Ben Lowry: East Belfast exit poll suggests that a small number of voters did indeed move directly from DUP to Alliance

Some election pundits have been wondering if many voters transferred directly from the DUP to Alliance in last week’s dramatic general election.

The News Letter exit poll at Elmgrove Primary School in East Belfast on December 12 found a lot of movements politically among Alliance voters. Shauna McAteer, who was one of them, has a background is as an SDLP supporter from Co Down. "Alliance might make a difference this time," she said
The News Letter exit poll at Elmgrove Primary School in East Belfast on December 12 found a lot of movements politically among Alliance voters. Shauna McAteer, who was one of them, has a background is as an SDLP supporter from Co Down. "Alliance might make a difference this time," she said

At first sight there must have been such a movement, given that the bare figures.

The DUP fell from 292,316 votes in the 2017 general election to 244,127 this time, a drop of 48,189 votes.

The Alliance vote soared from 64,553 votes to 134,115 votes, an increase of 69,562 votes.

The Ulster Unionist Party rose from 83,280 votes to 93,123 votes, an increase of 9,800 votes.

Meanwhile the combined nationalist SDLP-SF vote dropped around 33,000 votes.

There was also a slight decrease in the overall vote of 12,000 votes.

Looked at crudely then, the overall voting figures then suggest a small movement from DUP to UUP of around 10,000 votes, and a larger movement of around 30,000 votes from DUP to Alliance and a similar number of moves from nationalist to Alliance.

In addition to that, around 10,000 votes moved from other candidates in 2017 to Alliance in 2019.

But the actual movements are inevitably going to be much more complex than any such bare logic.

For example, it could be that the 48,000 lost DUP votes mostly went to the Ulster Unionists, but were largely offset by UUP voters who then went to Alliance.

If so, then many voters would only be making one ideological step, between a traditionally hardline unionist party and a more moderate unionist party, than two steps, from a traditionally hardline unionist party to a centrist party that identifies as neither unionist nor nationalist.

On Thursday, I carried out an exit poll at Elmgrove Primary School in East Belfast, which tends to give an indication of how the constituency as a whole has voted.

Elmgrove is more unionist than average in the constituency, but has a huge Alliance vote, so by weighting any exit poll finding there it is generally possible to tell who has done well in the seat overall. My poll was published at 10pm, as polling closed, and suggested that Gavin Robinson had won for the DUP, albeit by a lower margin than he defeated Naomi Long in 2017.

Each voter was asked as they left the polling station who they had voted for, and who they had voted for in the previous general election.

The findings for previous voting are not entirely reliable, because people often cannot remember how they voted in the past general election, or they get confused with how they voted in a previous council or MEP or Stormont election.

Sometimes they say they voted for a party that was not standing.

Other people might say who they voted for in this election and then keep walking, in a hurry to go to work or somewhere else, and decline to answer their past vote.

Of the 159 people who told me they had voted DUP and of the 93 people who told me they had voted Alliance, overwhelmingly they said that they had voted for the same party two years ago in 2017.

But there was much more movement among Alliance voters, who had voted differently in 2017, than among DUP voters, which is not surprising because Mrs Long’s voted increased while Mr Robinson’s decreased.

Of the 93 Alliance voters, 55 had voted Alliance last time.

A further 18 said that they had not voted (often because first time voters).

Another five people did not answer as to who they had voted for in 2017.

Some four voters said they had voted Ulster Unionist.

Three said they had voted DUP.

One person could not recall.

Three had voted Green.

Three had voted Sinn Fein.

One had voted SDLP.

Of the 159 DUP voters, 133 had voted DUP last time.

Eight had not vote in 2017.

Eight did not answer as to how they voted.

Three had voted Alliance.

Two had voted Ulster Unionist.

Two said they had voted TUV, and one PUP (but this is wrong because neither party stood then).

Of the 14 UUP voters, three had voted for the party last time, three had not voted, three had voted Alliance, two had voted DUP, one PUP (wrong), one could not recall, and one did not answer.

In summary, there was a tiny number of movements from DUP to Alliance or vice versa, but Alliance got a disproportionate number of people who did not vote last time.

There was also a lot of ‘cross fertilisation’ voting between parties that cancelled each other out.