SINGLE Transferable Vote – three words often used in relation to our assembly elections yet not widely understood.
We have a system that enables all of us to maximise the influence of our vote by ranking as many candidates as possible in our order of preference. Transfers are quite often critical to how many of those final seats fall in assembly elections.
The Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool/The Irish News poll is packed with fascinating insights about where some of the electorate are planning on going with their second preference and make no mistake, your preferences could be the margin between Sinn Féin emerging as the largest party or not. Or whether Alliance’s gains come in handfuls rather than shovelfuls.
The transfer game benefits one party here in a big way and that is Alliance.
Amongst the SDLP, UUP and Green parties they are taking a plurality of the second preferences from voters in those groups. Even with Sinn Féin voters, they are picking up a respectable share of support.
Mixed in with a higher first preference vote, this is why many people who study elections regard Naomi Long's party as in the with a shout in places like West Tyrone, North Antrim and South Down, in a way they have never been before.
This survey suggests Alliance's high wire act of balancing nationalists, unionists and none of the above seems to be paying off.
Within unionism, the picture is incredibly fragmented and there are some revealing headline figures that will give worry and some relief to the DUP in particular.
Jeffrey Donaldson will be happy that his message of transferring within the fold seems to be working with his base, as more than 70 per cent of DUP voters plan to second preference either the UUP or TUV.
This helps his overall narrative of the DUP putting the unionist cause first and gives him a good platform for the campaign to come.
He will also be happy that his party holds a 20 per cent lead over the UUP amongst TUV voters for their second preference. Moreover, with more than 17 per cent undecided, they can with the right messaging still try to find them a home with the DUP. This would help in constituencies such as North Belfast and East Belfast.
Although it isn’t all good news, the poll also reveals that less than half of UUP voters plan to give a second preference to either the DUP or TUV. In fact, more UUP voters at this stage plan to give their second preferences to Alliance candidates rather than stay within the unionist family.
Also worrying for unionism collectively is that 15 per cent of TUV voters say they will not transfer to any party. Not only is this the second-highest of any party but also is a kickback against Jim Alllister’s regular pleas for voters to preference.
Sinn Féin voters, who have long been seen as not utilising transfers enough, are planning to go mostly for the SDLP. Yet this isn’t being reciprocated by the SDLP with just under 16 per cent saying they will go the other way.
But Sinn Féin will not be the only ones disappointed, as less than 11 per cent of SDLP voters plan to give their second preference to the UUP. 'Vote Colum, get Mike' is over as far as this poll goes.
UUP voters also seem to have little interest in repeating the experiment. The level of transfers that were critical between these two parties in more than three constituencies does not appear to be holding up. Around the margins, this can be important in places like Upper Bann.
The transfers game is important. So far Alliance is doing well on this front. Moreover, with 17 per cent of their own voters undecided about what way they will go on second preferences, there is still an opportunity there for others such as the SDLP, UUP and Greens to make headway. This election is far from over.
David McCann is deputy editor of news and opinion website Slugger O'Toole
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