Public Affairs

Weak correlation between campaign spending and electoral success

Figures released by the Electoral Commission have shown that, whilst all the largest parties spent relatively similar amounts, campaign spending did not necessarily translate into a higher amount of seats won in the Assembly election 2022.

The figures revealed that the single biggest spending party was the DUP, which spent £174,986.81 over the course of the election campaign.

Second place was Sinn Féin, which spent £166,667.26, followed fairly closely by the SDLP, which spent £149.844.62.

The Alliance Party was the only other party to spend a six-figure sum, having spent £112,711.25 during the election campaign, although they spent less than the combined totals of independent or other (parties outside the top 10 in spending) candidates.

The two other parties who managed to win seats, Traditional Unionist Voice and People Before Profit, spent £67,364.03 and £42,358.97 respectively.

Aontú, the anti-abortion republican party which split from Sinn Féin in 2018, spent a total of £60,308.12, outspending People Before Profit and nearly matching Traditional Unionist Voice, despite not coming close to winning a seat in any constituency.

Spending by designation

By political designation, parties designated as unionist outspent the others, having spent a total of £379,497.87, taking into account the combined expenditure outlaid by the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, Traditional Unionist Voice, and the Progressive Unionist Party. This figure does not include the spending by independent unionists Alex Easton MLA and Claire Sugden MLA.

Parties designated as nationalists, comprised of Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and Aontú, spent a total of £376,830. This figure does not include smaller nationalist parties or independent candidates who wished to designate as nationalists.

The political parties who designate as ‘other’, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, and People Before Profit, spent a total of £194,395.45.


Spending by candidate

The candidate with the highest expenditure was SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone, who had an outlay of £15,167.69.

He was followed by three candidates who were not successful in being elected, the SDLP’s candidate in Strangford, Conor Houston, Green Party candidate for Belfast South, Claire Bailey, and People Before Profit’s Foyle candidate, Shaun Harkin, thus suggesting that there was not necessarily a strong correlation between party success and money spent.

Based on total spending divided by the number of candidates who ran in the election, the SDLP had the highest spend per candidate, having spent an average of £6,811 per candidate, although this only resulted in eight seats, making it only the fifth largest party.

They have the second highest average spend per Party candidate was the DUP, which spent £5,832.89, winning 25 seats and becoming the second largest party.

Perhaps surprisingly, the party with the third highest expenditure per candidate was Aontú, which, despite failing to win a single seat or even coming close to winning any seats, spent an average of £5,025.68 per candidate.

The Ulster Unionist Party, which won the fourth highest number of seats in the election, also had the fourth highest average campaign send per candidate, coming in at an average of £4,954.34.

It was followed by Sinn Féin, the largest party in the Assembly, which spent an average of £4,901.98, only the fifth highest figure for average spend per candidate.

Similarly notable was that the Alliance Party, which placed third at the polls, only recorded the sixth highest average expenditure per candidate, with a figure of £4,696.30.

The two other parties who won representation in the Assembly, Traditional Unionist Voice and People Before Profit, recorded average spending per candidate figures of £3,545.48 and £3,532.16 respectively.

Successful candidates who spent the least

Although unionist parties had a higher overall spend than nationalists, five of the 10 successful candidates with the lowest expendatures were elected as unionists, whilst the remaining five were from the Alliance Party. No successful nationalist candidates were among the 10 lowest spending successful candidates.

Paula Bradshaw MLA, who was elected in Belfast South, spent £2,393.80 whilst her colleague Kellie Armstrong MLA, who was elected in North Down, spent £3,003.12.

The two successful independents, Claire Sugden MLA, who was elected in East Derry, and Alex Easton MLA, who was elected in North Down, were both among the lowest spending successful candidates, spending £3,819.52 and £3,528.82 respectively.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie MLA had the lowest spend out of all of the party leaders who were elected in May’s election, spending a total of £3,593.80 in his campaign in Upper Bann.

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