DUP set to dominate local government: Election forecast says Northern Ireland's largest party to retain position
The DUP looks set to retain its position as Northern Ireland's largest party in local government, according to an election forecast.
And just like the situation at Stormont, Sinn Fein will be close behind the biggest unionist party on the share-out of seats, the survey reveals.
The Belfast Telegraph's polling partner organisation, Lucidtalk, has predicted that the DUP will dominate the new 'super councils', with between 143 and 151 seats overall, while Sinn Fein will win between 113 and 120.
The research indicates that the Ulster Unionists will end up with between 69 and 76 seats, while the SDLP is expected to end up with roughly the same, between 60 and 75. The survey suggests that the final Stormont Executive party, Alliance, will win between 34 and 36 seats.
As is traditional, independents will play a major role in the new councils. According to Lucidtalk, they are on course to take between 17 to 20 of the new seats.
And the smaller parties are also set to gain a foothold in the new, larger local authorities. Jim Allister's TUV is forecast to take three to four seats, while Basil McCrea and John McCallister's NI21 is predicted to get one or two.
The Greens, PUP and UKIP are each in line for one seat.
Direct comparisons with party performances in the past are made more difficult because the current 582 council seats will be reduced to 460, as the 26 council areas merge into 11. The most acccurate indications of strengths will be the percentage vote share of each of the parties, which will only emerge when the two-day election count is complete.
Lucidtalk managing director Bill White admitted his analysis and predictions are just possible outcomes. "You need very good 'on the ground' knowledge in each area to give in-depth analysis and forecasts," he said.
"For example, there are dozens of independents running all over the place. Some will have no hope of being elected, and some will be very popular, and get elected just because of their name.
"It also should be remembered that local council elections have strong local factors in terms of local names and personalities.
"It's just a fact that my team and I have very, very good knowledge of Belfast and the surrounding area – but in all honesty our knowledge gets a bit lower as you move into the more rural areas."
Mr White said he had discussed "all this with our 'polling agents' who we have across Northern Ireland, but even they have gaps in their knowledge, mainly because of the vast areas some of the new councils cover".
For the 10 councils outside of Belfast, Mr White's seat predictions are: Sinn Fein 93-100; DUP 126-134; UUP 65-72; SDLP 52-67; Alliance 25-27; Independents 17-20; TUV 3-4; NI21 0-1; Green 1; UKIP 1.
Yesterday Lucid Talk spelt out their predictions for Belfast: Sinn Fein 20; DUP 17; UUP 4; SDLP 8; Alliance 9; PUP 1; and NI21 1.
Factfile: the new boundaries
North Down and Ards: Now incorporates the whole of the Ards district, and almost all of North Down district apart from a small area (Cedar Grove), which is going to Belfast.
Mid and East Antrim: Takes in the whole of the current Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne council areas.
Lisburn and Castlereagh: The current Lisburn City Council is losing about 20% of its voters to Belfast, along with the current Castlereagh Council, which is losing about 40% of its voters to Belfast.
Antrim and Newtownabbey: Simply made-up of the two areas of the old Antrim and Newtownabbey councils combined.
Causeway Coast and Glens: Takes in all of the old Ballymoney, Coleraine, Limavady and Moyle district councils.