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Upper Bann: Jo-Anne Dobson closing in on David Simpson as poll shows drop in DUP support

By Liam Clarke

Published 02/05/2015

UUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson
UUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson

Upper Bann is emerging as the most unpredictable seat in Northern Ireland, a new survey has found. David Simpson of the DUP is in a three-way battle with the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein to retain control of the constituency, according the latest findings from LucidTalk.

The findings were compiled after 440 panel members were questioned on voting intentions and opinions each month and their replies weighted to take account of recent voting patterns and opinion poll findings.

The current survey was taken in the period April 21 to April 30 when the Jim Wells gay adoption row was very much in the news and it shows a small overall fall in the DUP support, though they will still emerged the biggest party, gaining East Belfast.

If these results are repeated on election day, this is the only seat in Northern Ireland which will change hands. The panel found it 75% likely to fall to Gavin Robinson of the DUP at the expense of Naomi Long of Alliance.

Bill White, LucidTalk's CEO, says that makes Robinson favourite but not a certainty; it takes 80%-85% to be a strong favourite.

Mr Robinson is helped by the unionist pact which has seen the UUP and other unionist parties standing aside to give him a free run. The likelihood of him winning is the same as last month.

East Belfast shows no sign of the "incumbency factor", which sees support drift to sitting MPs as elections approach, but it is still not quite a sure thing.

On the other hand incumbency may be working in favour of Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein in Fermanagh South Tyrone. She faces a united unionist candidate in the person of Tom Elliott of the UUP, but the panel still found her 80% likely to win, a clear favourite and up 5% on last month.

The two seats where the UUP have the best chance of winning are not covered by pacts at all and the targets are sitting DUP MPs.

The most interesting is Upper Bann. The DUP fought hard to have this covered by a pact to protect their MP David Simpson by removing Jo-Anne Dobson, UUP, from the equation.

Now we see why. With Ms Dobson running, Mr Simpson is feeling the heat. He is now just 65% likely to hold his seat compared to 80% last month. Ms Dobson is strongest in Banbridge but the election of a new UUP councillor in Craigavon, Captain Doug Beattie, has allowed the UUP to take Mr Simpson on in his stronghold.

The problem is that if Simpson falls Dobson may not win. Cat Seeley of Sinn Fein, an able young teacher, could also nip in if the two unionists split their support evenly enough. Bill White says that "would need a very particular set of circumstances", which he considers unlikely.

The UUP's Danny Kinahan is also gaining ground against Willie McCrea, the DUP incumbent in South Antrim, but Mr McCrea is still 75% likely to make it.

Another interesting contest is in South Belfast where there is no unionist pact and both the UUP (Rodney McCune) and DUP (Jonathan Bell) are running against Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the sitting SDLP MP and party leader.

Sinn Fein Mairtin O Muilleoir is also running and there was no Sinn Fein candidate last time.

Dr McDonnell is now 75% likely to win compared to 65% last month, signs of incumbency kicking in, but it is too early to relax. The SDLP would lose money as well as kudos if they lost this seat. If it falls, Jonathan Bell of the DUP is the most likely victor.

How it works

The LucidTalk Northern Ireland Opinion Panel is made up of 440 members and is constructed to provide a representation of Northern Ireland opinion via gender, area of residence, age group, community background, socio-economic group and employment group.

The opinion panel has a pool of approximately 1,200 members who take part in LucidTalk poll projects, and for this project a representative sample of 440 opinions was collated.

The LucidTalk Northern Ireland Opinion Panel is constructed and managed to British Polling Council standards.

For each monthly poll, participants are asked: (A) their likelihood of voting at the May 7 Westminster election; (B) the party they currently planned to vote for; and (C) their current opinion regarding who would win in each of the non-100% certainty seats as detailed in the previous monthly Opinion Panel Poll.

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