Belfast Telegraph

Elections round-up: Alliance outperforms against pollster prediction

LucidTalk continue their review of each of the NI political parties, how they fared at the recent European elections, and their prospects for the future – here we look at the Alliance party

By Bill White

Like the TUV the Alliance party had a big name candidate in the Euro election with Anna Lo. Therefore it was interesting to watch how this ‘big name’ factor would affect the Alliance vote. As I said in the TUV election review article, Euro elections are ideally suited to ‘big name’ candidates, and Jim Allister certainly showed that.

In a similar way, Anna Lo put in a thumping performance for Alliance producing the best ever Euro election performance for the party, both in vote and % terms (44,432 votes - 7.1% vote share). Her performance exceeded our predictions, interestingly to a similar scale to the underestimation we made about Jim Allister’s performance.

We had built-in to our models an ‘acceleration’ factor to represent the additional pull big name candidates, e.g. Lo and Allister, would have on their normal party poll ratings. In fact, we forecast 6.1% for Alliance (Belfast Telegraph, April 30) and, as per above, they achieved 7.1%. Our estimates for the TUV and Alliance ended up reasonably good, and were within the bounds of the normal polling error, but they were on the lower end showing we underestimated this ‘big name’ factor.

We have now applied some corrections for this in our models, as this ‘big name’ factor will still apply in next year’s Westminster election. It’s important to note that the Euro election and Westminster election are the only elections where the ‘big name’ factor applies to a major extent.

Yes, it applies in all elections, but less so in the Northern Ireland (NI) Assembly election, were being an incumbent is a bigger advantage. As I said in a previous article this is the problem facing the TUV – Jim Allister can only stand in one of the 18 NI Assembly constituencies, and be elected only once, but the TUV badly need more MLA’s elected than just him at the next NI Assembly election, if they’re going to have any credibility.

But back to Alliance - This has probably been the first election were Alliance were able to run a ‘big-name’ candidate, and the good news for Alliance (and the TUV) is at least it got many thousands of people voting for the party who have never voted Alliance (or the TUV for that matter) before.

This makes it somewhat easier to get these same people to vote Alliance (or TUV) again – but this isn’t automatic, and it’s not that easy. This is what some people who criticise polls don’t understand, that people vote differently in different elections, and polling companies have to use different models for each type of election to ensure accurate predictions. As an example, the two forthcoming elections i.e. Westminster (2015) and the NI Assembly (2016) suit the DUP and Sinn Fein more than the UUP, SDLP, and Alliance. Why? – Because ‘big names’ and incumbency are strong factors in these elections, especially Westminster, and this of course suits the DUP and Sinn Fein who together currently have 13 of the 18 MPs, and 67 of the 108 MLAs.       

However Alliance have one incumbent MP in place with Naomi Long in East Belfast, and it will be interesting to see if the incumbency factor works for her to assist her re-election. Our Euro election tallies (that’s analysis of voting patterns in specific areas) show that Anna Lo gained enough support in South Belfast at the Euro election to give Alliance a good chance of gaining two MLA seats in that constituency at the next Northern Ireland Assembly election (2016), that’s of course, if Anna Lo is one of those candidates.

Will Anna Lo run in South Belfast in next year’s Westminster election? – That’s another question. The polling and tallies show that Alliance probably don’t have enough support to actually win the South Belfast seat at a Westminster election, but they certainly would capture enough votes to have a crucial impact on the final result! Anna Lo has indicated that she may retire from politics, however can Alliance afford to let her retire with the sort of big-name vote pull she seems to have? When a party gets a ‘big-name’ vote puller, they need to gain from that, and use them to best advantage.     

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

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