Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Westminster election forecast 2015

LucidTalk opinion panels (January - March)

We are now underway with our April NI-Wide Opinion Panel Poll which will be the final one before the 7th May UK General Election - results in the Belfast Telegraph at start of May.

As such, and as a way of preparing for this final pre-election Opinion Panel Poll, we thought it would be good to put together the results of our January, February, and March Opinion Panel Polls in one results table. This will allow us to see the trends up and down, and enable a good comparison for our April Opinion Panel results and forecast when they are published at the start of May. 

As you may have seen from our previous monthly Opinion Panel reports, the data from each monthly Opinion Panel poll is entered into our prediction models, which then forecast the results (as a % probability) for each of Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster constituencies, and track any trends up and down. Our Northern Ireland (NI) Opinion Panel has 440 participants and is carefully constructed to provide an accurate representation of Northern Ireland opinion - via gender, area of residence, age-group, community background, socio-economic group, and employment group. For further details about methodology and approach, please see our previous reports on DebateNI.

As our Forecast table shows, out of the eighteen Westminster seats there are currently only eight that are 'in play' i.e. have winning probabilities for a particular party at less than 100%. Ten seats are at 100% certainties - and nine of these started at 100% in January and have remained at 100% since! e.g. West Belfast, LaganValley etc. The only exception has been Newry and Armagh which was 100% (Jan), 90% (Feb), then back to 100% (March). This was mostly because of the Unionist election pact which seems to have encouraged nationalists/republicans in this constituency to move from the SDLP, and fall-in behind Sinn Fein as a way of counter-acting the pact.

In terms of the trends January to March, we can see that there is a slight move away from the DUP in South Antrim, although the DUP still remain favourites to hold this seat scoring an 80% probability in our March poll. Similarly Sinn Fein have slipped from a 85% probability score (Jan & Feb) to 75% (March) in terms of their chances of holding Fermanagh and South Tyrone. This of course is probably due to the Unionist pact which now has the UUP's Tom Elliott as the sole Unionist candidate. However, as we said in our previous report, Elliott needs to get Sinn Fein down to 65% or less, to have a chance of taking this seat - we'll see what our April Opinion Panel results say.

Alasdair McDonnell the SDLP leader has bounced back and forth from 65% (Jan), to 60% (Feb), and back to 65% (March), in terms of his chances of holding the South Belfast seat. But as we said before, 65% is borderline, and again it'll be interesting to see what results our April Opinion Panel throws up for this seat.

The key East Belfast seat was highly marginal between the DUP and Alliance, with a 55% score for the DUP in both our January and February polls. However, not surprisingly, this jumped to 75% for the DUP in our March Opinion Panel poll, which was after the Unionist election pact was announced. It'll be key to see what way this probability score moves (if it moves at all) in our April panel poll. A move downwards to 70% or less for the DUP, could mean the momentum is with the Alliance party's Naomi Long in terms of her chances of holding this seat, but if it goes 80% or higher for the DUP then that would mean it's looking very probable that the DUP will re-capture this seat on 7th May.

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Regarding Upper Bann, our February Opinion Panel had shown that the UUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson was making good progress, causing the DUP score for holding this seat to drop 5% from 80% (Jan) to 75% (Feb). However, this seat returned to an 80% probability for the DUP in our March poll. This may have partly been as a result of the unionist pact, which some of our Opinion Panel respondents said was discouraging the more moderate 'alliance type' UUP voters! The UUP need to show a downward trend from this DUP 80% score, in our April poll, to give them confidence that they're in with a possibility of capturing this seat from the DUP.

The two other current SDLP seats (i.e. apart from South Belfast) are Foyle and South Down, and have shown little change from around the 90-95% probability scores for the SDLP to hold both of these seats. Again not surprisingly after the Unionist election pact, North Belfast moved to a 95% probability for the DUP's Nigel Dodds to hold this seat. However the DUP were on a 85%-90% probability of holding this seat anyway before the pact - so the pact just seems to have made the election a bit easier for Nigel Dodds, in a seat he was probably going to win anyway!

As mentioned above, our April Opinion Panel results will be published at the start of May, only a few days before election day on Thursday 7th May. So we'll be able to see how accurate our forecast turns out to be when compared to the actual election results!  

Bill White is Managing Director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk, polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph. You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter: @LucidTalk. 

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