In 2015 and 2017, we ran a region-by-region overview of the key seats which could decide the general election. We have revived it for 2019, and these battleground profiles run regularly throughout the campaign.
- There are 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. Going into the election the Democratic Unionists held ten, Sinn Féin seven, and the last was represented by an Independent Unionist.
- The DUP did very well at the last election, increasing their vote from 184,260 to 292,316 on a swing of more than ten points. They will be hard-pressed to hold all their seats, but might be able to offset a probably defeat in Belfast South by finally picking up North Down.
- For the Ulster Unionists, it’s a grim picture. Both of the seats they won in 2015 look out of reach this time, even with the benefit of a ‘unionist unity’ pact in Fermanagh & South Tyrone. Defeat ought to prompt further introspection into what purpose the party currently serves.
- Unlike their ‘moderate’ counterparts, the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) actually appear much better position to recover from their 2017 wipeout, and are the favourites in two of their historic strongholds. As they take the Labour whip at Westminster, this could be important.
- Sinn Féin had a very good 2017, and ought to be happy if they hold their current seat total. They are in with a shot of unseating Nigel Dodds, but could lose a seat in Londonderry to the SDLP.
- The Alliance have had a good few years as they capitalise on the failure of the capital-U Unionist parties to offer much to liberal voters, but face an uphill struggle to turn this into Westminster representation. They’re in with a shot in two seats, but would be very pleased to pick up either.
As in 2015 and 2017, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands. These lists aren’t predictions of gains: rather, they’re just seats which we think could be competitive. They might be official party targets, have a small majority, or be subject to other factors which could leave them open to change.
Amongst the resources we’ll be using to steer us through these murky waters are Electoral Calculus, UK Polling Report, Number Cruncher Politics, and Election Polling. For this we’ll also be using this LucidTalk predictor – YouGov’s MRP does not cover Ulster, and nor do Chris Hanretty’s very helpful constituency-by-constituency Brexit vote charts.
We’re also keeping an eye on the work of many other pollsters, psephologists, and analysts, some of whom our assistant editor has collated onto a Twitter list.
Targets by party:
(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change.)
North Down: Lady Sylvia Hermon, this seat’s long-standing Independent (formerly Ulster Unionist) MP is standing down, so despite its long history of electing minor parties or independents the DUP should be well-positioned here after cutting her majority from over 9,000 to just over 1,200 last time. LucidTalk thinks this is a close fight between them and the Alliance, with the DUP ahead.
Fermanagh & South Tyrone: Very often one of the UK’s most marginal seats – in 2010 Sinn Fein held on here by just four votes. Tom Elliott, the UUP leader, won it in 2015 before losing it again by 2017. Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew is defending a majority of 875 and faces a ‘unionist unity’ pact with no DUP candidate, whereas the nationalist SDLP are running against her. Despite this, LucidTalk put Sinn Fein’s odds of holding here at two to one.
South Antrim: As in North Down, this is an inter-unionist contest with no threat of a nationalist win. Danny Kinahan took this during the UUP’s fleeting renaissance in 2015 and lost it at the last election. Despite a very strong local profile, Kinahan is reportedly suffering for his strongly pro-Remain politics in a seat which actually leaned Leave in 2016. LucidTalk give him worse odds than the Alliance and predict a strong likelihood of a DUP hold.
Belfast East: The site of the party’s first electoral breakthrough when they ousted Peter Robinson, the then-leader of the DUP and First Minister, at the 2010 election. The DUP won it back in 2015 and two years later considerably strengthened their majority to almost 8,500. Naomi Long, the Alliance leader and former MP, is running again, and LucidTalk give her a 42 per cent likelihood of unseating the favourites.
North Down: Often described as the Ulster seat most like the mainland, this constituency has a history of returning left-leaning or liberal unionists to Parliament – and that’s a substantial part of the Alliance base. The party doesn’t have a great track record here, bumping along at less than ten per cent of the vote, but it is reasonable to assume a lot of their voters have been backing the now-departed Lady Hermon. LucidTalk puts their chances here at 44 per cent to the DUP’s 47 per cent.
Belfast South: The DUP’s win here last time was the artefact of a very split vote – Emma Little-Pengelly was returned on just 30 per cent of the vote, with a majority of just under 2,000. Whilst the Alliance are running again, Sinn Féin has pulled out, and that makes the SDLP’s Clare Hanna the clear favourite even before factoring the UUP splitting the already-shrinking unionist vote. LucidTalk has them odds-on, with the DUP having just under a one-in-four chance of a surprise hold.
Foyle: An inter-nationalist contest, this was one of the SDLP’s rock-solid seats until Sinn Féin took it last time by just 169 votes. Mark Durkan, their former MP, has since stood for Fine Gael in Dublin at the European elections, but its a sign of how seriously the SDLP are taking this seat that their candidate is Colum Eastwood, their current leader. LucidTalk has them ahead in a very close fight, 48 per cent probability of victory to inn Féin’s 45 per cent.
Belfast North: The prize of prizes. Sinn Féin have been closing in on the Democratic Unionists here for a while, and victory would unseat Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader. After gaining ground in 2015, Dodds saw his majority cut to just 2,000 votes in 2017 as Brexit energised the nationalist electorate. All signs are that this is a very close fight, with LucidTalk favouring a DUP retention by just a handful of probability points.