Belfast Telegraph

Nationalists closing in on overall majority as unionist vote splits

By Bill White

Following our European election analysis, we've been even more adventurous and have collated a review and prediction for the forthcoming Belfast City Council local government elections.

On May 22 the voters of Belfast will go to the polls to elect a new 60-member council, which will operate in shadow format until it takes over full powers in 2015.

Like the Euro election analysis, our forecast has again been compiled by taking several recent polls, previous election results, and applying various 'weighting' assumptions. Yes, this sort of prediction is always risky, but it should assist the voters with a realistic review of the contest and candidates.

Compared to other elections, council elections are even more difficult to judge because of the range of local candidates, small minority parties and independents. Vote transfers, i.e. second, third, fourth, etc preferences, will also play a vital part in determining who's elected, and these are almost impossible to forecast.

However, one prediction can be made with some confidence, and that is that the new Belfast City Council will again (like the current council) have no overall majority, and that the Alliance Party and others will probably hold the balance of power.

We also predict that the nationalist/republican block will be only four-to-six seats short of an overall majority – not a majority this time, but maybe at the next local government elections in 2019 it will be a different story?

Like the Euro election, the fragmentation on the unionist side of the battle is all too obvious. The various unionist parties and candidates bring to mind that famous Brendan Behan line – Headline: 'New unionist political party formed, first meeting tonight, first item on agenda – split!' This unionist fragmentation will probably result in the number of unionists elected to the new council being two or three lower than it perhaps should be at only 23-25 seats. There are a lot of imponderables, a lot of unknowns and some calculated risks in terms of the predictions.

However, we think our forecast is not too far off the mark, and in any case, the Belfast voters will have the final say on May 22.

  • Bill White is managing director of Belfast-based Polling and Market Research company LucidTalk – Polling Partners to the Belfast Telegraph

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