An alarming poll for the Remain side in the EU Referendum today shows that in Northern Ireland support for leaving the EU has significantly increased over recent weeks.
A major factor behind the shift is a move by Catholic voters who – despite Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Irish government vigorously campaigning against leaving the EU – are moving towards the Leave camp.
The Millward Brown Ulster poll puts the Remain side on 48 per cent, with Leave on 32 per cent and a further 20 per cent still undecided as the campaign enters its final days.
That is a substantial shift from a comparable April poll by the same company which had put Remain on 55 per cent and Leave on just 23 per cent.
The Province is seen as one of — if not the most — pro-EU regions of the UK, meaning that if the result is at all close in the Province then the overall result is likely to be a vote to leave the EU.
As expected, support for the EU is still lowest among Protestants (just 35 per cent support Remain, with 46 per cent backing Leave) and most Catholics (59 per cent, down from 76 per cent in April) support staying in the EU.
But there has been a striking increase in Catholic support for leaving the EU, with the percentage of Catholic voters who support Leave almost doubling from 12 per cent in April to 21 per cent.
The pollsters also found that although support for Leave has increased across all age groups, it has most markedly increased among 35-47 year olds.
Based on those who told the pollsters that they were intending to vote next Thursday, the poll indicates a likely turnout of about 68 percent in the Referendum.
However, Millward Brown cautioned that the final turnout was likely to be slightly lower as slightly more people tend to say that they will vote than actually do go to the polls
The figures mirror those of numerous recent polls across the UK, which have shown a trend towards the Leave side.
Both online and telephone-based polls have over the last few days shown a narrow lead for the Leave side, although a significant percentage of the population remains undecided.
The Millward Brown poll is also in line with an Ipsos Mori poll in Scotland which yesterday showed that support for Remain has slumped, with 53 per cent for Remain and 32 per cent for Leave.
The result in Scotland will be crucial in that the closer it is the less likely that there will be a second referendum on Scottish independence in the event of the UK leaving the EU but Scotland voting to stay in.
Millward Brown said that the poll has been conducted by the polling company, which has no position on the referendum, at its own initiative and was not paid for by either side.
The polling was conducted between May 26 and Monday of this week and involved face-to-face interviews – generally viewed as more accurate than cheaper online polling – with a sample of 1,011 individuals in their homes, 688 of whom intend to vote next week.