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Gap narrows in key election battlegrounds

The gap is narrowing in both South and East Belfast, making these two top Belfast Telegraph circulation areas even more marginal than before.

That is the finding of the latest LucidTalk/Belfast opinion panel when 440 people were asked about their voting intentions, likelihood to vote and opinion on who would win. The results were combined with previous polls and election results to plot trends.

Overall our opinion panel predicts that the DUP will have nine MPs (eight last time and gaining East Belfast), Sinn Fein will stick with five, the SDLP should hold its three seats but its leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell (right) is vulnerable in South Belfast. There will also be one independent victory, for Lady Sylvia Hermon, the Labour-leaning unionist in who holds the North Down seat.

If an election were held now, East Belfast is likely to change hands from Naomi Long of Alliance to Gavin Robinson of the DUP while Dr Alastair McDonnell is likely to hold South Belfast, but its risky. The likelihood of the DUP winning is only 55%, too close for comfort, and there is a tendency for votes to swing back to sitting MPs as an election approaches. When we carried out a full poll in East Belfast in January it predicted Mr Robinson would get 65% of the vote.

South Belfast is also narrowing, though here it is the sitting MP Dr McDonnell who is slipping after a number of recent controversies.

He was criticised by Samina Dornan, a leading obstetrician, when he opposed any change in the abortion law and claimed doctors couldn't predict if a foetus would survive or not.

He is still 60% likely to win the seat but this figure will itself encourage unionists to try and field a joint candidate against him. There is some interest in Upper Bann, a seat won from the UUP's David Trimble by David Simpson (DUP) in 2005. Mr Simpson is 75% likely to keep the seat but that is down on 80% last month.

The DUP is anxious to ensure that Nigel Dodds, its North Belfast MP and parliamentary leader, beats off a challenge from Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein. On this showing he is 85% likely to do so.

Our panel gave Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein the same 85% chance of retaining Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Nominations don't close until April and the picture could change as we see the full list of candidates in marginal seats.

Full details of the findings are published online on DebateNI.

Belfast Telegraph