DUP pours cold water on ‘strongest pro-unity opinion poll in history’

Lee Reynolds, DUP councillor and Leave campaigner, at the EU referendum count at Titanic Centre in Belfast. By Ben Lowry June 23 2016
Lee Reynolds, DUP councillor and Leave campaigner, at the EU referendum count at Titanic Centre in Belfast. By Ben Lowry June 23 2016

The DUP has dismissed an opinion poll which found a very strong level of support for a united Ireland, describing it as “well out of sync” with other analyses.

The poll of 1,199 people, commissioned by two pro-Remain pressure groups (called Our Future Our Choice and Best for Britain), found 52% in favour of reunification.

This is unusual; whilst other commercially-run online polls this year found support approaching the halfway mark, none produced a result where a majority say they would join a united Ireland.

All three of these well-publicised online polls conflict with two face-to-face academic-run surveys published this year, which found support for reunification to be only about half as great (see below).

Both DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson and DUP strategist Lee Reynolds have poured cold water on the latest results, published on Monday.

It was published by a London-based agency Deltapoll, and although it refused to say who carried out the fieldwork – such as contacting respondents with questions and collecting answers – the News Letter has established that Northern Irish firm LucidTalk was involved.

LucidTalk was in the news after it ran a poll in May showing a high level of support for a united Ireland – 42.1%.

That survey involved contacting people who belong to the ‘LucidTalk Opinion Panel’ – an existing pool of people willing to take part in surveys – and just over 1,300 responses were considered.

That was then followed by a second online poll in June, this time headed up by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft. It polled 1,666 people, and found 44% would back reunification.

Lord Ashcroft refused to say who did the fieldwork for his poll. And when LucidTalk (which had announced it was conducting a Brexit-related poll over the same dates) was asked if it was involved, boss Bill White said: “I can’t comment... It’s like anything. It’s client confidentiality.”

In the wake of this third poll from Deltapoll this week, showing the highest yet result for a united Ireland support, Mr White confirmed to the News Letter that LucidTalk had done fieldwork for it.

However, he said he could not say how many responses he supplied, and indicated other firms may have also been involved in fieldwork.

Lee Reynolds, DUP policy director, said: “Its results show probably the largest recorded support for Irish unification in an opinion poll ever.

“Anyone faced with a poll making such claims should have proceeded at least cautiously, at best with a long barge pole – especially considering who commissioned it – but the media have of course jumped on it.”

East Antrim MP Mr Wilson told the News Letter the results of it were “well out of sync with other surveys”.

“With all the kind of negative publicity there’s been around Brexit, and scare stories about how it’s going to affect people, you’re always going to get a bit of uncertainty,” he said.

But he added: “I wouldn’t be particularly concerned about it, because I think it’s out of sync with a lot of other polls we’ve already seen.”

ACTUAL QUESTIONS ASKED:

The Deltapoll survey asked a string of Brexit-related questions.

Among them was this: “Imagine now that the UK decided to REMAIN IN the EU. Under these circumstances how would you vote in a referendum on the constitutional arrangements of the island of Ireland?”

The responses were: 52% would vote for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK, 35% would vote for a united Ireland, and 11% did not know.

The next question asked how people would vote if they could “imagine now that the UK decided to LEAVE the EU”.

The responses were: 52% would vote for a united Ireland, 39% would vote for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK, and 7% did not know.

ACADEMIC STUDIES SHOWED PRO-UNITY FEELING WAS LITTLE OVER ONE-FIFTH

Two seperate academic studies of public opinion about the Irish border were released this year.

One was of 1,012 people done by Queen’s University Belfast.

The other was of 1,203 people by the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (a study which was set up by both NI’s universities and has been run regularly for 20 years).

Both these involved people physically visiting random houses and gathering data face-to-face.

They showed pro-united Ireland support stood at 21% and 22%, respectively.

The issue of opinion polling is of absolutely crucial importance for the Province’s future, because such results could be used to pressurise the Northern Ireland Secretary to call a border poll. The 1998 Northern Ireland Act says this should happen if “at any time it appears likely to him” that the bulk of voters would pick a united Ireland.

LATEST RESULTS REFLECT ‘COMMON SENSE’

Bill White, whose firm LucidTalk did fieldwork behind this week’s poll, has said the powerfully pro-united Ireland results may be down to Remainers “kicking the cat” – that is, lashing out in frustration over Brexit.

He said the overall results do pass “a realistic common sense test”; for example, he said the SF/SDLP vote is consistently about 40%, and said the Alliance/Green vote is constantly 10% – added to which “the vast majority of the ‘normal non-voters’ are very pro-EU (but would certainly come out to vote in a border poll)”.

He said in his experience “soft SDLP” voters plus Alliance and Green backers are veering more towards a United Ireland as a result of Brexit.

He also said “30% of unionists voted Remain in the NI EU referendum”, and that some are so annoyed at not being “listened to” that “a section (albeit small) of this group are now saying they would consider a united Ireland”.

He said “our internal analyses show a lot of this maybe frustration, and the Alliance/Green/SDLP/soft unionists sector letting off steam, or kicking the cat as I put it”.

He said this does not mean they are “lying” during polling; rather, it could be that they would be enthusiasts for a united Ireland in a mere poll, but would balk at voting that way in a real, live referendum.