Maps by Conal Kelly and Nicholas Whyte
South Antrim covers all of Antrim Borough and 16 of the 25 wards of Newtownabbey Borough. Roughly 40% of the electorate lives in the urbanised Northern fringe of Belfast, around Glengormley and Carnmoney. Antrim is the other major town in the constituency, and the other other population centres are Ballyclare, Doagh, Ballynure, Templepatrick, Parkgate, Crumlin, Aldergrove, Randalstown and Toome.
Perhaps the most prominent landmark in the constituency to most people in Northern Ireland is Belfast International Airport, just outside Crumlin.
There is often a perception that this is rural constituency. In fact, agriculture only employs 5% of the local workforce. By and large, this is suburbia and there is a fair degree of industry in Antrim Town itself. Almost half of the electorate live in what, by most people's definitions, would count as Belfast. If the constituency has a unifying feature, it is the M2/M22 motorway which connects most of its population centres to Belfast, where many people work.
As befits a growing suburban area, the constituency is slightly younger and the fertility rate slightly higher than the Northern Ireland average (1.86 as opposed to 1.80). There is considerable heterogeneity, with Antrim's birth rate noticeably higher than Newtowabbey's. The birth rate is very low in the parts of Glengormley and Carnmoney built in the 1960s and 1970s, where there are now few young families; in the older parts of Glengormley, where the first occupants who moved in during the 1950s are starting to die, the fertility rate is close to the constituency average as a new generation of young families moves in; in Antrim Town and Randalstown it is higher yet, and it is higest of all in areas where new developments are attracting young families - Mallusk, Clady, around the outskirts of Ballyclare and Doagh, and particularly in Crumlin, where the ferility rate approaches 3.0, a level rarely seen outside South Armagh.
School performance and levels of education are only around the Northern Ireland average, reflecting a population where highly skilled blue-collar workers tend to outnumber the degree holding middle-class.
On most measures, this is the fourth of fifth most prosperous constituency in Northern Ireland. There is a reasonable degree of variation within the constituency. Most of the Glengormley-Carnmoney area has below average levels of deprivation, and some areas, like the Beverleys and Carnhills in Carnmoney, the Ballyhenry Road developments and Collinbridge have very low levels of deprivation indeed. The one great exception is the New Mossley Estate, one of the most deprived in Northern Ireland.
Antrim, although it has its leafier corners around the Castle and the Ballymena Road, is an overwhelmingly blue collar town with above average levels of deprivation to match. Given its history as a new town expansion with many Belfast overspill estates, this is not surprising. Few areas are have especially high levels of poverty, but the Rathenraw, Newpark, and particularly Springfarm Estates, along with parts of Ballycraigy, stand out as being among the most deprived in the country. Springfarm has a fairly notorious reputation for open drug dealing, as Rathenraw did in the past although it seems much improved these days.
On average, Ballyclare lies close to the NI mean, and includes estates with above average levels of deprivation, although nothing particularly extreme, along with more middle-class areas, the leafier of which are among the most prosperous in Northern Ireland. Randalstown and Crumlin have notably lower than average levels of deprivation, and Toome is very slighty poorer than average. Most of the rural, farming, parts of the constituency are really quite prosperous, although they aren't quite as wealthy as the rural areas on the County Down side of Belfast.
This heterogeneity is reflected in the pattern of separation and mixing in the constituency. Overall, this is the sixth most Protestant constituency (30% Catholic, 66% Protestant). In Antrim Town, the sectarian balance is close to the average for the constituency (33% Catholic), and most parts of the town are mixed to some degree. Despite some nasty loyalist initmidation, even Stiles and The Steeple have considerable Catholic populations, and similarly Rathenraw has a definite Protestant minority. The exception is Ballycraigy, which is almost entirely Protestant.
Randalstown is fairly evenly balanced (54% Catholic), but the Shanes Street/Castle Road area is increasingly Catholic, the Portglenone and Ahoghill Road area increasingly Protestant while the New Street and Church Road areas seem more securely mixed. None of this is absolute - every output area in the town has a 'minority' population of at least 15%, but this is a town where residential segregation and community relations seem to be getting worse.
Ballyclare (5% Catholic), Ballynure (3%), Doagh (2%) and Kilbride (2%) are overwhelmingly Protestant and Templepatrick (12%) is only slightly less so, and the same goes for much of the farming area that surrounds them. On the other hand, Crumlin (75% Catholic) has a large and growing Catholic majority fuelled by rapidly expanding new developments for Belfast commuters. Toome, on whose bridge Roddy McCorley went to die, is of course ovewhelmingly Catholic (96%).
Closer to Belfast, the southern end of Glengormley, around Collinbridge, Elmfield, Farmley and the Hightown Road has a Catholic majority of roughly 3-to-1, while that position is more or less reversed in the Northern half of the town. In the middle-class parts of Carnmoney, the Catholic population is about 15%, while it is only 3% or so in the New Mossley and Ballyduff estates.
This heterogeneity produces close elections. The final result in 2003 was 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP and 1 Alliance, with the only change being the habitual DUP consolidation of the seat the UKUP won in 1998. From Nicholas Whyte's figures, you can see that less than 200 votes separated the successful SDLP and Alliance candidates and the unsuccessful Sinn Féin one.
Not only can we expect a photo finish between these three candidates again this time, but the second Ulster Unionist seat is vulnerable to the DUP. So tight are the margins in South Antrim's political environment, that three candidates on the ballot paper were elected in other constituencies in 2003 - McLaughlin, McCrea and... who else but Bob McCartney.
With two distinct battles here, let's start looking at the competition for that fourth unionist seat.
Last time, both the Ulster Unionists and DUP had two clear quotas each. However, in 2005, the DUP outpolled the UUP by 38.2% to 29.1% in the general election and by 37.3% to 24.1% in the locals. In contrast to many other places, the local elections were not better for the UUP here. In fact, they demonstrated that the UUP's vote is softer than the DUP's.
Although the general election indicated the DUP are inching towards three quotas, they aren't quite there yet. There has been considerable change in their ticket from last time with none of the three 2003 candidates standing again. Willie McCrea is moving over from Mid Ulster, which is no problem given the strong base he has built up here in recent years. However, both sitting MLAs, Wilson Clyde and Paul Girvan, were deselected to be replaced by Antrim Councillors Mel Lucas and Trevor Clarke. While Clyde is probably not a fatal loss, as he was narrowly outpolled by Clarke in the Randalstown area in the last local elections, Girvan was a formidable votegetter who polled over 50% individually in Ballyclare in the last council elections, and was building up a formidable personal vote.
Neither Lucas nor Clarke have personal bases of anything like that size, and both are Free Presbyterians based in Antrim Borough. This means the DUP lose a personal vote and narrow their geographical and social base. There has been speculation that McCrea preferred Lucas and Clarke to Girvan because he perceived the latter as a threat. In any case, the net result is that the DUP's long-range shot at a third seat here will almost certainly go begging, unless the Ulster Unionist vote really collapses.
That should be enough to see the Ulster Unionists return two candidates. David Burnside will once again head the UUP poll, and probably be elected on the first count.
Jim Wilson is standing down this time and with him the UUP will lose his strong Ballyclare base, but they have sensibly selected Templepatrick-based Danny Kinahan, from roughly the same geographical area. Kinahan is the sort of Ulster Unionist most of us thought had died out, a former army officer who lives in a castle. Whatever his background, he polled well for a first timer in difficult political circumstances in the last council elections in Antrim South East and beefs up the moderate end of the ticket in a constituency where Alliance are competitive.
Antrim Councillor Stephen Nicholl rounds off the ticket, but will probably come in well behind the other two.
The battle for the last two seats between Alliance, Sinn Féin and the SDLP will be as close as last time. Sinn Féin have now retired Martin Meehan, and have moved their General Secretary, Mitchel McLaughlin, from Foyle to stand here this time. This is probably a smart move, given McLaughlin's media profile and Sinn Féin's lack of a local candidate of real ability. The Sinn Féin vote increased considerably to 11.5% in 2003, but remained stuck at that level in the 2005 elections.
In the past, this has been an area where Sinn Féín had a very poor organisation - they almost certainly underperformed in Randalstown and Toome for years, and it took a long time for them to cotton on to their growing potential vote in Crumlin and Glengormley. Their meteoric rise between 1997 and 2003 probably reflects a vastly improved organisation as much as anything else. However, there have been internal problems within SF recently, with some of those prominent in developing the local party organisation in the late 1990s no longer involved. To my knowledge, this is mostly a result of personal disputes caused by poor management of volunteers than 'big p' politics.
None of this helps, but almost any increase in the Sinn Féin vote here would give them a seat. McLaughlin and his big profile must be able to pull off another few hundred votes from the SDLP, and with no dissident Republican candidate here, that would make him favourite to take a seat, although it can't be guaranteed.
Does that mean Alliance leader David Ford is doomed? I don't think so. The total nationalist vote here is still less than two quotas, and Ford showed last time that he has an unrivalled capacity to pull in transfers, gaining almost 1600 votes during the 2003 count while Meehan picked up less than 500. Additionally, South Antrim was the only constituency where Alliance increased its share of the vote in 2003, in what was an absolutely horrible election for them. If the NI-wide Alliance vote can even come up part of the way to its 2005 level, he will be safe. And Alliance are throwing the kitchen sink at this one.
One factor running against Ford this time is that the UUP are unlikely to have much, if any, surplus to pass on. He will be dependent on DUP transfers which are likely to be much less favourable.
Could it be the SDLP who are vulnerable then? It could well be. There has been bad blood between sitting SDLP MLA Thomas Burns and his predecessor, Donovan McClelland, since a controversial selection meeting in 1998. This time, Donovan McClelland's wife, Noreen, is the other SDLP candidate, and the bad blood has become very public. There have been other issues within the local SDLP, and six term Antrim Councillor Oran Keenan has left the party to sit as an Independent.
Running two candidates when you have a bare quota is an insane strategy. Last time, overnomination and poor internal transferring meant that the SDLP came within 200 votes of losing their seat despite starting with over a quota. Only 70% of Donovan McClelland's transfers passed on to Thomas Burns, despite the fact the bad feeling between them was largely a private matter at that point. Last week's front page headline of the Antrim Guardian was 'SDLP At War'. In those circumstances, that already poor level could drop further. And then the SDLP, who may not even secure a quota this time, would be in real trouble.
To round off the ballot, the UKUP were expected to run pro-11+ campaigner Stephen Elliott here, but that seems to have fallen through and Bob has been left to run himself. Former Alliance council candidate Pete Whitcroft will stand for the Greens, former Workers' Party North Belfast candidate Marcella Delany will be standing in this constituency as she lives here, and the Tories will run Stephen O'Brien in the stead of 2003 candidate Jason Docherty. I would be surprised if any of them got more than a couple of hundred votes, but Ford in particular will be keen to get a decent slice of their transfers.
And transfers will be crucial here. My own suspicion is that none of Ford, Burns or McLaughlin will have a quota in the later stages of the count. If every voter voted down the ballot paper here, McLaughlin would probably be the loser. But many voters don't, and this seat remains on a knife-edge.
2003 vote - DUP 30.6%/2.14Q, UUP 29.8%/2.09Q, SDLP 14.4%/1.01Q, Sinn Féin 11.5%/0.80Q, Alliance 9.1%/0.63Q, Womens' Coalition 1.2%/0.09Q, Cons 0.5%/0.03Q, Oth U 2.9%/0.20Q.
Candidates - DUP: Trevor CLARKE, Mel LUCAS, Willie McCREA. UUP: David BURNSIDE*, Danny KINAHAN, Stephen NICOLL. SDLP: Thomas BURNS*, Noreen McCLELLAND. SF: Mitchel McLAUGHLIN. Alliance: David FORD*. Cons: Stephen O'BRIEN. Workers' Party: Marcella DELANY. UKUP: Bob McCARTNEY. Green: Pete WHITCROFT. (*=Sitting MLA)
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance, 1 Sinn Féin.