Last month, I predicted how the US Presidential election is most likely to go based on current polling and the results of the 2016 and 2018 elections. My prediction in May was that Joe Biden would win the election with 307 electoral college votes, while Donald Trump would win 231 votes.
Since then, I have amended by predictions, all of which point to a more decisive Biden victory in November. I now believe that Biden will win 335 electoral college votes, compared to 203 for Trump:
As I did last month, I am predicting that Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will change from voting Republican in 2016 to Democrat in 2020. However, I have also added Arizona and North Carolina, in both states Biden has been ahead in most of the recent polls over the last month by about 2-4%. I have also changed my mind on Maine’s 2nd district and Nebraska’s 2nd district, both of which I now think will narrowly vote Democrat based on the small lead for the Democrats in the House polls. These changes will give Biden an additional 28 electoral college votes, his 335 votes would be significantly more than Trump’s 306 in 2016 and slightly more than Obama’s 332 in 2012, though not as much as Obama’s 2008 victory with 365 votes.
In this scenario, Biden would win twenty-six states (plus Washington DC and Nebraska’s 2nd district). Of these, fourteen are safely Democrat: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Another five are likely Democrat: Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia. And six states are leaning towards the Democrats by a narrow amount: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, plus Maine’s 2nd district and Nebraska’s 2nd district. One key advantage is that Biden doesn’t have to win all six of these states to win, for example winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (the three states narrowly lost by Hillary Clinton in 2016) would be enough as that would be 280 electoral college votes. Alternatively, if Biden wins Florida, then he only needs to win one other of these five states, as the twenty states that voted Democrat in 2016 plus Florida would be 263 votes, and the other five states all have more than 7 votes available. If Trump wins Florida, then Biden would need to win any three of those five states to win the election. Interestingly, if Biden only gains North Carolina and Pennsylvania then the result would be 269 votes for both candidates, meaning the House of Representatives would decide the winner (it currently has a Democratic majority and will probably have after this election too).
Trump would win twenty-four states. Of these, fifteen are safely Republican: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska (minus its 2nd district), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. Five states are likely Republican: Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. And four states are narrowing leaning towards the Republicans: Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. Iowa and Ohio are particularly close, Trump and Biden have a roughly equal amount of successes in recent polls, by a 1-2% margin. However, while both are key swing states Trump won in both by 10% in 2016, so it would take a lot to overturn that. Similarly, Georgia has been seen as strongly Republican in recent elections, but polls are too close to call in recent weeks. Most notably, in Texas most polls give Trump a very narrow lead, but some are equal and a few even have Biden ahead. If Biden was to win these four states, he would have 413 electoral college votes and Trump would only have 125, this would be the largest presidential victory since George H W Bush in 1988.
There are ten states that have changed in my predictions compared to May. Only two of them have changed from Republican to Democrat: these are Arizona and North Carolina, both are now leaning Democrat now, whereas Arizona was previously likely Republican and North Carolina was previously leaning Republican. Georgia, Iowa and Texas have both moved from likely Republican to leaning Republican, which makes things more competitive for Democrats and gives Republicans more states to defend which were previously reasonably safe. There are five other states which have moved from safe Republican to likely Republican: Montana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. In all five of these states, Trump has an average lead of between 6-10% in recent polls, which means these states are still likely to vote Republican in November, but there is a possibility they could be competitive in a Democratic landslide.
Overall, Biden has established a much greater lead over Trump both nationally and in most of the key swing states when compared to last month. This would appear to be a result of Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and more recently the protests following the death of George Floyd. Five months ago I would have said that Trump would have a very good chance of re-election, but following various controversies and disasters, Trump appears to be on course for a decisive defeat. Although as the last few months have shown, anything can happen between now and 3rd November.
The most recent Irish general election took place on 8th February, nearly four months ago. Since then, negotiations to form a new Government have so far been unsuccessful. The previous record for the longest time taken to form a new Irish Government was 70 days after the 2016 general election, this time it is likely to take more than twice as long as we are approaching four months since the election in February.
Talks are ongoing to form a new Government between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil reached an agreement in April, to include a rotation for Taoiseach between them. However, they are still 8 seats short of a majority and so have been negotiating with the Greens who have 12 seats. Labour and the Social Democrats have opted not to take part in talks, and independent TDs are unlikely to back the Government unless a third party is involved such as the Greens to provide stability.
The only other realistic opportunities for a Government involve Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have 74 seats between them, so they would also need at least one other party to join them. Sinn Féin’s preferred option would be a broad coalition of left-wing parties, along with the Greens, Labour, Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit and Independents 4 Change, but these parties together are still 13 seats short of a majority.
If the smaller parties cannot agree an agreement with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and if Fianna Fáil will not join a coalition with Sinn Féin, then the only other option could be another election. Several polls have taken place since the election, which indicates some significant changes in support:
In the general election, Sinn Féin finished as the largest party in terms of votes with 24.5%, followed by Fianna Fáil with 22.2% and Fine Gael with 20.9%. In the immediate aftermath of the election, Sinn Féin support continued to increase to a peak of 35%, while Fine Gael moved slightly ahead of Fianna Fáil later in February. But since March, Fine Gael has surged to 34-36%, Sinn Féin moved down to 27%, and Fianna Fáil dropped to 14-16%. This is probably because of Fine Gael’s leadership during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The other parties have remained roughly the same as in the February election.
So if an election was held later in the year, or whenever the pandemic is over, how would it most likely go based on recent polling? Here is my prediction for each constituency based on polling from February to May and the transfer trends that we saw in the last election:
Carlow-Kilkenny: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF, 1 GP (FG gain from FF)
Cavan-Monaghan: 2 SF, 2 FG, 1 FF (FG gain from FF)
Cork South-Central: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF (FG gain from FF)
Cork South-West: 1 FG, 1 SF, 1 Ind (FG and SF gain from FF and SD)
Donegal: 2 SF, 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Ind (no change)
Dublin Bay North: 2 SF, 2 FG, 1 Lab (SF and FG gain from FF and SD)
Dublin Bay South: 2 FG, 1 SF, 1 GP (FG gain from FF)
Dublin Central: 2 SF, 1 FG, 1 GP (SF gain from SD)
Dublin Fingal: 2 SF, 1 FG, 1 FF, 1 GP (SF gain from Lab)
Dublin Mid-West: 2 SF, 1 FG, 1 Sol-PBP (no change)
Dublin North-West: 2 SF, 1 FG (SF and FG gain from SD and FF)
Dublin Rathdown: 2 FG, 1 GP (no change)
Dublin South-Central: 2 SF, 1 FG, 1 GP (SF and FG gain from Sol-PBP and Ind 4 Change)
Dublin South-West: 2 SF, 1 FG, 1 FF, 1 GP (SF gain from Sol-PBP)
Dublin West: 2 FG, 1 SF, 1 GP (FG gain from FF)
Dún Laoghaire: 2 FG, 1 GP, 1 Sol-PBP (FG gain from FF)
Galway East: 1 FG, 1 SF, 1 Ind (SF gain from FF)
Galway West: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF, 1 Ind (FG gain from Ind)
Kerry: 2 Ind, 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 SF (no change)
Kildare North: 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 SD, 1 SF (no change)
Kildare South: 1 CC, 1 FG, 1 SF, 1 Ind (no change)
Laois-Offaly: 2 FG, 2 SF, 1 FF (FG and SF gain from FF and Ind)
Limerick City: 1 SF, 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 GP (no change)
Limerick County: 2 FG, 1 FF (FG gain from Ind)
Longford-Westmeath: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF (FG gain from FF)
Louth: 2 SF, 2 FG, 1 Lab (FG gain from Ind)
Mayo: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF (no change)
Meath East: 2 FG, 1 SF (FG gain from FF)
Meath West: 1 FG, 1 SF, 1 Aontú (no change)
Roscommon-Galway: 1 Ind, 1 SF, 1 FG (FG gain from Ind)
Sligo-Leitrim: 1 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF, 1 Ind (no change)
Tipperary: 2 Ind, 1 SF, 1 Lab, 1 FG (FG gain from FF)
Waterford: 2 SF, 1 FF, 1 FG (SF and FG gain from Ind and GP)
Wexford: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF, 1 Lab (FG gain from Ind)
Wicklow: 2 FG, 1 FF, 1 SF, 1 SD (FG gain from GP)
The result would be as follows:
Fine Gael: 58 (+23)
Sinn Féin: 47 (+10)
Fianna Fáil: 22 (-15)
Independent: 11 (-8)
Green Party: 10 (-2)
Labour: 5 (-1)
Social Democrats: 2 (-4)
Solidarity-PBP: 3 (-2)
Aontú: 1 (-)
Ceann Comhairle: 1 (-) Independents 4 Change: 0 (-1)
With 35% of the vote in the most recent poll, Fine Gael would become the largest party in the new Dáil with 58 seats. Most of the 23 gains would be seats lost in 2020, but some would be seats lost in 2016, such as in Tipperary. 14 of these gains would be from Fianna Fáil, 7 would be from independents, including former Fine Gael candidates such as Peter Fitzpatrick and Verona Murphy, 1 is from the Greens in Wicklow and 1 is from Independents 4 Change in Dublin South-Central. Fine Gael would be represented in every constituency for the first time ever, they missed out in Dublin North-West in 2011 and both Tipperary and Roscommon-Galway in 2016.
Sinn Féin would come second with 27% of the vote and 47 seats. 4 of the 10 Sinn Féin gains would come from the Social Democrats, 2 would be from Solidarity-PBP, 2 would be from independents, including former Sinn Féin TD Carol Nolan, 1 would be from Labour in Dublin Fingal, and 1 would be from Fianna Fáil in Galway East. All of these gains apart from Galway East involve Sinn Féin winning a second seat in constituencies where they had nearly two quotas but only ran one candidate. There would still be 4 constituencies with no Sinn Féin TD, Dublin Rathdown, Dún Laoghaire, Cork North-West and Limerick County.
Fianna Fáil would finish in third with 15%, their lowest percentage vote ever, but 22 seats would be more than the 20 seats in 2011. All of their 14 losses would be to Fine Gael. Every other party would lose seats, with the other left-wing parties mainly losing out to Sinn Féin. The Greens would move slightly backwards, but this would still be their second best result in a Dáil election. Labour would have their worst ever vote in terms of votes and seats, while the Social Democrats would return to the same position as in 2016.
This Dáil would have two very clear blocs, on one side the parties of the centre to centre-right that traditionally dominated Irish politics, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil; and on the other side the parties of the left, Sinn Féin, Greens, Labour, Social Democrats and Solidarity-PBP. The combined vote of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be 81 seats, just slightly above the threshold for a majority. Interestingly, the number of TDs from the five left-wing parties would be 66, just 1 less than before. In such a Dáil, the obvious choice for a Government would be Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil plus several independents. Alternatively, a Sinn Féin Government could be possible with the other left-wing parties plus Fianna Fáil. In other words, the same scenarios we are facing in the current Dáil.
It is likely that a real election later in 2020 would be very different to my predictions here, because the campaign would be an important factor for the preference of voters, where Fine Gael would emphasise their leadership during the pandemic and Sinn Féin would focus on the crises in healthcare and housing as in February. Another reason why an election could be very different is the importance of local candidates, I am working on the results and transfers from the February 2020 election, and things could change locally in terms of candidates and local issues which are impossible to predict now. But it is interesting to speculate as it may happen later this year or next year if negotiations prove to be unsuccessful.
With six months to go until the US Presidential election, I thought it would be interesting to try and predict the result of the electoral college. This is primarily based on the results of the 2016 Presidential and 2018 Congressional elections, as well as more recent polling which generally has presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden ahead of Republican incumbent President Donald Trump in most key swing states.
My prediction as of 3rd May is that Joe Biden will win the Presidential election in November with 307 electoral college votes, while Donald Trump will receive 231 votes:
Biden will win twenty-four states (plus Washington DC) and Trump twenty-six. The only states to change from 2016 are Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Biden only needs to win three of these states to win the presidency, e.g. if Trump holds Florida but Biden wins the other three, the result is still a Biden victory of 278-260. Alternatively, if Biden wins Florida, he can afford to lose two of the other three, but not all three.
I have decided the states into six categories, as emphasised by the colours above:
Safe Democrat (185 electoral college votes):
Maine (state + 1st district)
Likely Democrat (43 electoral college votes):
Leans Democrat (79 electoral college votes):
Safe Republican (125 electoral college votes):
Nebraska (state + 1st and 3rd districts)
Likely Republican (73 electoral college votes):
Maine (2nd district)
Nebraska (2nd district)
Leans Republican (33 electoral college votes):
The safe states for both parties are easy to determine, as they normally vote for the party in question in presidential elections, as well as various local and regional elections. One thing that connects the five likely Democrat states is that Hillary Clinton narrowly won all of them in 2016 by less than 10%, but the Democratic vote increased across these states in the 2018 mid-term elections. All of the five states also currently have Democratic Governors. Similarly, Trump won the five likely Republican states in 2016, and while most saw an increase for the Democrats in 2016 it is not by enough for me to rank them as seriously competitive. Texas is the best example of this, in 2016 the result in Texas was 52.23% for Trump and 43.24% for Clinton, and in 2018 the result of the Senate election was 50.9% for Ted Cruz (Republican) and 48.3% for Beto O’Rourke (Democrat). Texas is going to become a lot more competitive in 2024 and 2028, but not quite yet. The three likely Republican states also have Republican Governors.
The most important states are the six that are either leaning towards Democrats or Republicans. These states together have 108 electoral college votes, and if excluded would leave Biden with 232 votes and Trump 198. Trump won all six in 2016, and I believe that this time he will only win North Carolina and Ohio. In North Carolina Trump won 49.83% of the vote in 2016 and Clinton won 46.17%, a 3.66% margin of victory. This was already down from Mitt Romney’s 50.39% in 2012. In 2018 the Republicans 50.39% of the vote for the mid-term election to the House of Representatives in North Carolina, compared to 48.35% for the Democrats. While this is a lot closer, the reality is that only once since 1980 has a Democratic presidential candidate won in North Carolina, that was Obama in 2008 by a 0.3% margin. Therefore, I think Trump will narrowly defend it. Similarly, Ohio saw Trump winning in 2016 with 51.69%, compared to 43.56% for Clinton, this was the most decisive Republican victory in Ohio since 1988. While the 2018 results were much narrower (the gubernatorial election in 2018 was 50.4% Republican and 46.7% Democrat), the 2016 margin was so large that I cannot see Trump losing Ohio this time.
The three most important states for Biden are Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which I believe he will win. Firstly, Wisconsin; Trump won here with 47.22%, Clinton had 46.45%, a margin of 0.77%. Since then, in 2018 the Democrats won the gubernatorial election 49.5% to 48.4% for the Republicans, and the Senate election result was 55.4% Democrat and 44.5% Republican. However, a majority of the state legislature and House of Representatives seats are held by Republicans. Michigan was even closer in 2016, Trump received 47.5% of the vote and Clinton received 47.27%, giving Trump a 0.23% lead. In 2018 Michigan elected a Democratic governor by a decisive 53.3% to 43.8% for the Republicans. Both Michigan Senators are Democrats, and they have a narrow majority in the state legislature. Finally, there is Pennsylvania, where Trump won with 48.18%, compared to 47.46% for Clinton, a difference of 0.72% and the closest result there since 1840. The 2018 gubernatorial election result in Pennsylvania was 57.8% for the Democrats and 40.7% for the Republicans, while the House of Representatives result was 55.03% Democrat and 44.75% Republican. Clearly the trend here is towards Democrats, and Biden has consistently been polling higher in these states at this point in the campaign then Clinton had been four years ago, which is why I think he will win in all three states.
Last but not least is Florida. By far the hardest to call, Trump won in 2016 with 49.02% compared to 47.82% for Clinton, a margin of 1.2%. Trump has now registered Florida as his home state (it was New York in 2016), a clear indication that he wants to target here again. In 2018 the Republicans won the gubernatorial result with 49.6%, the Democrats were only 0.4% behind with 49.2%. Both Florida Senators are Republican, as is a majority of the state legislature. With that in mind, why do I think Florida will back Biden this time? As with the previous three states, Biden is polling consistently ahead of Trump here, and more than any other state Florida generally votes for the winner, I expect it will do so again by an extremely narrow margin.
I will probably review these predictions based on ongoing events and the overall campaign, but my thoughts at the moment are that Trump will be a one-term President and Biden will succeed him as the 46th US President.
The only clear result from the 2020 general election in Ireland is that there are no longer two main parties but three, as Sinn Féin has joined Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as one of the main parties. Between them these three parties have 67.6% of the vote and 110 of the 160 seats in the Dáil. But there is no clear path to power, even if two of the three main parties cooperate, making the various smaller parties and independents more important than ever. With that in mind it is worth looking at the performance of the smaller parties and independents, and whether they may decide to help the bigger parties form a government.
The Green Party had an excellent election. They did particularly well in the 2019 local and European elections, primarily at the expense of Sinn Féin. It therefore seemed that with Sinn Féin doing very well in the polls this time that the Greens would not do as well as in 2019. But because Sinn Féin candidates did so well in most constituencies, the Greens were able to benefit from their transfers as well as from other parties to finish with twelve seats.
The Green Party received 155,700 first preference votes, 7.1% of the vote and 4.4% more then in 2016. This was very clearly their highest ever percentage vote in a general election:
They returned twelve TDs, also clearly their highest ever number:
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan topped the poll in Dublin Bay South and was elected on the first count, and their deputy leader Catherine Martin topped the poll in Dublin Rathdown and was the first candidate elected on the fifth count. Joe O’Brien also held the seat he had won in the Dublin Fingal by-election three months ago. The Greens gained five more seats in Dublin, Neasa Hourigan in Dublin Central from an independent, Patrick Costello in Dublin South-Central from Fine Gael, Francis Noel Duffy in Dublin South-West from independent Minister Katherine Zappone, Roderic O’Gorman in Dublin West from Labour or Solidarity-PBP, and Ossian Smyth in Dún Laoghaire from Fine Gael. The Green Party performance outside Dublin was also impressive, as they gained four additional seats: Steven Matthews in Wicklow from Fine Gael, Marc Ó Cathasaigh in Waterford from Fine Gael, Malcolm Noonan in Carlow-Kilkenny from Fine Gael, and Brian Leddin in Limerick City from Labour. The Greens also came close to several other seats, in Cork South-Central Lorna Bogue was the runner-up, 1,630 votes behind Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath. In Dublin Bay North David Healy was the runner-up, 2,428 votes behind Seán Haughey from Fianna Fáil, Healy’s decision to vote no on repealing the Eighth Amendment may have hurt his vote and allowed Labour and the Social Democrats to start in a stronger position because their candidates were strongly pro-repeal. Also in Louth, Mark Dearey did very well, when he was excluded on the penultimate count he was just 141 votes behind Labour’s Ged Nash. Had this situation been reversed Nash’s transfers would have elected Dearey, instead Dearey’s transfers elected Nash at the expense of Fianna Fáil.
The Greens contested all thirty-nine constituencies. Unsurprisingly, their two strongest percentage votes were in the two constituencies with Green TDs in 2016, Dublin Bay South (22.4%) and Dublin Rathdown (21.1%). Also over 10% were Dún Laoghaire (14.9%), Dublin Central (12.3%), Dublin West (11.2%) and Kildare North (10.1%). Of these, Kildare North was the only constituency not to elect a Green TD.
Labour had a difficult election, going into it with seven TDs and finishing with six. This was their lowest ever number of TDs and also the first time ever that they have finished in fifth place. Historically they have been the third party in a two party system, similarly to the Liberal Democrats in Britain, in 2011 they had their best ever result, finishing in second place behind Fine Gael and ahead of Fianna Fáil. They dropped to fourth place in 2016 behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, and now they are joint fifth alongside the Social Democrats and behind the Greens.
Labour received 95,588 first preference votes, 4.4% of the vote and down 2.2% from 2016. This was their lowest number of votes since 1933 and their lowest percentage vote ever:
They returned six TDs, also their lowest ever number:
Three of the seven outgoing Labour TDs were re-elected, leader Brendan Howlin in Wexford, Alan Kelly in Tipperary and Seán Sherlock in Cork East. In Dublin Fingal Duncan Smith defended the Labour seat previously held by Brendan Ryan, it was an extremely close result, as Smith defeated the Independents 4 Change candidate for the last seat by 188 votes. Two Labour Senators who had lost their seats in 2016 returned to the Dáil this time: Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in Dublin Bay North and Ged Nash in Louth. However, they also lost three seats: former leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton lost her seat in Dublin West to Sinn Féin or the Green Party, Jan O’Sullivan lost her seat in Limerick City to the Green Party, and their seat in Longford-Westmeath was lost to Sinn Féin, Willie Penrose had been the Labour TD here since 1992 but was not contesting this election.
Labour contested thirty-one constituencies, while eight had no Labour candidate, mainly around Cork, Limerick and Kerry but also in Donegal, Roscommon and Meath West. They were above 10% of the vote in four constituencies, Kildare South (12.5%), Wexford (12.3%), Cork East (12.1%) and Dublin Bay North (11.3%). Surprisingly, although Kildare South had the highest percentage vote for Labour in any constituency, Mark Wall did not win a seat, as independent candidate Cathal Berry did slightly better on transfers and Labour transfers ensured that Berry won the final seat at the expense of Fianna Fáil. Other solid results included Tipperary (9.6%), Louth (8.2%), Dublin Bay South (7.9%), Dublin Rathdown (7.5%) and Dublin Fingal (7.1%), although Labour did not win a seat in Dublin Bay South or Dublin Rathdown. Their vote remains focused on where they have well known TDs, rather than a specific geographical focus.
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of this election was the success of the Social Democrats. They were founded in 2015 by three TDs, two of whom were elected as independents in 2011, Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy, and Róisín Shortall who had been a Labour TD since 1992. All three were re-elected in 2016, but Donnelly left the party to join Fianna Fáil. Murphy and Shortall have been co-leaders since then.
The Social Democrats received 63,404 first preference votes, 2.9% and down 0.1% from 2016. Despite this they won twice as many seats as in 2016. As expected, Catherine Murphy topped the poll and was the first candidate elected in Kildare North, and Róisín Shortall won the second seat in Dublin North-West, rather than the first as in 2016. They also regained their seat in Wicklow, Jennifer Whitmore won the second seat, while former Social Democrat TD Stephen Donnelly held his seat for Fianna Fáil, his colleague Pat Casey lost out to the Social Democrats. They gained three new seats: Gary Gannon was elected in Dublin Central, after narrowly missing out in 2016, Cian O’Callaghan was elected in Dublin Bay North, and Holly Cairns was elected in Cork South-West, gaining the final seat from Fine Gael as a result of Sinn Féin transfers.
The Social Democrats contested twenty constituencies, with no candidates in Ulster, or Connaught apart from Galway. They also had no candidates in the rural constituencies in the middle of Ireland. Unsurprisingly, their strongest votes was in Murphy’s constituency of Kildare North (19.2%) and Shortall’s constituency of Dublin North-West (18.9%), the only other constituency in which they were above 10% was Cork South-West (10.6%). Other strong results were Wicklow (9.9%), Dublin Central (9.3%) and Dublin Bay North (8.7%) were they won seats. They also received 8.3% of the vote in Cork North-West, the only constituency without a Sinn Féin candidate, there was also no Labour candidate, they finished as the runner-up here. As with Labour, the Social Democrat vote appears to be focused on individual candidates rather than geographically.
Solidarity-People Before Profit
This group is an electoral alliance of three left wing socialist parties, People Before Profit, Solidarity (formerly the Anti-Austerity Alliance) and RISE. The alliance between Solidarity and PBP started in 2015, but both parties remain officially separate and PBP also operate in Northern Ireland where they have one MLA and five councillors. In September 2019 one of their TDs Paul Murphy founded a new party, RISE, which is also part of the alliance.
Solidarity-PBP received 57,420 first preference votes, 2.6% and down 1.3% from 2016. Five of their six outgoing TDs were re-elected. From PBP, Richard Boyd Barrett topped the poll and was the second candidate elected in Dún Laoghaire, Bríd Smith started in fourth place in Dublin South-Central but Sinn Féin transfers elected her on the second round in second place, and Gino Kenny won the final seat in Dublin Mid-West, it looked as though Kenny would lose his seat with Sinn Féin winning two, but transfers from the Green Party and independents ensured that he took the final seat at the expense of Fianna Fáil. The one Solidarity TD elected was Mick Barry in Cork North-Central, who took the final seat there, he is therefore the only Solidarity-PBP TD from outside Dublin. And Paul Murphy was the second candidate elected in Dublin South-West for RISE, Solidarity had a candidate here who was significantly behind, but her transfers ensured the election of Murphy when he initially looked vulnerable. The only Solidarity-PBP TD not re-elected was Ruth Coppinger in Dublin West, a member of Solidarity. She started in fifth place and Sinn Féin transfers put her ahead of the Green Party candidate, but on the final round Labour transfers saved the Greens and they took the final seat from Coppinger.
Solidarity-PBP contested thirty-one constituencies, with most of the uncontested constituencies located around Munster including Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Kerry, as well as Donegal, Meath West and Galway East. Their strongest percentage vote was for Boyd Barrett in Dún Laoghaire (15.5%), their other strongest results were Dublin South-Central (11.0%), Dublin West (10.0%), Dublin South-West (9.0%) Dublin Mid-West (7.9%) and Cork North-Central (7.2%), these were the six constituencies with outgoing Solidarity-PBP TDs going into this election. They were below 5% in every other constituency.
Aontú was founded in November 2018 by Peadar Tóibín, TD for Meath West since 2011, he was elected for Sinn Féin in 2011 and 2016 for Sinn Féin but he had been suspended twice over opposing changes to the law on abortion. After the Eighth Amendment and his second suspension he left Sinn Féin and established Aontú. In the 2019 local elections they failed to make a significant breakthrough north or south, in Northern Ireland they won one council seat in Derry (a second councillor from Dungannon left the SDLP to join Aontú shortly after the election), and in the south they won three council seats in Meath, Cavan and Wexford.
Aontú received 41,614 first preference votes, 1.9%. This was their first general election, but their second election overall in the south, they received 1.5% in the 2019 local election. Peadar Tóibín was the only Aontú candidate elected, he held his Meath West seat while Sinn Féin regained a seat there and Fianna Fáil lost their seat. This was Aontú’s only realistic chance of a seat, and therefore they will be delighted with maintaining a seat in the Dáil. Before this election, it was difficult not to draw comparisons with Renua, a pro-life party founded in 2015 by several Fine Gael TDs opposed to abortion, but it had a disastrous general election in 2016 not winning any seats. In this election Renua received just 5,473 votes (0.3%). Aontú achieved what Renua was unable to do, namely defend a seat in the Dáil, even if it is only because of Tóibín’s personal vote.
Aontú contested twenty-six constituencies. They did not contest more then half of the Dublin constituencies, as well as much of the middle of Ireland such as Carlow-Kilkenny, Laois-Offaly and Longford-Westmeath. Unsurprisingly their strongest vote was for Tóibín in Meath West (17.6%), there were two other constituencies with an Aontú vote of over 5%, Cork North-West (8.4%) and Cavan-Monaghan (5.3%). These results suggest that Aontú is unlikely to gain any additional seats in the Dáil, and Tóibín is likely to remain their only high-profile figure alongside several local councillors, similarly to the situation in Northern Ireland with Jim Allister and his TUV party.
Twenty independent candidates were elected across sixteen constituencies, receiving 274,950 votes. This includes the Independents 4 Change who are registered as a political party but are more of a movement with several high-profile members. Four constituencies elected two independent TDs, Galway West, Kerry, Roscommon-Galway and Tipperary. Independent candidates did particularly well in Munster and Connaght, less so in Leinster and especially Dublin.
Of the twenty independent TDs, ten were also TDs in the previous Dáil. In Kerry Michael and Danny Healy-Rae were both re-elected. In Tipperary two of the three outgoing independents Michael Lowry and Mattie McGrath were also re-elected. Michael Fitzmaurice and Denis Naughten were both re-elected in Roscommon-Galway, and Noel Grealish and Catherine Connolly were both re-elected in Galway West. Four other independent candidates defended their seats, Thomas Pringle in Donegal, Seán Canney in Galway West, Michael Collins in Cork South-West and Joan Collins in Dublin South-Central, Joan Collins is the only Independents 4 Change TD in the new Dáil. There are five constituencies which elected an independent TD unlike in 2016; in Louth Peter Fitzpatrick held his seat, having previously been a Fine Gael TD, in Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan also held her seat, after leaving Sinn Féin in opposition to their policy on abortion, Marian Harkin was elected in Sligo-Leitrim, Cathal Berry was elected in Kildare South and Richard O’Donoghue was elected in Limerick County. In contrast, four outgoing independent TDs lost their seats, There were two constituencies where an independent candidate, Shane Ross in Dublin Rathdown, Katherine Zappone in Dublin South-West, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran in Longford-Westmeath and Séamus Healy in Tipperary, apart from Healy the others were all part of the Independent Alliance and outgoing Ministers. In Clare the independent TD Michael Harty, elected in 2016, was not running again, his seat was won by independent candidate and former Labour TD Michael McNamara. Similarly, in Waterford independent TD John Hallagan stood down from the Dáil after two terms, his seat was won by another independent candidate Matt Shanahan. Four constituencies also had independent TDs in 2016 who were not running again or who had already left the Dáil, in Dublin Central Maureen O’Sullivan was not running, in Dublin Bay North Finian McGrath and Tommy Broughan were also not running again. Broughan was from the Independents 4 Change, who lost two Dáil seats after Clare Daly and Mick Wallace were elected to the European Parliament in May 2019, no independents were elected in Daly’s constituency of Dublin Fingal (though the Independents 4 Change candidate was just 188 votes behind the Labour candidate for the final seat, but in Wallace’s constituency of Wexford independent candidate Verona Murphy was elected, she has previously ran for Fine Gael in the November 2019 by-election.
The percentage vote for the successful independent candidates varies significantly across the constituencies. Clearly the strongest constituency for independents was Roscommon-Galway, where the two independent TDs received 47.2%, this was followed by Kerry in second place where the Healy-Raes received 32.8%. Other constituencies over 20% for elected independent candidates were Tipperary (29.5%), Cork South-West (26.4%), Galway West (22.3%). Notably, the lowest percentage vote for an elected independent candidate was 6.5% in Dublin South-Central, with Joan Collins narrowly taking the final seat with Sinn Féin and Solidarity-PBP transfers. Other successful independent candidates with a small percentage vote were Thomas Pringle in Donegal (7.1%), Carol Nolan in Laois-Offaly (7.8%) and Verona Murphy in Wexford (7.8%).
With the three largest parties on just over a quarter of Dáil seats each, inevitably each of them will have to turn to these smaller parties and independent TDs to try and form a cohesive government. Sinn Féin will be hoping to form a government of left-wing parties, but Sinn Féin plus Greens, Labour, Social Democrats and Solidarity-PBP only reaches sixty-six seats, still fourteen away from an overall majority. Independent TDs who are clearly on the left are Catherine Connolly, Thomas Pringle, Michael McNamara, Michael Shanahan, Joan Collins and Carol Nolan, but even with them and Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín, this is still only seventy-one. As both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have ruled out working with Sinn Féin, they will need the support of at each one other party for a coalition between them, as together they have seventy-three seats. The Green Party would bring them over the line, but they are unlikely to join a coalition after what happened to them in 2011 after a term in government. The other smaller left-wing parties are also unlikely to join. Therefore, independents would be needed to bring a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition over the line. The collapse of the Independent Alliance has removed many potential supportive independents from the Dáil, so instead they may have to reach out to former members of either parties who are now independents, such as Michael Lowry, Peter Fitzpatrick or Verona Murphy, or possibly the Healy-Raes whose re-election was the only certainty of this general election.
The 2020 general election in Ireland was always going to be a difficult one for Fine Gael, on the basis that they were seeking a third term in Government. Although they had been in power on several occasions before 2011, they always finished second in terms of votes behind Fianna Fáil. The 2011 election marked Fine Gael’s best ever result, and Enda Kenny become Taoiseach in a coalition with the Labour Party. Despite a number of losses in 2016, Fine Gael remained in power as the largest party and through a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil. Leo Varadkar became Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach in 2017. However, in this election Fine Gael has finished third overall on both votes and seats, meaning they will most likely end up in opposition.
Fine Gael received 455,584 first preference votes, 20.9% of the total vote and finishing third on overall votes behind Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. This is their lowest number of votes since 2002 and their lowest percentage vote since 1948. It is also the first time they have finished third on votes in an election, in 2011 and 2016 Fine Gael came first on votes, and second in every election up to 2007.
Thirty-five Fine Gael TDs were elected, two less then Sinn Féin and three less then Fianna Fáil (although one of those Fianna Fáil TDs was automatically returned as the Ceann Comhairle therefore they only won two more seats). This is their lowest number of TDs since 2002.
Thirty-three constituencies have a Fine Gael TD in the new Dáil. Two of these elected two Fine Gael TDs, Dublin Rathdown and Mayo. Mayo has always been a strong area for the party (in 2011 Fine Gael achieved a remarkable result when they won four of the five seats in Mayo), and Dublin Rathdown was probably the highlight of the election for Fine Gael as they gained a second seat there. However, there are six constituencies with no Fine Gael TD, Cork South-West, Dublin North-West, Dublin South-Central, Roscommon-Galway, Tipperary and Waterford. In 2011, Dublin North-West was the only constituency without a Fine Gael TD, they gained a seat there in 2016 but did not win a seat in Roscommon-Galway and Tipperary.
Fine Gael gained one seat, which was in Dublin Rathdown. Culture Minister Josepha Madigan was re-elected, while Senator Neale Richmond won a second seat for the party, with independent Transport Minister Shane Ross losing his seat. However, fifteen seats were lost. In Dublin they lost two seats in Dún Laoghaire, they had three seats there after the 2016 election but one was the Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett who was not contesting this election, Maria Bailey was also not running again having been deselected by the party. The only outgoing Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor lost her seat while Jennifer Carroll MacNeill was elected as the Fine Gael TD. Also in Dublin, Catherine Byrne lost her seat in Dublin South-Central to the Green Party, and Noel Rock lost his seat in Dublin North-West to Fianna Fáil. In Dublin Bay South Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy was re-elected but Kate O’Connell lost her seat to Sinn Féin. There were two other constituencies in which Fine Gael lost their only seat, Waterford to the Green Party and Cork South-West to the Social Democrats, in both constituencies the outgoing Fine Gael TD was not running again. There were a number of constituencies where a second Fine Gael seat was lost, including Louth where Fergus O’Dowd was re-elected but Peter Fitzpatrick (elected for Fine Gael in 2011 and 2016) held his seat as an independent, having left Fine Gael over his opposition to abortion. In Meath East Helen McEntee was elected but her fellow Minister Regina Doherty lose out to Sinn Féin. In Wicklow Health Minister Simon Harris was elected but Andrew Doyle lost out to the Green Party, and in Wexford Paul Kehoe was elected but Michael D’Arcy lost out to the independent candidate Verona Murphy, who ran for Fine Gael in the November 2018 by-election. In Laois-Offaly Charlie Flanagan was elected but Marcella Corcoran Kennedy lost to independent former Sinn Féin TD Carol Nolan, and in Carlow-Kilkenny John Paul Phelan was elected by Pat Deering lost out to the Green Party. In Galway West Hildegarde Naugton was elected and Seán Kyne lost to Sinn Féin, in Clare Joe Carey was elected while Pat Breen lost to Sinn Féin, and in Limerick County Patrick O’Donovan was elected and Tom Neville lost to the independent candidate Richard O’Donoghue.
Looking at percentage votes, the constituency with the highest Fine Gael vote was 39.5% in Mayo. Other constituencies with a Fine Gael percentage vote over 30% were Dún Laoghaire (33.4%), Cork North-West (33.2%), Limerick County (32.6%) and Dublin Rathdown (31.2%). Fine Gael returned one TD in each of these constituencies apart from Dublin Rathdown where they gained a second seat. There was no clear geographical pattern to Fine Gael’s support unlike Fianna Fáil, for example in Connaught and Ulster they polled very well in Mayo, Galway East (29.0%) and Cavan-Monaghan (26.6%), but comparatively disappointing in Donegal and Roscommon-Galway. In Munster, excellent results in Limerick City and County and also Cork North-West were contrasted with disappointing results in Tipperary and Waterford. And in Leinster there was a very strong Fine Gael result in Meath and Wicklow, but their vote was down in Kildare and Wexford. Finally in Dublin, Fine Gael remain very strong in South Dublin, particularly Dublin Bay South, Rathdown and Dún Laoghaire. They did well in north and central Dublin too, but their two lowest results in North-West and South-Central cost them two seats in the capital.
This was a difficult election for Fine Gael, and it probably wasn’t surprising that after nearly a decade in office that finishing as the largest party would be extremely challenging. The surge in support for Sinn Féin has further complicated matters, and while Sinn Féin took some seats from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, it was their transfers to smaller left-wing parties like the Green Party and Social Democrats that really cost Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Having said that, there were some positive results for Fine Gael, particularly the strong result in Dublin Rathdown and Neale Richmond gaining a second seat there. There were also very good results for other candidates such as Colm Burke in Cork North-Central and Frank Feighan in Sligo-Leitrim, many had predicted that Fine Gael would lose their seat in both constituencies but both Burke and Feighan defended those seats. There are a number of important questions for Fine Gael to decide in the next few weeks. It looks certain that Fine Gael will go to opposition now, but would they support a minority Fianna Fáil Government rather then let Sinn Féin into power? Will Leo Varadkar remain leader, and if not who could become the new Fine Gael leader? It will certainly be worth watching Irish politics closely over the next few weeks to find out.
The 2020 general election in Ireland was widely believed to be the moment in which Fianna Fáil would return to power. They have been in opposition since 2011, the longest ever time in opposition for the party, although they have supported the Fine Gael Government through a confidence and supply arrangement since 2016. From 1932 to 2011, Fianna Fáil was in power for sixty-two years, so clearly the majority of that nearly eighty year period. However, after an inconclusive election result in which they have finished with narrowly the most seats, there is no obvious route for Micheál Martin to follow all of the previous Fianna Fáil leaders into the office of Taoiseach.
Fianna Fáil received 484,320 first preference votes in the general election, 22.2% of the total vote and finishing second on overall votes behind Sinn Féin. This is the second lowest number of votes that Fianna Fáil has received since 1932, the only lower vote in the last ninety years was the devastating election of 2011 in which they received 387,358 votes (17.5%).
Thirty-seven Fianna Fáil TDs were elected, the same number as Sinn Féin, their second lowest number ever after 2011, which was only twenty. Although they technically will have thirty-eight TDs as the outgoing Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl was automatically returned as a TD for Kildare North, which was coincidentially one of the few constituencies which did not return a Fianna Fáil TD. This also happened in 2011 when Séamus Kirk was the outgoing Ceann Comhairle and was therefore returned as a TD for Louth, while his party narrowly missed out on a seat in Louth.
There are thirty-two constituencies which will have a Fianna Fáil TD in the new Dáil. Of these, six elected two Fianna Fáil TDs, Carlow-Kilkenny, Cavan-Monaghan, Cork North-West, Cork South-Central, Laois-Offaly and Longford-Westmeath. This suggests that Fianna Fáil remains strong in rural areas, particularly in the mid and mid-west of Ireland, as has traditionally been the case. County Cork also remains a strong area for them too. On the other hand, there were seven constituencies with no Fianna Fáil TD, Dublin Central, Dublin Mid-West, Dublin Rathdown, Dublin South-Central, Louth, Meath West and Roscommon-Galway.
Fianna Fáil gained three seats. In Dublin North-West Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe gained a seat from Fine Gael’s Noel Rock, back in 2016 McAuliffe had started ahead but Rock pulled ahead on the final round on the basis of Labour transfers. This time McAuliffe had a more decisive lead, and had to rely on Rock’s transfers to stop Solidarity-PBP from taking the final seat. Also in Dún Laoghaire Cormac Devlin gained a seat from Fine Gael’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor, he did marginally better on Sinn Féin transfers to win the first seat here for Fianna Fáil in nearly ten years, whereas in 2016 the party had nearly a quota but failed to gain a seat due to poor balancing. Finally, in Longford-Westmeath Fianna Fáil won a second seat, Joe Flaherty was elected alongside Robert Troy, while the independent Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran lost out. However, Fianna Fáil also lost nine seats. In Dublin Mid-West John Curran lost out to the Sinn Féin surge, as they won two seats and their transfers saved the Solidarity-PBP candidate Gino Kenny in the later rounds. Fianna Fáil were also targeting gains for Mary Fitzpatrick in Dublin Central, Catherine Ardagh in Dublin South-Central and Shay Brennan in Dublin Rathdown, all three narrowly lost out on seats in a disappointing result for Fianna Fáil in the capital. There were several Fianna Fáil losses in the north-west, in Donegal Charlie McConalogue was elected but Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher lost out to Sinn Féin; in Sligo-Leitrim Marc MacSharry held his seat but Eamon Scanlon lost to the independent candidate Marian Harkin; in Mayo deputy leader Dara Calleary was elected but Lisa Chambers lost to Sinn Féin; and most surprisingly in Roscommon-Galway Eugene Murphy lost his seat to Sinn Féin. Other losses for Fianna Fáil in the east included Declan Breathnach in Louth to Labour, Shane Cassells in Meath West to Aontú, Frank O’Rourke lost in Kildare North to Sinn Féin and Fiona O’Loughlin in Kildare South to Sinn Féin and an independent candidate. Also, some Fianna Fáil TDs lost out to party colleagues, including Timmy Dooley in Clare to Cathal Crowe, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony in Cork South-West to Christopher O’Sullivan and John Brassil in Kerry to Norma Foley. In Wicklow Stephen Donnelly was the only Fianna Fáil TD returned, he had been elected for the Social Democrats in 2016 while the successful Fianna Fáil candidate in 2016 Pat Casey lost his seat. And in Wexford the successful 2016 candidate James Browne was re-elected, but Malcolm Byrne lost the seat he had won in the November 2018 by-election.
In terms of percentage votes, there were not any constituencies with a Fianna Fáil vote of over 40%. Their highest percentage result was 39.5% in Cork North-West, the only constituency without a Sinn Féin candidate. Also above 30% were Carlow-Kilkenny (37.3%), Clare (36.1%), Cork South-Central (35.5%) and Longford-Westmeath (30.2%), Fianna Fáil returned two TDs in each of these constituencies apart from Clare. Fianna Fáil was above 20% in every constituency across Connaght and Ulster, apart from Roscommon-Galway where they lost a seat to Sinn Féin. In Munster they also had more then 20% in every constituency apart from Tipperary and Waterford. In contrast, it was a more disappointing result in Leinster, particularly in Louth were they lost a seat on 13.7%, and Wicklow where they held one seat on 14.0%. Notably, Fianna Fáil was on less then 20% in every Dublin constituency apart from Dublin Fingal (24.9%). This contributed to the party losing out in several target seats in Dublin, such as Central, South-Central and Rathdown, although it did not stop them gaining seats in North-West and Dún Laoghaire.
This was undoubtedly a disappointing election for Fianna Fáil, and not what most of us were expecting. It could be that their vote has been negatively impacted by supporting the Fine Gael led Government since 2016, or that voters have still not forgotten the 2008 financial crash and Fianna Fáil’s subsequent decisions in the lead up to 2011. However, it does appear that the Sinn Féin surge has cost them support, votes and therefore seats, particularly in Roscommon-Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Meath West and Louth. The party did reasonably well in some straight contests with Fine Gael, such as Dublin North-West and Dún Laoghaire, though in others Fine Gael proved to be more resilient such as Dublin Rathdown and Sligo-Leitrim. Now the choice for Micheál Martin is to consider whether to approach Fine Gael or Sinn Féin for some sort of arrangement. Fianna Fáil would clearly be ideologically closer to Fine Gael, but the historic rivalry between could persuade Martin to instead work with Sinn Féin (which would have interesting implications for the Fianna Fáil/SDLP partnership). But support would also be required from smaller parties or independents to reach the key number of eighty seats). Will Martin become the first Fianna Fáil leader not to serve as Taoiseach? We will find out in the next few weeks.
The most significant aspect of the 2020 Ireland general election was the unprecedented success of Sinn Féin. They won thirty-seven seats in Dáil Éireann, the most amount of seats for any party alongside Fianna Fáil (although Fianna Fáil technically have thirty-eight seats, one of whom is the Ceann Comhairle who is automatically elected), and they received more votes then any other party. For the first time in one hundred years, Sinn Féin have a very likely chance of becoming a party of government in the south, although they are still not close to the eighty seats required to form a government.
Sinn Féin received 535,595 first preference votes in the general election, 24.5% of the total vote and more than any other party. This is the largest number of votes that Sinn Féin has ever received in a general election, higher than the 497,107 votes in 1918, although the 1918 result was a significantly higher percentage at 46.9%.
Sinn Féin’s support has increased substantially since the party began to contest elections north and south in 1982. Their first Dáil election for the modern party was in November 1982, and since then their vote has gone from a few thousand to over half a million.
Sinn Féin abandoned their absententionist position towards the Dáil in 1986, but they would not gain a seat there until 1997, with Caomhghín Ó Caoláin (who left the Dáil in this election) winning a seat in Cavan-Monaghan. But they quickly gained more seats and have done particularly well since 2011.
Thirty-seven Sinn Féin TDs were elected, their largest ever number in a STV Dáil election. There were four constituencies in which Sinn Féin ran two candidates and both were elected: Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin Mid-West, Donegal and Louth. There are only six constituencies with no Sinn Féin TD, Cork North-West (where there was no Sinn Féin candidate), Cork South-West, Dublin Rathdown, Dún Laoghaire, Galway East and Limerick County.
Sinn Féin’s highest percentage vote was in Donegal, where their two candidates received 45.1% of the vote. Also over 40% was Dublin North-West (44.4%) Dublin Mid-West (42.8%) and Louth (42.0%). And the constituencies with a Sinn Féin vote of over 30% were Dublin South-Central (39.3%), Waterford (38.3%) Cavan-Monaghan (36.7%), Dublin Central (35.7%) and Meath West (30.5%). Had Sinn Féin ran additional candidates in all of these constituencies, they probably would have finished with 42 seats rather than 37. The only constituency in which Sinn Féin did not reach 10% of the vote was Dún Laoghaire, with 9.6%.
Of the thirty-seven Sinn Féin candidates elected, twenty-six topped the poll in their respective constituencies and twenty-five were elected on the first count, three of those twenty-six poll toppers had to wait until a later count to be elected while in Donegal and Louth two Sinn Féin candidates were elected on the first count. In Mayo and Kerry the Sinn Féin candidate was elected on the first count, but in second place behind Fine Gael’s Michael Ring and Michael Healy-Rae respectively.
The scale of the surplus vote of some Sinn Féin candidates was such that they could have ran and elected significantly more candidates. However, these surplus votes nonetheless had an important impact of a number of constituencies, helping to elect candidates from smaller left-wing parties and often stopping Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil from gaining or defending seats. It is therefore worth looking at some of the Sinn Féin surplus votes and which parties they went to in the absence of a Sinn Féin running-mate.
In Dublin South-Central, the majority of Aengus Ó Snodaigh’s surplus votes elected Solidarity-PBP candidate Brid Smith on the second count, her vote more than doubled on that basis. Independents 4 Change candidate Joan Collins also held her seat partially due to Sinn Féin transfers, moving from sixth to fourth place, while Green candidate Patrick Costello was also elected. This means that all four TDs in Dublin South-Central are left-wing, with Fine Gael losing their seat to the Greens and Fianna Fáil failing to gain a target seat.
In Dublin South-West Séan Crowe had nearly two quotas, the main beneficiary of his surplus vote was Solidarity-PBP candidate Paul Murphy, who nearly doubled his vote from Sinn Féin transfers and took the second seat. The Social Democrats and Greens both did well on transfers from Sinn Féin, with the Greens taking a seat here from the independent Minister Katherine Zappone.
In Dublin North-West Dessie Ellis had a huge 44.4% of the vote, his surplus tripled the Solidarity-PBP vote, making them unexpectedly competitive for the third and final seat. Although Fianna Fáil managed to gain the final seat from Fine Gael as expected, Solidarity-PBP came very close as the runner up.
In Dublin Bay North Denise Mitchell had the largest vote of any candidate in the election, 21,344 votes. As elsewhere, Solidarity-PBP received the most surplus votes from Sinn Féin, and the Independent Left candidate John Lyons doubled his vote on Sinn Féin transfers.
In Dublin Central Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald topped the poll with nearly two quotas. The main beneficiary of her surplus vote was independent former Sinn Féin member Christy Burke, who was the runner up. While Solidarity-PBP received more Sinn Féin transfers then any other party, it was the Greens and Social Democrats who gained seats here, while Fine Gael also held a seat and Fianna Fáil lost out on another target seat in Dublin.
Moving away from Dublin, in Waterford David Cullinane had nearly two quotas. His surplus vote helped the independent candidate Matt Shanahan gain a seat, while the Greens also took the final seat here at the expense of Fine Gael. This is one constituency in which Fianna Fáil did surprisingly well on Sinn Féin transfers.
In Louth Imelda Munster and Ruairí Ó Murchú were both elected on the first count. Munster took a seat from Labour’s Ged Nash in 2016, this time more then 1,000 of her nearly 6,000 surplus votes helped Nash regain his seat from Fianna Fáil. The Greens also did well on Sinn Féin transfers, as did independent former Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick who held his seat.
Finally, in Donegal Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn were both elected on the first count, and Doherty’s surplus of 8,000 votes helped independent candidate Thomas Pringle defend his seat. Pringle was widely expected to lose his seat to Sinn Féin, although he started in sixth place Sinn Féin transfers brought him ahead and he finished third, while Fianna Fáil lost one of their two seats.
Sinn Féin transfers also had a significant impact in constituencies where they did not win a seat. For example, in Cork South-West Sinn Féin’s Paul Hayes was excluded on the penultimate count, his transfers ensured that the final seat went to Holly Cairns from the Social Democrats, rather than Fine Gael candidate Tim Lombard. On the other hand, Sinn Féin transfers in Dublin Rathdown were not enough for Fianna Fáil to gain a seat, instead Fine Gael gained a second seat from independent Shane Ross as both Neale Richmond and Josepha Madigan were elected.
This election is unprecedented in terms of the extent of Sinn Féin transfers available. In Northern Ireland we are used to Sinn Féin being one of the major parties, and therefore their transfers have always been significant. Generally in Northern Ireland elections, Sinn Féin transfers will go to their colleagues, and if there are no other Sinn Féin candidates then they will go mostly to the SDLP. The clear result of this election in the south is that Sinn Féin voters overwhelmingly transfer to other left-wing parties, primarily Solidarity-PBP but also the Greens and Social Democrats. Labour did not receive as many Sinn Féin transfers, probably because of their relatively recent time in Government with Fine Gael, but there were some Labour candidates such as Ged Nash who did well on Sinn Féin transfers. Fianna Fáil mostly received more Sinn Féin transfers then Fine Gael, but again there were some exceptions such as Louth.
This is Sinn Féin’s best election in the south of Ireland since 1918, and the largest representation they have had in the modern Dáil Éireann. However, there is no clear path to power or for Mary Lou McDonald to become the first female Taoiseach. Neither Sinn Féin and Fine Gael or Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil reaches the key number of eighty, and both of those parties are reluctant to work with Sinn Féin anyway. The combined seat number for Sinn Féin, Greens, Labour, Social Democrats and Solidarity-PBP (all the parties clearly on the left) is only sixty-six, so they would need at least fourteen of the twenty independents, or thirteen if they can also gain the support of Aontú’s one TD. It is difficult to see how Sinn Féin can lead a Government on these figures but it is not impossible.
On 31st January at 23:00, Northern Ireland and the UK will unfortunately be leaving the European Union. One important aspect of the UK’s membership of the EU has been Northern Ireland’s three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who have been elected every five years from 1979. This consistency of elections has resulted in some interesting results, especially as Northern Ireland is a single constituency for European elections, with the election conducted by Single Transferable Vote (STV) as is used for local and Assembly elections.
Nine people have represented Northern Ireland in the European Parliament over the last forty years:
John Taylor (UUP): 1979-1989
Ian Paisley (DUP): 1979-2004
John Hume (SDLP): 1979-2004
Jim Nicholson (UUP): 1989-2019
Jim Allister (DUP/TUV): 2004-2009
Bairbre de Brún (Sinn Féin): 2004-2012
Diane Dodds (DUP): 2009-2020
Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin): 2012-2020
Naomi Long (Alliance): 2019-2020
Five of the nine MEPs were also elected to the House of Commons: Paisley was North Antrim MP 1970-2010, Taylor was Strangford MP 1983-2001, Hume was Foyle MP 1983-2005, Nicholson was Newry and Armagh MP 1983-1986 and Long was East Belfast MP 2010-2015. Paisley and Taylor were also appointed of the House of Lords, as Lord Bannside and Lord Kilclooney respectively. Paisley, Hume and Taylor were elected to the old Northern Ireland Parliament before its abolition in 1972, all three were also elected to the 1982 Assembly alongside Nicholson. Eight out of nine MEPs have also served in the Northern Ireland Assembly since 1998, apart from Nicholson.
In the European Parliament, most MEPs sit as part of a political group based on their ideological beliefs, and most of Northern Ireland MEPs have joined one of those groups. The three DUP MEPs never joined a group, and they sit as non-attached members. The UUP generally followed the Conservatives, for example both initially sat with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), but in 2009 both parties helped to established the more Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). However, in the 1980s John Taylor joined the far-right Group of the European Right, chaired by National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Sinn Féin sits with the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, which includes a number of socialist and communist parties, mostly Eurosceptic. The SDLP sat with the Party of European Socialists, which also includes the British and Irish Labour parties. And Alliance is a member of Renew Europe (formerly the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) as is the Liberal Democrats.
Every European election in Northern Ireland from 1979 to 1999 resulted in the election of 1 DUP, 1 SDLP and 1 UUP MEP. From 2004 to 2014 the result was 1 DUP, 1 Sinn Féin and 1 UUP. And in the most recent election in 2019, 1 DUP, 1 Sinn Féin and 1 Alliance MEPs were elected.
The DUP is the only party which consistently returned an MEP across every election from 1979 to 2019. However, they did not have consistent representation in the European Parliament during this time, because Jim Allister resigned from the DUP in 2007 and sat instead for the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) until losing his seat to Diane Dodds in 2009. Ian Paisley contested the five elections from 1979 to 1999, topping the poll each time and elected over the quota. His 230,251 votes in 1984 (33.60%) remains the highest vote ever received by a candidate in Northern Ireland. Jim Allister achieved the second highest percentage vote when he succeeded Paisley in 2004 (32.00%), but his decision to leave the DUP had a significant impact on their 2009 vote. Diane Dodds started in second place with 18.23%, but TUV transfers brought the UUP ahead and Dodds therefore was elected to the third and final seat just over 18,294 votes ahead of the SDLP. Her vote increased in 2014 and this time Dodds won the second seat, while in 2019 Dodds started in second place behind Sinn Féin, but she won the first seat after the elimination of the UUP.
The UUP held a seat in the European Parliament from 1979 until 2019. In the 1979 election they ran two candidates, John Taylor and Harry West; Taylor started 11,201 votes ahead and won the third seat while West finished in fifth behind independent unionist James Kilfedder. Taylor took the second seat in 1984 on DUP transfers, but he did not run in 1989. Instead Jim Nicholson was elected, taking the third seat in 1989, 1994, 1999 and 2004. 2009 was the only time in which the UUP was elected ahead of the DUP, Nicholson received more TUV transfers than the DUP, ultimately taking the second seat. In 2014 Nicholson started just 1,844 votes ahead of the SDLP, and later in the count Alliance transfers brought the SDLP ahead. But TUV and DUP transfers ensured that Nicholson won the last seat by 42,938.38 votes. Nicholson did not contest the 2019 election, instead former MLA and Minister Danny Kennedy was their candidate. This election was devastating for the UUP, Kennedy started in sixth place and was eliminated on the second round, their seat went to Alliance.
The SDLP had a seat in the European Parliament from 1979 to 2004. John Hume won the second seat in every election from 1979 to 1999, apart from 1984 when he finished third. His strongest result was 28.93% in 1994, followed by 28.10% in 1999. But when Hume retired in 2004, the SDLP’s European seat went to Sinn Féin, Martin Morgan received 15.94% of the vote, nearly half of Hume’s 1999 vote. Alban Maginness and Alex Attwood both came relatively close to taking back an SDLP seat from the UUP in 2009 and 2014 respectively, and in 2019 the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood ran a strong campaign focused on returning a second pro-remain MEP for Northern Ireland, however it was a disappointing result for them as he started in fourth place behind Alliance, and UUP and DUP transfers unexpectedly brought the TUV ahead of Eastwood and he was eliminated on the penultimate round, with SDLP transfers electing Alliance and Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin did not contest the 1979 election, as they did not get involved with electoral politics in Northern Ireland until after the 1981 hunger strikes. Danny Morrison represented the party in 1984 and 1989, finishing fourth in both elections, while in 1994 there were three Sinn Féin candidates who finished fifth, sixth and seventh behind Alliance. In 1999 Mitchel McLaughlin started just 1,864 votes behind the UUP, but the UUP margin of victory after transfers was a more decisive lead of 65,404.66 votes. It was in 2004 that Sinn Féin finally won a European seat in Northern Ireland, Bairbre de Brún added nearly 10% to their 1999 vote to take a seat from the SDLP. De Brún was the second candidate elected after the DUP in 2004, but in 2009 she topped the poll. Martina Anderson succeeded de Brún in 2012, and she was elected over quota in 2014, however in 2019 a 3% decrease in the Sinn Féin vote meant that Anderson had to wait until the end to be elected. Although Anderson did top the poll in 2019, she finished in third place behind the DUP and Alliance on transfers.
Alliance contested all of the European elections apart from 2004, on that occasion they supported the independent candidate John Gilliland, a former President of the Ulster Farmers Union who also had the support of Labour, Conservatives and the Workers’ Party. Then leader Oliver Napier ran in 1979 and started in fifth place with 6.82%, subsequent elections saw a small decline for David Cook in 1984, a slight increase for leader John Alderdice in 1994 and a small decrease for Mary Clark-Glass in 1994. 1999 was Alliance’s lowest result for new leader Seán Neeson, and as mentioned there was no Alliance candidate in 2004. Ian Parsley had a good result in 2009, receiving 5.51%, and in 2014 Anna Lo achieved what was then Alliance’s best European result with 7.10%. But it was in 2019 that Alliance achieved a historic breakthrough, current leader Naomi Long started in third place with 105,928 votes (18.50%) and after transfers finished second ahead of Sinn Féin with 170,370 votes. This is Alliance’s best ever percentage vote, and for a while was their largest number of votes ever, until the December 2019 general election in which Alliance received 134,115 votes. As a consequence of Long’s election to the European Parliament, Alliance will have been represented in the European Parliament for 250 days (27th May until 31st January), and following the election of Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry to the House of Commons on 13th December, there were 50 days in which Alliance was simultaneously represented across the four levels of government, local councils, the Assembly, UK Parliament and the European Parliament.
There are a number of other interesting facts relating to European elections in Northern Ireland. 1994 had the largest number of candidates at 17, this included 3 from Sinn Féin and a number of independents, and also 3 from the Natural Law Party, which contented most constituencies in the 1998 Assembly election and finished in last place in most of them. 1979 was the second most competitive with 13, this included prominent independents such as James Kilfedder, then MP for North Down and later leader of the Ulster Popular Unionist Party (he was the runner up in this election), Bernadette McAliskey, the former MP for Mid Ulster and one of the youngest MPs ever, and David Bleakley, a long-standing representative of the old Labour party, who was elected in East Belfast in the 1973 and 1975 Assembly elections. The least competitive elections were 2004 and 2009, with seven candidates each. In addition to the DUP, Sinn Féin, UUP and SDLP, the remaining three candidates in 2004 were from the Greens, Socialist Environmental (Eamonn McCann) and the independent candidate John Gilliland, who as mentioned earlier had the support of Alliance and other parties. While in 2009, Alliance, Greens and TUV were the other three parties.
One notable aspects in Northern Ireland’s nine European elections is the differing turnouts:
1984 is clearly the election with the highest turnout, at 65.42%. This was the election in which Ian Paisley achieved the largest ever vote for a Northern Ireland election candidate (230,251), a record which will probably never be surpassed as there are no other elections in which Northern Ireland is a single constituency apart from European ones. It was also the only election in which the first and second seats went to unionists, normally from 1979 to 1999 Ian Paisley was elected first, John Hume second and the UUP candidate third. In 1984 Paisley took the first seat and John Taylor took the second, with Hume elected third but still decisively.
In contrast, the lowest turnout in 2009 (42.81%) was the election in which the DUP finished third for the only time, they took the first seat in every European election up to 2004, the second seat in 2014 and the first in 2019. Surprisingly, the most recent election in 2019 had the second lowest turnout (45.14%), despite the significance of Brexit and the importance of electing a pro- or anti-Brexit majority depending on individual political views. Arguably European elections before 2014 were predictable in that two unionists and one nationalist were certain, but the added element of Brexit and the surge in support for cross-community and anti-sectarian parties (as highlighted in the 2019 local election three weeks before) contributed to the election of the first Alliance MEP in May 2019.
European elections provide a unique insight into Northern Ireland politics. They gave an opportunity for politicians and political parties to test their popularity across the entire country, as opposed to local, Assembly and Westminster elections where local factors and individual personalities are also very important. Northern Ireland was originally given three MEPs rather then two because of the intention to see both unionists and nationalists elected. This created an extremely predictable series of results, two unionists and one nationalist from 1999 to 2014, with the DUP and UUP consistently winning a seat and the only change being Sinn Féin’s gain from the SDLP in 2004. But the 2019 election result gave us one of the most significant elections in the recent history of Northern Ireland, with Alliance gaining a seat from the UUP, making our European representation one unionist, one nationalist and one cross-community. Future European elections would have been fascinating, with Alliance the favourite to defend their seat but facing a potential challenge from the SDLP, UUP or even TUV. But because of the disaster that is Brexit, 2019 will be the last European election for Northern Ireland, at least in the short term.
The previous parliamentary term has seen the DUP with an unprecedented influence in the House of Commons and therefore in politics across the UK. This was because the Conservatives were several seats short of a majority following the 2017 election, so Theresa May turned to the DUP for help, resulting in a confidence and supply agreement between them. However, the DUP’s influence did not prevent the negotiation of a Withdrawal Agreement by May that they strongly opposed, and subsequently Boris Johnson’s amendments were also opposed by the DUP, which arguably resulted in this election.
In 2017 the DUP had their greatest ever result, winning ten seats on 36.0% of the vote, they were just 1,208 votes away from gaining an eleventh seat in North Down. That election came just after a very disappointing Assembly election for the DUP in which they lost ten seats, from 38 MLAs to 28, while Sinn Féin was one seat behind on 27. Because of this, the general election provided an opportunity for the DUP to regain ground and because of the unique arithmetic in the House of Commons, the DUP had a stronger influence then ever before.
In this election the DUP received 244,127 votes, 30.6% of the percentage vote. They remain the largest party in Northern Ireland and decisively the largest unionist party. However, this is a 5.4% decrease from 2017, the DUP has lost nearly a sixth of their 2017 vote. They held eight seats, losing two seats in North Belfast and South Belfast.
The DUP constituency with the largest DUP majority remains North Antrim, where Ian Paisley Jr was re-elected with 20,860 votes (47.4%), this is an 11.5% decrease from 2017. His majority is 12,721, which is significantly less then last time, it is likely that the DUP has lost support to the UUP who were up 11.3% and Alliance who were up 8.5%. In neighbouring East Londonderry, Gregory Campbell regained this seat with 15,765 votes (40.1%), down 8.0% from 2017. Interestingly, Campbell’s majority of 9,607 is the largest majority in this constituency since 1992 (the DUP has held this seat since 2001). The reason for this is that Sinn Féin’s vote was down 10.9%, they came second last time but they were narrowly out-polled by the SDLP who finished second. In Upper Bann Carla Lockhart was elected as the new DUP MP, succeeding David Simpson who held this seat since 2005. Lockhart received 20,501 votes (41.0%), her majority of 8,210 was the largest majority here since 1997 when David Trimble was the MP. Like East Londonderry, this is because the Sinn Féin vote was also down by a slightly larger amount, 3.4%, and the UUP were down 3.0%, they were hoping to regain this seat but they finished in fourth behind Alliance. Although David Simpson’s vote in 2017 was slightly larger then this time, hence the 2.5% decrease for the DUP in Upper Bann.
There were three other seats in which the DUP held their seats as expected but with a much smaller majority. Jim Shannon was elected in Strangford with 17,705 votes, 47.2%. However, the DUP vote in Strangford was down 14.8%, and Shannon’s majority is 7,071 votes, down from 18,343 in 2017. The reason for this is a significant increase in the Alliance vote, Kellie Armstrong had 10,634 votes, a 13.7% increase to 28.4%. In Lagan Valley Sir Jeffrey Donaldson retained this seat, remaining the longest serving of Northern Ireland’s current MPs, with 19,586 votes, 43.1%. A significant decrease of 16.5%, and Donaldson’s majority is 6,499, much less then 19,229 in 2017. Alliance candidate Sorcha Eastwood substantially increased the Alliance vote to 13,087 votes, a 17.7% increase to 28.8%. And in East Antrim Sammy Wilson was elected with 16,871 votes, 45.3%, which was a 12.0% decrease from 2017. The DUP majority in East Antrim is 6,616 which is much less then 15,923 in 2017, while Danny Donnelly gained 10,165 votes for Alliance, a 11.7% increase to 27.3%. With the UUP polling in third place in these constituencies, it appears that the DUP has lost a lot of support to Alliance in East Antrim, Lagan Valley and Strangford, making these seats potentially marginal in the future rather then ultra-safe DUP seats.
There were two other DUP seats won by a quite narrow margin. Paul Girvan was elected in South Antrim, having first won this seat in 2017, William McCrea held this seat from 2000 to 2001 and from 2010 to 2015. Girvan received 15,149 votes, 35.3% which was 3.0% down from 2017. His majority was 2,689 votes ahead of former UUP MP Danny Kinahan, whose vote was down 1.8%, in third place was Alliance MLA John Blair whose vote was up 11.6%. This was a narrower victory for Girvan then 2017 when he had a majority of 3,208, making South Antrim an intriguing constituency for future elections. The other constituency to elect a DUP seat was East Belfast, Gavin Robinson received 20,874 votes, 49.2% and a 6.6% decrease from 2017. Robinson’s majority is 1,819, with Alliance leader Naomi Long very close behind on 19,055 votes and 44.9%, up 8.2% from 2017. It was a much larger DUP victory in 2017, a majority of 8,474, but this result confirms that East Belfast is a very marginal seat between the DUP and Alliance.
The DUP lost two seats. Their deputy leader Nigel Dodds lost in North Belfast to John Finucane from Sinn Féin. Dodds received 21,135 votes, 43.1% and 3.1% down from 2017, but Finucane won by a majority of 1,943 votes and a 5.4% increase in his vote, Nuala McAllister also increased the Alliance vote by 4.4%. Dodds had benefitted from the absence of other unionist candidates, as in 2015 and 2017, but this time the SDLP and Green Party had stood aside which undoubtedly helped Finucane to win. The DUP had previously held North Belfast from 1979 to 1983 and 2001 to 2019, however until now this seat had always been held by unionists. The other DUP seat lost was South Belfast, Emma Little Pengelly won this seat for the DUP (their first time ever) in 2017, but this time it was a decisive victory for Claire Hanna from the SDLP. Little Pengelly received 11,678 votes, 24.7% which was a 5.7% decrease from 2017. Hanna’s majority was a huge 15,401 votes over the DUP, making it very difficult to see the DUP regaining this seat for a long time.
The key target seat for the DUP was North Down, it was expected that Lady Sylvia Hermon would hold this seat for as long as she wanted, but in 2017 Alex Easton was just 1,208 votes behind. Therefore, with Lady Hermon retiring some expected Easton to easily gain this seat. This was not the case, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry won this seat with 18,358 votes, 45.2% and a huge increase of 35.9% from 2017. Easton received 15,390 votes, 37.9% which was very slightly down by 0.1% from 2017. It appears that most of Lady Hermon’s 16,148 voters in 2017 backed Alliance this time, especially considering that the UUP were in distant third with 12.1%. This was therefore a very disappointing election for the DUP, as in 2005 and 2017 North Down was their one key target that they have failed to gain, and a historic victory for Alliance, winning the North Down Westminster seat for the first time.
Looking at the remaining DUP seats, their vote was down but not by as a significant amount as other constituencies. In Newry and Armagh William Irwin came second with 11,000 votes, 21.7% and a 2.9% decrease from 2017. In Mid Ulster Keith Buchanan also came second with 10,936 votes, 24.5% and down 2.4% from 2017. West Tyrone also saw the DUP finish in second place with 9,066 votes, 22.0% and a 4.9% decrease from 2017. The DUP came in third place in South Down, Glyn Hanna received 7,619 votes, 15.3% and down 2.1%, they have lost some support to the UUP whose vote was up 2.7% but the Alliance vote was up 10.3%, Patrick Brown was 703 votes behind Hanna. In Foyle Gary Middleton also came in third place with 4,773 votes, 10.1% and a 6.0% decrease from 2017, it appears that some of the DUP support has gone to the SDLP, as well as some to the UUP who didn’t contest Foyle in 2017. Finally, in West Belfast Frank McCoubrey received 5,220 votes, 13.5% and up 0.1%, therefore making this the only constituency in which the DUP vote was up, which is interesting as this is the only constituency which doesn’t have a DUP MLA.
In a snap Assembly election, the DUP will be hoping to gain some of the ten seats lost in 2017 with the reduction of Assembly seats from 108 to 90. They received 28.1% of the vote in the 2017 Assembly election, less then 30.6% in this election. Therefore, they are unlikely to lose a significant number of seats. The key constituency to watch is Strangford, the only one which has three DUP MLAs, it looks likely that third DUP seat could be lost unless there is a large increase in their vote. Foyle looks vulnerable as well, there was always a safe unionist seat in a six-seat constituency but with five seats it will be much more difficult to hold. South Down could also be interesting, depending on whether or not Jim Wells is the candidate. On the other hand, West Belfast could be a possibility if the DUP is on 15% or close to it as that would be nearly a quota. And finally North Down will be intriguing, the DUP have two MLAs there but following Alliance’s victory in this election this could be closer then expected.
Looking also at a future local election, there are some areas in which the DUP would be hoping to gain seats on a vote like this, and also some areas where the DUP could be worried about losing seats. They narrowly missed out on a second seat in Oldpark and Castlereagh South because of poor balancing in May, but it will be a challenge for them to regain these seats. Also worth watching are DEAs west of the Bann where the DEA will target gains from the UUP, such as Cusher, Armagh, Cookstown, Torrent, Derg, Mid Tyrone and Erne West, these are all possible but my no means guaranteed. Slieve Croob could be one to watch, the UUP surprisingly gained this seat from the DUP in May.
This was unquestionably a disappointing result for the DUP. Losing South Belfast was expected by most, but the party was probably hoping to gain North Down and hold their other seats to finish with ten as they had started. Instead Alliance won in North Down, and the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds lost his seat in North Belfast. East Belfast and South Antrim were held but only narrowly, while East Antrim, Strangford and Lagan Valley are no longer the ultra-safe DUP seats they were in 2017, the Alliance surge makes them much more competitive. North Antrim, East Londonderry and Upper Bann were the only decisive DUP victories. Having said that, their result in this election was higher then the Assembly election, so they probably aren’t set for a significant loss of MLAs, but local and Assembly elections will nonetheless be a challenge because of the wider range of parties running in each constituency.
Sinn Féin has had a mixed year so far in 2019. The local council election in May saw them gain eleven seats and lose eleven seats, to finish with 105 councillors, as was the case in 2014. And they held their Northern Ireland seat in the European Parliament, topping the poll on first preferences but surprisingly finishing in third place behind the DUP and Alliance. In the south things were much more difficult, they lost nearly half of their council seats and two of their three MEPs. However, an impressive result for Sinn Féin was in the Dublin Mid-West by-election, in which they won a seat in the Dáil at the expense of Fine Gael. And we also saw John O’Dowd unsuccessfully challenge Michelle O’Neill for the position of Sinn Féin’s Vice President.
This election was a disappointing one for Sinn Féin, especially when it comes to their votes. They received 181,853 votes (22.8%), which leaves them as again the second largest party behind the DUP and the largest nationalist party. But their vote was down 6.7% from the 2017 general election, the largest decrease for any Northern Ireland party in this election, nearly a quarter of their vote in 2017 was lost. Despite this significant vote decline, Sinn Féin went into this election with seven MPs, and finished with seven MPs again, gaining North Belfast but losing Foyle.
Of their seven seats, four were very safe, and remain so despite a decrease in each constituency. Paul Maskey won in West Belfast with 20,866 votes and a majority of 14,672 (53.8%), no surprises there, however his vote was down 12.9%, this was the lowest Sinn Féin percentage vote in West Belfast since 1992, when Gerry Adams lost the seat to the SDLP. Francie Molloy won in Mid Ulster with 20,473 votes and a majority of 9,537 (45.9%), a decrease of 8.6% and the lowest percentage vote there since 1997, when Martin McGuinness first won the seat from the DUP. Mickey Brady won in Newry and Armagh with 20,287 votes and a majority of 9,287 (40.0%), a decline of 8.0% and their lowest percentage vote since 2001, they first won this seat in 2005. And Órfhlaith Begley won in West Tyrone with 16,544 votes and a majority of 7,478 (40.2%), down 10.6% and the lowest percentage vote since 2005.
South Down was a constituency that Sinn Féin won in 2017 for the first time. Chris Hazzard was elected for a second time with 16,137 votes (32.4%), his vote was down 7.5%, and his majority was narrower then 2017, the SDLP was 1,620 votes behind this time rather then 2,446 votes in 2017. They were helped by the fact that the SDLP vote was also down 6.0%, any sort of SDLP increase would have allowed them to regain this seat. But an even narrower victory for Sinn Féin was Fermanagh and South Tyrone, as is always the case. Michelle Gildernew won this seat with 21,986 votes (43.3%), her vote decreased by 3.9%. Sinn Féin was just 57 votes ahead of the UUP here, the smallest majority in any constituency across the UK (although Gildernew has won by even closer margins before, such as 2001 – 53 votes, and 2010 – 4 votes). The UUP vote also decreased by 2.3%, so as with South Down Sinn Féin benefitted from their opponent losing votes by a comparable amount to allow them to hold this seat by a narrow margin.
Foyle was the other seat that Sinn Féin was defending, Elisha McCallion had won this seat by 169 votes in 2017, after 34 years in which the SDLP had held this seat. But in this election, Sinn Féin received 9,771 votes (20.7%), their vote was down nearly half by 19.0%, while the SDLP decisively regained this seat by a majority of 17,110. This followed a disappointing local council election for Sinn Féin in Derry and Strabane in which they lost five seats, they are now tied with the SDLP as the biggest party on the council with eleven seats each, in 2014 Sinn Féin was six seats ahead. The scale of the Sinn Féin decline here is nonetheless remarkable, it appears that half of their voters in 2017 have gone primarily to the SDLP, but also some have likely gone to Aontú who contested this seat for the first time and had 4.3%, which would suggest that abortion remains an important issue to some voters. This is also the lowest Sinn Féin general election result in Foyle since 1992, in every previous election from 1997 to 2017 Sinn Féin always had over 10,000 votes in this constituency. A hugely disappointing result for Sinn Féin in Foyle.
There was one positive result for Sinn Féin, in North Belfast John Finucane gained this seat from the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds. Finucane received 23,078 votes (47.1%), 5.4% more then in 2017 when he ran for the first time. In contrast, the DUP vote was down 3.1% and Alliance’s vote was up 4.4%. Finucane’s majority over Dodds is 1,943 votes, nearly the opposite of 2017 when Dodds had a lead of 2,081 over Finucane. This was a historic victory not just for Sinn Féin, winning this seat for the first time, but it marks the first time ever that North Belfast has not elected a unionist MP. John Finucane’s vote of 23,078 votes was also the largest vote for a candidate in North Belfast since John Carson from the UUP in October 1974. Although it is worth noting that Finucane was helped by the absence of the SDLP, Green Party and Workers Party, all of whom ran in 2017 but not this time, they had a combined vote of 3,062 then.
Sinn Féin’s vote was down across other constituencies. In Upper Bann John O’Dowd came second with 12,291 votes (24.6%), 3.4% less then in 2017, though it was their second best result in Upper Bann after 2017. In East Derry Sinn Féin surprisingly finished in third place with 6,128 votes (15.6%), they saw a 10.9% decrease in their vote while the SDLP finished 30 votes ahead of them with a 9.9% increase, and Alliance was 207 votes behind with a 8.9% increase. Sinn Féin finished in fourth place in North Antrim, down from second in 2017 with the UUP and Alliance polling ahead, with 5,632 votes (12.8%), a 3.5% decrease from 2017. Similarly, Sinn Féin came fourth in South Antrim, compared to third in 2017. They received 4,887 votes (11.4%), down 6.7% while an 11.6% increase for Alliance brought them ahead of Sinn Féin for the first time in a South Antrim general election since 1997. Sinn Féin also finished fourth in East Antrim, receiving 2,120 votes (5.7%) down 3.6%. In Lagan Valley they received 1,098 votes (2.4%), a decrease of 1.1% finishing in fifth place. And in Strangford Sinn Féin finished in seventh place, behind the NI Conservatives and Green Party and ahead of UKIP, with 555 votes (1.5%), down 1.3% from 2017.
Sinn Féin would probably find a snap Assembly election difficult if their vote is down to the same extent as this election. Sinn Féin had 27.9% in the 2017 Assembly election, 5.1% more then the 22.8% they received in this general election. With 22.8% of the vote, Sinn Féin could find it difficult to defend their four seats in West Belfast, as well as their three seats in Newry and Armagh, Mid Ulster, West Tyrone and especially Fermanagh and South Tyrone. They also look potentially vulnerable in North Antrim, and possibly their second seats in Foyle and South Down. North Belfast and South Belfast are difficult to call, because the SDLP didn’t contest the former and Sinn Féin didn’t contest the latter, but last time Sinn Féin nearly lost their second seat in North Belfast, and South Belfast could be interesting as Sinn Féin is losing a prominent MLA there in Máirtin Ó Muilleoir. Their possibilities for gains are Upper Bann, East Derry and East Antrim, however on these results these all look quite unlikely.
The next local council election will also be intriguing for Sinn Féin based on these results. The disappointing results in Foyle make it difficult for them to regain any seats lost in May, though Foyleside will be one to watch considering they lost their second seat to an independent by less then 20 votes. In Fermanagh they will be trying to win back seats in Enniskillen and Erne East, which look unlikely on these figures. Other narrow results in May which look vulnerable includes Armagh, The Mournes, Glengormley Urban and especially Bannside, won by Sinn Féin by just 1.06 votes ahead of Alliance (this was the DEA in which TUV transfers saved Sinn Féin).
Sinn Féin will be delighted at the historic victory of John Finucane in North Belfast from the DUP, the first time ever that a nationalist MP has been elected in that constituency. However, their vote was down in every other constituency, including by some large margins, this cost them a seat in Foyle which went to the SDLP by a huge margin. However, they did defend their other seats, South Down remains marginal and Fermanagh and South Tyrone was extremely close as ever, and a drop in the Sinn Féin vote did not significantly impact on their four safe seats. An Assembly election will be a challenge for them, it will therefore be interesting to see whether they can strike a deal with the DUP to restore the Assembly and Executive, otherwise they could lose more representation.