Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Electoral turnout

One of the main arguments unionists make for the narrow difference between the number of votes for unionism and the number of votes for nationalism (57,102 in 2010 westminster election and 42,272 in 2007 assembly election) in elections is that there is a greater level of unionist apathy among the electorate than nationalists.

In order to test this theory it is necessary to get a breakdown of both nationalist turnout and unionist turnout in recent elections.

For want of a better system, I have used the 18 constituencies as the basis for my analysis. If we take the eight constituencies held by nationalists and get the average turnout for each of these constituencies, we can assume that subject to an inevitable margin of error, that this average represents nationalist turnout. Similarly the same methodology can be used to calculate the unionist turnout. I have excluded european elections from our analysis due to the low turnout compared to assembly and westminster elections

The results are clear. In the early part of this decade nationalists were more likely to vote than unionists and the argument of greater unionist apathy was valid. However, In more recent elections the turnout of the two blocks seems to have leveled off. What is worrying for unionists is that as the nationalist turnout has declined one might expect the gap in the difference in votes between the two blocks to increase. However it has in fact fallen from approximately 70,000  to approximately 40,000! Unionism has reason to worry.


  1. I had wondered why no one had done this as turnout is often discussed.

    I dont think I am following the point you made over on Bangordubs as the gap looks only marginally smaller now (2011) compared to 2001/2003. What do you estimate the turnout percentages to be for Nats and Unionists?

  2. Sammy I posted this blog in 2010. At this time it looked like the turnout rates in nationalist and unionist constituencies had converged. In 2011 nationalist turnout showed no change on the prior year only for unionist turnout to fall further. It is the trend I am concerned with rather than one election as other factors can distort accruacy. The trend shows turnout rates coming together. Also remember the graph represents turnout in nationalist/unionist constituencies not nationalist/unionist turnout.

  3. Enda,

    Leaving aside(2011), so the gap in turnout between Unionist and Natinlaist constituencies has fallen by 30,000 (about 43% ) of 70,000 which is very significant.

  4. The turnout in unionist constituencies was about 10% lower than in nationalist constituencies in 2001, 2003 & 2005. The gap appeared ro reduce to c8% in 2007 and c4% in 2010.

    Even a 10% difference should not have significant implications for nationalist/unionist vote. The way unionist politicians go on about stay at home protestants youd swear every catholic goes to the polls.

  5. Enda, in Belfast it could be significant(Unionist forum is trying to doing osmething about this) but will probably(hopefully) be made up for by increase in Nats getting to voting age.

    ps The DUP must be absolutely kicking themselves that they did not manage to get the Belfast boundaries changed.

  6. Id say the DUP are kicking themselves.

    Re Belfast. Gerry Lynch sums it up on SOT

    I would like to think that Robinson and Dodds are both smart enough to know this is delusional. In the 2011 Belfast City Council elections the Unionist vote was only 36%. Thanks to the boundary changes to the City, which take the particular and peculiar form they do because Peter Robinson was determined to preserve his legacy in Castlereagh, a further percentage point, at least, will be shaved off that figure next time. Dunmurry Cross voted 82% Nationalist in 2011, for example, and the most strongly Unionist bits are staying in Lisburn.

    Gilnahirk/Tullycarnet, Belvoir and the bits of Castlereagh within the ring road won’t balance that out, especially when they contain two Alliance fortress heartlands, Wynchurch and Gilnahirk, and pockets of decent SDLP support.

    Demographic changes will probably knock a further 1-2% off that figure. So Unionism starts the campaign for the slightly enlarged new Belfast City Council from a base of 33-34%. Even if we indulge for a moment the fantasy that there will be heroic voter registration efforts, epic Unionist turnout and a collapse of the Alliance vote, there is simply no way that Unionists will gain a majority of seats in Belfast at the next election