Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 2017

The 2017 election to Northern Ireland's Assembly was held on 2 March 2017. It was the sixth election to take place since the devolved assembly was established in 1998. Following the 2016 Assembly Elections, the next scheduled election should have taken place in 2021. However, in light of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal and other issues, the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned on January 9 2017. The subsequent refusal of Sinn Féin to nominate for the open Deputy First Minister position, meant that the First Minister was also removed from office and the Executive collapsed. The Assembly was dissolved on 26 January and an election was called for 2 March 2017.

This was also the first election in which each constituency elected five MLAs (90 in total), as opposed to six in all Assembly elections since 1998 (108 in total). This change was part of the Northern Ireland Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2014, which also increased the term of the Assembly from four to five years and also ended dual mandates for MLAs (concurrent membership of the House of Commons, European Parliament or Dáil Éireann is prohibited).

The Results

90 members were elected to the Assembly; each of the existing 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland elected five members of the new body by the Single Transferable Vote. Turnout for the election was recorded at 64.8% with 812,783 votes cast. Of these, 803,315 (98.8%) were deemed valid and 9,468 (1.2%) invalid.

Distribution of seats
 
Party / Candidate 1st Pref Votes 1st Pref % (+/-) Seats (+/-)
Democratic Unionist Party 225,413 28.1% (-1.1%) 28 seats (-10)
Sinn Féin 224,245 27.9% (+3.9%) 27 seats (-1)
Ulster Unionist Party 103,314 12.9% (+0.3%) 10 seats (-6)
Social Democratic & Labour Party 95,958 11.9% (-0.1%) 12 seats -
Alliance Party 72,717 9.1% (+2.1%) 8 seats -
Traditional Unionist Voice 20,523 2.6% (-0.8%) 1 seat -
Green Party 18,527 2.3% (-0.4%) 2 seats -
People Before Profit Alliance 14,100 1.8% (-0.2%) 1 seat (-1)
Progressive Unionist Party 5,590 0.7% (-0.2%)

Claire Sugden (East Londonderry) 4,918 0.6% (+0.1%) 1 seat -
Conservatives 2,399 0.5% (+0.1%)

Cross-Community Labour Alternative 2,009 0.5% (+0.2%)

Jimmy Menagh (Strangford) 1,627 0.2% (+0.1%)

UK Independence Party 1,579 0.2% (-1.3%)

Jonathan Bell (Strangford) 1,479 0.2%


Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance 1,273 0.3% (-0.1%)

Workers Party 1,261 0.3% (+0.1%)

Melanie Kennedy (North Down) 1,246 0.2%


Gerry Mullan (East Londonderry) 1,204 0.1%


Sorcha McAnespy (West Tyrone) 864 0.1% -

Jonny Orr (Lagan Valley) 856 0.2% (+0.1%)

David McMaster (South Antrim) 503 0.2%


Monica Digney (North Antrim) 435 0.2%


Hugh McCloy (Mid Ulster) 247 0.2%


Patrick Clarke (South Down) 192 0.1%


Adam McBride (North Antrim) 113 0.1%


Ricky Best (East Antrim) 106 0.1%


Corey French (West Tyrone) 98 0.1% -

Chris Carter (North Down) 92 0.1%


Roisin McMackin (West Tyrone) 85 0.1%


Jordy McKeag (East Belfast) 84 0.1%


Keith Gray (Lagan Valley) 76 0.01%


Adam Millar (North Belfast) 66 0.01%


Arthur McGuinness (Foyle) 44 0.01%


Susan-Anne White (West Tyrone) 41 0.01% -

Gavan Reynolds (North Down) 31 0.01%



The basis for comparison in the above table is the change in vote for candidates with the same party label from 2016.
Seats losses also reflect the reduction in the Assembly from 108 to 90 MLAs.

Constituency List

The image below shows the geographical distribution of seats won by each party in the election. It is worth noting that while the constituency boundaries did not change between this election and that of the 2016 Assembly election, the number of representatives returned by each constituency dropped from six to five. Despite this significant change, the results still provides a good opportunity for comparison and analysis. If and when the next Assembly election occurs, it is very likely that there will be considerable change to the existing boundaries. The Boundary Commission has begun it's sixth periodical review and is due to deliver it's final recommendations no later than 1 October 2018. Northern Ireland will see its number of constituencies decrease from 18 seats to 17. This will cause the number of MLAs elected to be reduced further from 90 to 85.

graph

East Belfast 2 DUP, 2 Alliance, 1 UUP
North Belfast 2 SF, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP
South Belfast 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance, 1 DUP, 1 Green
West Belfast 4 SF, 1 PBP
East Antrim 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance
North Antrim 2 DUP, 1 TUV, 1 SF, 1 UUP
South Antrim 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SF, 1 Alliance
North Down 2 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 UUP, 1 Green
South Down 2 SF, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP
Fermanagh and South Tyrone 3 SF, 1 DUP, 1 UUP
Foyle 2 SF, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP
Lagan Valley 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance, 1 SDLP
East Londonderry 2 DUP, 1 SF, 1 Ind, 1 SDLP
Mid Ulster 3 SF, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP
Newry and Armagh 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP
Strangford 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance
West Tyrone 3 SF, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP
Upper Bann 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SF, 1 SDLP

Analysis

It was a terrible election for Unionists. Under the new rules, eighteen Stormont seats had been abolished, reducing the chamber from 108 to 90, five rather than six for each of the parliamentary constituencies. Of those eighteen seats, no less than sixteen were lost by Unionists (the other two had been held by Sinn Féin and the People Before Profit Alliance). This was not a result of any quirk in the electoral rules or boundaries; previous election results led most observers to expect that the inevitable pain from the reduction in numbers would be evenly shared by all sides. But that assumed that all sides’ vote share would stay the same, and it did not.

Unionists were reduced to one MLA out of the five representing each of South Belfast, South Down, Newry and Armagh, Mid Ulster and West Tyrone - all seats that actually elected Unionist MPs to Westminster in the not very distant past. The Ulster Unionist Party, which won all 40 of those Unionist seats in 1921, and was the largest party as recently as 2001, won only ten seats this year. The DUP lost ten seats of the 38 they had won in last year’s election. Northern Ireland’s political map has completely changed.

Turnout increased by almost 10 per cent over Northern Ireland as a whole, compared to the 2016 election. The biggest increases were precisely where Unionists suffered unexpected losses - Mid Ulster, South Down, East Londonderry. Nationalist vote share was up almost 4 per cent, Unionist vote share down by about 2 per cent (depending on how you count smaller groups). The non-sectarian Alliance Party increased its support by over 2 per cent, and they and the Green Party held all of their seats, despite the reduction in overall numbers. It’s pretty clear that non-Unionist voters came out in unprecedented numbers.

turnout

A remarkable feature of the election is that voters themselves seem more inclined to cross the divide. The SDLP’s vote share decreased yet again, giving them their worst result in history. But they managed to come out with no net losses. In several cases, seats that had appeared beyond their grasp in the early stages of counting fell into place thanks to transfers from the UUP - not just failure to transfer within Unionism, but an active choice by a crucial minority of moderate voters to try and block the extreme parties.

To be specific: UUP transfers were crucial for the SDLP seats in Lagan Valley and East Londonderry, and the SDLP returned the favour for the UUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. UUP leader Mike Nesbitt resigned on the evening of the count, regretting that he had not changed politics sufficiently, but his call for UUP voters to consider transferring to the SDLP ahead of the DUP may have been more effective than he gave himself credit for.

The closest results on the final count were:

There was an unusually large number of close calls in earlier counts in some constituencies,

Comparison with Previous Elections

You can also readily compare the results from this election with those of previous Assembly elections located elsewhere on this site, including: the 2016 elections, the 2011 elections, the 2007 elections, the 2003 elections and the 1998 elections. The results of the 1996 Forum Elections are also available. This graph below visually contrasts the 2017 Assembly election result with the five previous elections to the Assembly, the Forum in 1996, the Assembly in 1982, the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and the Assembly in 1973.

graph



Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

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Nicholas Whyte, 2 March 2017. Last updated by Conal Kelly, 25 May 2017.



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