Belfast Telegraph

DUP likely to remain largest party, pollster suggests

By Jonny Bell

Analysis by polling company LucidTalk suggests a snap Assembly election would again return the DUP as the largest political party.

With Sinn Fein demanding the Secretary of State calls an election, another visit to the polls looks increasingly likely less than a year after the last vote.

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But this time around the number of elected MLAs drops from the current 108 to 90, meaning each candidate will have to secure a quota of 6,500 votes as opposed to 6,000. Pollsters LucidTalk regularly carry out surveys of a near 6,000-strong opinion panel, with responses then boiled down to represent the Northern Ireland population.

Its analysis suggests that if Northern Ireland went back to the ballot box - which could come as soon as the first week of March - then the DUP, although it would lose up to five seats, would remain the biggest party in the Assembly with a predicted 33 seats. Sinn Fein would potentially lose four giving them 24 seats. The UUP would be on 11 if they lost five. And the SDLP would have nine MLAs if it lost three seats. Alliance would remain unchanged on eight. The TUV, People Before Profit and independent unionist Claire Sugden, if she runs, would all remain, with the Greens losing one of their two seats.

LucidTalk managing director Bill White says most of the analysis is based on the Belfast company's data on previous elections and before the scandal erupted over the Renewable Heating Incentive. He said: "When we look at patterns, when the numbers of those elected is lower, it favours the bigger parties, who have the well-oiled political machine to throw behind their campaign."

Writing in the Irish Times, Nicholas Whyte, a visiting professor in the faculty of social science at Ulster University, suggested that the four biggest parties can expect to lose between two to five seats each.

Big hitters at serious risk of losing their seats include SDLP veteran Alex Attwood in West Belfast and DUP Assembly speaker Robin Newton, the elections expert speculated.

Mr Whyte also suggested that MLAs from the smaller parties - the Greens and People Before Profit with two MLAs each, TUV with one, and the independent Claire Sugden - would also find it difficult to keep all their seats.

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