx. 1-2% (in total vote % terms) compared with their European Election results. Similarly the UUP Euro election performance usually is about 1-2% ahead of their Assembly election results. These have been the patterns for the past 15-20 years.

The UUP Euro election performance is always lower than their local government vote, because a lot of their council candidates gain a personal vote. The UUP Euro election performance is usually 1-2% more than the UUP Assembly election performance because there are less unionists running in the Euro election, so, for example, some PUP (who didn’t run in the Euro election) voters may have voted UUP. In fact if you transfer the recent UUP Euro election performance of 13.3% back into our Assembly election polling model they end up with exactly the same poll rating they scored in our last NI Assembly poll in September 2013, at around 11.5-12%. Using the same model, this is about 1 to 1.5% ahead of Alliance who always over-perform at Assembly elections (compared with the Euro election) because of the usually higher Assembly election turnout.

In fact both the UUP council and Assembly election performances reflected our prediction and analysis in the Belfast Telegraph i.e. ’.... Our 2012-2013 Assembly polling result showed the UUP had dropped again from their 2011 Assembly election performance with their poll score coming in at around 11.5%, but with a small growth trend. Our Opinion panel survey also showed a small upward trend, perhaps suggesting that the UUP had reached their electoral floor, and that their core vote was pretty solid....’ (Belfast Telegraph, April 30).

In terms of actual votes, if you compare the UUP Euro election performance in 2009 to their recent 2014 Euro result, this showed a 0.7% growth – similar to the UUP council election performance, and reflecting our prediction. This sums up roughly were the UUP are at, i.e. the election results did reflect a small growth trend as we predicted (admittedly it’s very small!), but they’re pretty much down to their core vote. On these election performances, at best, the UUP are on target to hold their current number. of Assembly seats, at the 2016 Assembly election.

Interestingly in the Euro election the UUP polled nearly exactly what they polled in 2009, with only a difference of 545 votes. This is sort of worrying – It makes you wonder, are these approx. 83,000 UUP Euro election voters exactly the same people that voted UUP in the last Euro election in 2009?

However having a core vote of around 80,000 is a pretty good asset – that’s people who basically vote UUP no matter what. Apart from Sinn Fein and the DUP (who both have higher core votes), the other parties would love to have a committed voter bank of that size. The trick for the UUP is to build on this, but at the moment the polling and actual election results show the UUP sort of standing still on this core base.

Bill White is Managing Director of LucidTalk, polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph

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