By Faha

A few days ago the BBC published a Lucid Talk poll conducted in Northern Ireland in May. The poll was 156 pages long and covered many aspects of society in Northern Tightrope walkerIreland. One of the questions asked was:

If there was a referendum on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, how would you vote?

The results were:

Remain-Vote for Northern Ireland to stay within the United Kingdom

45.0%

Leave-Vote for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland

42.1%

Undecided

12.7%

The results by Religion were:

Protestant

Remain-          78.5%

Leave-                8.5%

Undecided-     13.0%

Catholic

Remain-             7.2%

Leave-               84.3%

Undecided-         8.1%

Other/None 

Remain-            39.8%

Leave-               36.4%

Undecided-          23.3%

Clearly the result of a Border Poll would be very close. Compared to the previous Lucid Talk poll in December 2017, the percentage of Protestants in favour of an United Ireland is unchanged but the percentage in favour of remaining in the UK has declined from 85.3% to 78.5% with that 6.8% difference now Undecided voters. The percentage of Catholic voters who desire a United Ireland has declined from 90% to 84.3% with the difference added to Undecided voters.

The poll also broke down preferences according to national identity and these closely correlated with the religion question (i.e: many Protestants identify as British but few Catholics do). There was a small group (1%) of voters who have an identity of EU or non EU ethnic minorities and their preference was:

Remain-             6.7%

Leave-               80.0%

Undecided-       13.3%

Voters were also asked how Brexit influences their choice for remaining in the UK or joining a United Ireland. The questions asked were:

Protestants:

Yes, I used to support NI staying in the UK but I may/would now support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

21.0%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI staying in the UK.

74.3%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

1.1%

Clearly Brexit has had a significant effect on the views of Protestants towards a United Ireland. Support for a United Ireland was less than 2% prior to Brexit but now 21% of Protestants are considering a United Ireland. In the Border Referendum question most those 21% are either Undecided or in favour of a United Ireland. The results were not broken down by political party preference but based on the previous poll a majority of that 21% are Protestants who vote Alliance/Green/ SDLP/Independent.

The results for Catholics were:

Yes, I used to support NI staying in the UK but I may/would now support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

31%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI staying in the UK.

4.7%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

61.4%

Prior to Brexit, almost 1/3 of Catholics were content to remain in the UK. However, most of those are now in favour of a United Ireland or Undecided.

These are the results for those with Other/ None religion.

Yes, I used to support NI staying in the UK but I may/would now support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

41.3%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI staying in the UK.

30.6%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

17.0%

Brexit has shifted a large percentage of these voters towards a United Ireland

The results for EU and non EU ethnic minorities were:

Yes, I used to support NI staying in the UK but I may/would now support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

53.3%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI staying in the UK.

0%

No, the EU Referendum result has hasn’t changed my view, I still support NI joining the Republic of Ireland

40.0%

Clearly, Brexit has resulted in a complete collapse in support among ethnic minorities for remaining in the UK.

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.

However, there are 3 flaws in the Lucid Talk poll, all of which are related to demographics. Lucid Talk has no control over 2 of these. Their sample only contains 1% who identify as ethnic minorities. Recent data on foreign nationals with NiNO registrations residing in Northern Ireland indicate that the ethnic minority voting age population is in the 9% to 10% range. Of course, many of these are less connected to Northern Ireland or have limited English language skills so they are difficult to find for an opinion poll. They currently comprise 4.5% of the electoral register, half their actual numbers in the population. Since the poll showed that support for remaining within the UK is 0% among this group the poll is underestimating the percentage vote for a United Ireland depending on the turnout among these voters, which would certainly be higher than the 1% included in the poll.

The 2nd flaw relates to the Religion composition of those polled. Lucid Talk has Other/None as 15.4% of the voters. The 2011 census has a question which included Religion brought up in and this group was only 5.4% so the poll has this group 10% higher. This question was not asked in the poll. The census would show approximately 10.4% Other/None by the Lucid Talk criteria so the 15.4% still overestimates this group. The constituency results should have each constituency contributing 5.5% to their sample. Three constituencies in the West (Foyle, Mid Ulster and West Tyrone) were less than 4% of the sample whereas South Belfast was 11.4%, East Belfast 8.9% and East Antrim 7.3%. Since the Other/None are quite high in these latter 3 this explains why the Lucid Talk poll is overestimating the Other/None group.

The poll sample comprised the following:

Protestant      46.0%

Catholic           38.6%

Other/None    15.4%

The gap between Protestants and Catholics is 7.4%. Including “secular” Catholic and Protestants (> 70% Protestant and <30% Catholic in the census) the gap would be 11.0%. The census shows the actual gap among native voters should be 5% to 6%. So the sample is overestimating voters from a Protestant background.

The sampling issue is not a problem for predicting the results of a Border Poll Referendum in 2019 since we know the preferences by religious background.

This is what the voter demographic profile of native voters in Northern Ireland will be in 2019 post the March 2019 Brexit. This is based on the 2011 census and assumes a voting age of 16 which was the voting age allowed for the Scottish Independence Referendum. Adjustments are made for emigration which shows a continuing exodus of native youth.

In 2019 the voting age demographics of the 16+ age groups among native voters will be:

Catholic             640,000

Protestant         683,000

Other/None         53,000

Based on the Poll preferences the vote would be with a 100% turnout.

United Ireland

Catholic              539,520

Protestant            58,055

Other/None         19,292

Total                    616,867

Remain in the UK

Catholic                 46,080

Protestant           536,155

Other/None          21,094

Total                     603,329

 

Undecided           155,804

 

With a 100% turnout of native voters there is a slight edge of 13,538 for a United Ireland (only 1%). Clearly, the Undecided voters will decide the outcome. More than half the Undecided are from a Protestant background so the 13,538 margin for a United Ireland could be completely wiped out.

There will be 150,000 ethnic minority voters in 2019 of which 110,000 are from EU countries. Since support for remaining in the UK is near zero for these voters if they were to vote a United Ireland vote would win by 140,000. That would be a margin of 10%.

The results of this Lucid Talk poll indicates that there should be a Border Referendum in 2019 post Brexit. Those political parties in favour of a United Ireland need to put forward proposals for how Northern Ireland would be integrated into the Republic of Ireland. There is also much tactical work that need to be accomplished. This includes lowering the voting age to 16 and putting on the electoral register the 90,000 foreign nationals who are currently not registered to vote. With the implementation of online voter registration in Northern Ireland this month this should be easier to accomplish.

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