Last week Lucid Talk released an extensive poll on Brexit and a Border Poll. I am going to analyze some of the more important findings in that poll. Lucid Talk has a panel of over 10,000 Northern Ireland residents. Almost 4,000 responded to their recent poll and their findings are based on those respondents. Lucid Talk has been very accurate in their recent polls. In the 2016 Assembly election they predicted a total nationalist vote of only 38% to 39% which was widely scoffed at prior to the election since it showed a mark decline in the nationalist vote despite a rising nationalist voting age population. The subsequent election results showed the poll was almost 100% accurate. The Lucid Talk poll for the EU referendum in Northern Ireland in June 2016 was accurate to within 1%. Their poll for the 2017 Assembly election predicted a resurgence of the nationalist vote and a significant decline in the unionist vote which was borne out by the actual results with the unionist parties in a minority for the first time ever in an election in Northern Ireland.
The main question asked on a Border Poll was: If a Northern Ireland Border Poll Referendum was held “tomorrow” which way would you vote: “Should Northern Ireland REMAIN a part of the United Kingdom or LEAVE the United Kingdom and join the Republic of Ireland and one nation state Ireland?”
After excluding those who stated they would not vote the results were:
The results by age were
Age 18 to 44
The results by Religion were
Unsurprisingly, 90% of Protestants wish to Remain in the UK. However, there is an increase in support for a United Ireland since all previous polls in the previous 50 years have shown Protestant support for a United Ireland in the 1% to 3% range. The results for Catholics are also not surprising since similar polls in the previous 50 years have shown Catholic support for remaining in the UK in the 15% to 20% range with higher values in the past 10 years. The results for None/Other show and unexpected support for a United Ireland at a relatively high 36%. Even if a slight majority of the Undecided voted in favour of a United Ireland the final result would be 60% Remain and 40% Leave if a Border Poll were held “tomorrow”. The poll also found that a slight plurality of those under 45 favour a United Ireland.
Lucid Talk also looked at a future Border Poll with different Brexit scenarios including a “Hard Brexit” and a “Soft Brexit” and further analyzed the Undecided and Remain voters. They conclude that with a “Hard Brexit” the results would be:
This indicated a much closer result.
In looking at the sub groups for the initial results of 56% to 34% they found the following for Alliance-Green voters:
Alliance-Green voters show a slight plurality for a United Ireland with many undecided.
Lucid Talk looked at all the 10% Undecided with the question “What type of Undecided voter are you?”
1.0% Remain regardless of Brexit
7.4% Leave regardless of type of Brexit
57.6% UK Hard Brexit- would Consider voting Leave
34.0% UK stayed in EU or Soft Brexit-would Consider voting Remain
The Undecided are undecided mainly because of Brexit and if there is a Hard Brexit it appears that almost all of them would vote Leave.
The Remain voters were also asked if Brexit would change their vote.
Protestant Catholic None/Other
Remain regardless of Brexit 61.6% 62.5% 63.8% 53.4%
Hard Brexit-reinforce decision to Remain 11.0% 10.4% 14.2% 12.2%
Hard Brexit-Consider voting Leave 9.5% 9.5% 5.5% 13.7%
Soft Brexit-reinforce decision to Remain 17.9% 17.7% 16.5% 20.6%
What is significant is that 9.5% of Remain voters (5.5% of all voters) may switch to Leave if there is a Hard Brexit. The 18% of Remain voters (10% of all voters) who stated that a Soft Brexit would reinforce their decision to Remain were not further asked how they would vote if there was Hard Brexit so it is unknown how many would consider the Leave option. A curious result is that Catholic voters who are Remain are less willing to change their vote with a Hard Brexit compared to Protestant voters. There appears to be a hard core of 12% of Catholics who are Remain even with a Hard Brexit. Overall, 72.6% of Remain voters are hard core Remain under all circumstances. For all voters, 40% are Remain with a Hard Brexit and would never consider Leave. For Protestant voters, 9.4% are Leave or Undecided and another 8.6% would consider Leave with a Hard Brexit.
At this point I will present an estimate of what the results of a Border Poll would be after a Hard Brexit in March 2019 based on the demographics at that time. There is some uncertainty in calculating the demographics since the 2011 census cannot be perfectly extrapolated from 2011 to 2019 due to emigration of the native population and continued in migration of foreign nationals. There were also some inaccurate estimates in the Religion question as there was no information available for over 200,000 people. For a 2019 Referendum Border Poll I will assume a voting age of 16 since this was the same voting age allowed in the Scottish Independence Referendum.
From the time of the March 2011 census and the final Brexit in March 2019 this is the electorate calculation. There would be 118,000 deaths, mainly in the elderly, during that time period. There would also be 238,000 new voters. The voting age population would be as follows:
Total Catholic Protestant Other None
1,500,000 685,000 725,000 14,000 76,000
These official numbers need to be adjusted for undercount of the Catholic population as shown in the 2011 School Census. The school census showed 5,300 more Catholics in the same age cohort than the official census. Extrapolated to the whole population indicated a greater than 20,000 undercount. There are also 5,000 British soldiers in the census who do not vote in Northern Ireland. I conservatively estimated a 15,000 Catholic undercount for the voting age population. The adjusted numbers are:
Total Catholic Protestant Other None
1,495,000 700,000 719,000 14,000 62,000
Immigration data shows a net inflow of only 3,500 per year. There are 7,500 immigrant foreign nationals and over 1,000 from the Republic of Ireland per year. That indicates a net outflow of 5,000 per year of natives from Northern Ireland. There does not appear to be any differential emigration from Northern Ireland based on religion. Most of the immigrants from the Republic of Ireland are of Catholic origin as well as many of the EU nationals. The figures adjusted for emigration and immigration are:
Total Catholic Protestant Other None
1,525,000 730,000 713,000 20,000 62,000
While it appears that there will be more Catholics of voting age in 2019 compared to Protestants this is not true of native Irish. Recent data from 2016 show 125,000 foreign nationals with NiNO registrations living in Northern Ireland. Including native ethnic nationals and new arrivals between 2016 and 2019 there will be 150,000 foreign nationals by 2019. The adjusted numbers are:
Total-Native Catholic Protestant Other None
1,375,000 640,000 683,000 5,000 47,000
150,000 90,000 30,000 15,000 15,000
Thus, I estimate there are 43,000 more native Protestants of voting age compared to Catholics and I will use these numbers. If there was a Border Poll with 100% turnout these would be the results for native voters. I am assuming a Hard Brexit and based on the Lucid Talk numbers with a Hard Brexit there would be at most 15% of Catholics who would vote Remain and 15% of Protestants that would vote Leave. There would be a slight majority of 55% of Other/None who would vote Leave.
The predicted results are:
Remain 700,000 50.9%
Leave 675,000 49.1%
Remain would have a narrow win. The percentage for Leave is only 2.7% higher than what Lucid Talk predicts with a Hard Brexit. This increase is entirely due to including 16 and 17 years old in the electorate as well as 2 years of demographic changes. However, what about those 150,000 foreign nationals? The Lucid Talk panel consists of voters who are highly engaged in politics and have a high rate of voting. There a few if any foreign nationals though perhaps a few from countries such as Australia and Canada. The 150,000 foreign nationals are approximately 110,000 EU nationals, 10,000 from English speaking countries such as Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. The other 30,000 would be approximately 7,500 Chinese, 7,500 from India, 5,000 Muslims, 3,000 Filipinos and 7,000 from all other countries. The EU nationals would be strongly motivated to vote in a Border Poll since a Hard Brexit could mean the loss of their jobs and financial security. Their relatives could no longer come to work in Northern Ireland. The non EU nationals would not all be in favour of Leave. I estimate 135,000 Leave voters and 15,000 Remain. The result if everyone in Northern Ireland voted would be:
Remain 715,000 46.9%
Leave 810,000 53.1%
Now clearly predicting the result of a Border Poll on a 100% turnout is not realistic. The Good Friday Agreement Referendum had a turnout of 80% of the voting population. 20% of the voting age population could not be bothered to vote even though the referendum was about ending 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. The Scottish Independence Referendum had a turnout of 85% of the voting age population. Even though this was a Referendum that would totally alter the status of Scotland 15% of the population had no interest in voting. I expect that a Border Poll would have a turnout of between 80% and 85%. The Westminster election in June had a turnout of 812,000. EU nationals were not allowed to vote in that election and I estimate there may have been 12,000 other foreign nationals who did vote. So 800,000 native voters voted. In 2019, there would be a potential additional 575,000 native voters. Of these 90,000 would be new voters currently age 14 to 17 with a demographic profile of 51% Catholic, 41% Protestant and 8% None/Other. With that profile and given that younger voters in general are more likely to vote Leave, this group will be 55% to 60% Leave with a Hard Brexit. The other potential 485,000 voters would be skewed toward younger voters since there was lower voter turnout among younger voters. Thus, the nonvoters would tend to be more likely Leave voters. An 85% turnout would add an additional 370,000 voters with the majority under 45. Including 16 and 17 year olds, the 16 to 44 age group is actually larger than the 45+ age group.
Lucid Talk did evaluate likelihood of voting and these were the results if the Border Poll was held “tomorrow”. This only includes voters who have consistently voted in recent elections.
Remain Leave Undecided
45+ 47.2% 42.2% 12.2%
18-44 33.8% 56.4% 9.7%
Clearly a Border Poll held “tomorrow” with likely voters would result in a Leave majority. It was noted that the under 45 group that was in favour of a United Ireland were the most committed to voting. This defies conventional wisdom since it is generally assumed that unionists would turn out in large numbers to prevent a United Ireland with younger voters less likely to vote. There certainly are many unionist voters who are opposed to a United Ireland. However, this opposition may be tempered by the fact that some are also opposed to a Hard Brexit and see both prospects as undesirable. It should be noted that almost all polls in the June 2017 Westminster election predicted a large Conservative majority because they assumed that turnout would be low among voters under 30. They were wrong and voter turnout was quite high among that group which led to the unexpected strong showing for Labour and a Conservative minority in Westminster. A Hard Brexit may result in a similar high turnout among young voters.
With this poll data there needs to be a major change in strategy by the nationalist parties-Sinn Fein and the SDLP. The new goal should be to aim for a Border Poll to be timed shortly after Brexit occurs in March 2019. Since the poll numbers are most favourable for a United Ireland with a Hard Brexit that is the most favourable scenario. The DUP and Conservatives are in favour of a Hard Brexit so give them what they want. It appears that Stormont will be in permanent suspension and Direct Rule, which is DUP-Conservative rule, may occur shortly. With Direct Rule, nationalists will have no say in the governing of Northern Ireland. This will be no different than the period from 1922 to 1972 except that the DUP is more hard line and less willing to share power with nationalists than the unionists of the 1922 to 1972 era. Direct Rule will sway more Undecided and soft Remain voters to consider Leave. It has been 8 months since the Conservative government has officially begun the process of Brexit. There have been no agreements reached with EU officials over the details of Brexit. EU officials appear to be taking a hard line with the UK over Brexit and SF and the SDLP should support their negotiating position. The only border that is acceptable to nationalists is the Irish Sea. Otherwise, the alternative should be a United Ireland with no Border. Divorces are often messy and bitter and the EU is in no mood to be conciliatory to the UK. The EU will be supportive of efforts towards a United Ireland and this will include financial support. The EU was very supportive of a United Germany when East Germany collapsed. The East German economy was in much worse shape than that of Northern Ireland with 10 times the population.
There are some issues that will need to be addressed with a United Ireland and SF and the SDLP need to work on proposals now. Many aspects of the economy such as Education, Defense and Foreign Affairs and Agriculture should meld easily with a United Ireland. The 2 most difficult ones are Health Care and Pensions for the elderly. Pensions for the elderly in Northern Ireland should be set at least 5% to 10% above the current levels so there is no disincentive for the elderly to vote against a United Ireland (I believe they are already higher in the Republic?( Current Pension rates in ROI range from €227 – €238 per week versus £159 in UK- BD). A health care system similar to the NHS would be desirable and would need to be established. There have been concerns raised because of the large of amount of agricultural exports to the UK. However, the UK (excluding NI) only produces 60% of the food needed to feed its population. It must continue to import the other 40% or else there would be widespread malnutrition and famine.
There are a few practical issues that need to be addressed in order for a Border Poll to win a majority for a United Ireland.
#1 Voting Age
The voting age should be lowered to 16 just as it was for the Scottish Independence referendum
#2 Voter Registration
SF and the SDLP need to begin a voter registration drive among younger voters and foreign nationals since these are the least likely to be on the electoral register. Currently online registration is available throughout the UK except in Northern Ireland. This needs to be introduced immediately. Potential voters should be allowed to submit online a photograph that will be used for the photographic ID electoral identity card.
#3 Northern Ireland Representation in the Dail
Based on the 2011 Ireland and Northern Ireland census, Northern Ireland should be entitled to 62 representatives in the Dail. The current Boundary Review with 17 constituencies will be completed by October 2018. This Review could be used for the constituencies for the first initial election to the Dail in Northern Ireland. There would be 4 TD’s elected per constituency for a total of 68. The total size of the Dail would be 226.
Some companies in Northern Ireland have already indicated that they may relocate to the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere in Europe in order to retain access to EU markets. The Border Poll needs to occur as soon as possible after Brexit so that these companies would remain in Northern Ireland in the event of a Leave majority vote
At this time it is still premature to predict the effects of a Hard Brexit on the UK economy. If the world economy is booming in March 2019 a Hard Brexit may have only a minor negative effect on the UK economy. A worldwide recession in 2019 would be much worse with significant capital outflow from the UK and possible bank failures. The nationalist parties should prepare for the worst and begin the process of negotiating the nature of a United Ireland with the government of the Republic and lay the groundwork for a successful Border Poll Referendum.