Nationalist voters could have to turn out in strong numbers to guarantee that four nationalist candidates are returned in West Tyrone on March 2.
Despite the scandal and criticism engulfing the DUP and Arlene Foster, the introduction of the TUV into West Tyrone, the recent apathy trend among nationalist voters and the availability of just five seats, could potentially wrong-foot either Sinn Féin or the SDLP in the constituency.
At last year’s Assembly election, nationalist candidates secured 23,858 votes or 61.47 per-cent in West Tyrone.
Candidates espousing strong pro-union views secured 13,104 votes or 33.76 per-cent.
Those classed as ‘others’, including Alliance, the Greens and Cista, took 1,847 or 4.76 per-cent.
If Thursday produced an identical turnout and result to last year, then there would be the quota for two unionist seats.
Last year’s quota, i.e. the tally candidates need to reach to be elected, was 5,545. With just five seats now, the results from last year would leave a quota of just under 6,500.
Turnout then was 59.86 per-cent from. The current atmosphere suggests that will go considerably up this year.
If turnout is 65 per-cent (which is just higher than in 2011), then (allowing for approx 500 spoiled votes), the likely quota this year will be 6,800-6,900. But an even higher turnout could put it over 7,000.
THE TUV FACTOR
The likely quota of 6,900 would require around 27,600 votes for the nationalists.
Last year’s nationalist vote was buoyed by the addition of independents Jo Deehan and Patsy Kelly, who took 2,439 votes between them.
Both the SDLP and fellow independent Sorcha McAnespy will look to win the support of some of those voters, but it’s no guarantee they will come out again.
On the unionist side, Tom Buchanan is the single DUP candidate. With the party traditionally taking at least 20 per-cent of the vote at Assembly elections, he was odds on to top the West Tyrone poll.
But enter the TUV for the first time on the constituency stage.
It’s uncertain how strong a base the TUV have in West Tyrone. But with candidates in neighbouring Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and South Tyrone polling 1,110 to 1,800 votes last year, and with the pressure mounting on the DUP, could Charlie Chittick bring win over some traditional DUP voters?
If the TUV can take a strong vote and transfer to the UUP, then a second unionist candidate could be better placed than a fourth nationalist.
Sinn Féin should take a bounce and return its three sitting MLAs. The DUP should easily take one, leaving the SDLP and UUP in a scrap for seat five.
Traditionally more transfer friendly, the SDLP is better placed and the transfers from the other parties and independents could be enough.
But the addition of the TUV and a new young candidate, could bolster the efforts of the UUP.
The SDLP is still also reeling at the loss of many key people in the Omagh area.
So the major drama in West Tyrone will centre on seat number five and the unfolding vote transfers.
FULL LIST OF WEST TYRONE CANDIDATES
Michaela Boyle (Sinn Féin)
Barry Brown (CISTA)
Tom Buchanan (DUP)
Charlie Chittick (TUV)
Alicia Clarke (UUP)
Stephen Donnelly (APNI)
Corey French (Indp)
Roger Lomas (Conservatives)
Declan McAleer (Sinn Féin)
Sorcha McAnespy (Indp)
Ciaran McClean (Green Party)
Daniel McCrossan (SDLP)
Barry McElduff (Sinn Féin)
Roisin McMackin (Indp)
Susan Anne White (Indp)
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Posted: 2:49 pm February 28, 2017