Detailed survey shows clear majority support for Northern Ireland staying in UK

A letter from Dr Graham Gudgin:

Saturday, 12th June 2021, 6:30 am
Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

The most reliable evidence on social and political attitudes comes each year from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey run from Queen’s and Ulster universities.

This is part of the International Social Survey Programme and is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the NI Executive and other public bodies.

Unlike commercial surveys in NI, it is a detailed face to face survey drawn from a random sample of around 1,200 respondents across the Province.

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The results of the 2020 survey, with fieldwork conducted last autumn have just been released.

Of particular interest are the results on constitutional preference.

For each year since 1998 the survey has asked the same question – ‘Do you think the long-term policy for n\i should be to remain part of the UK or reunify with the rest of Ireland.

The proportion preferring to “reunify with the rest of Ireland” has always been low and before Brexit fell to only 14% of respondents. Since Brexit the proportion rose to a peak of 22% in 2019.

Among the turmoil of the pandemic and its relatively poor initial handling in the UK the proportion rose to 26% last autumn, with the preference for remaining in the UK at 55%.

Other preferences (eg an Independent NI) and don’t knows were at 19%. A less frequently asked parallel question about immediate voting intentions puts Irish unity a bit higher at 30%.

This is somewhat out of date evidence, but the great success of the vaccine programme would reasonably suggest an increase in support for remaining in the UK if the survey were done today.

Either way, this evidence suggests that a border poll would lead to an overwhelming majority for remaining the Union irrespective of Brexit. This no doubt explains why Sinn Fein continually demand a border poll but rarely want one immediately.

Finally, it is sad but not atypical that the BBC have made no reference to these important results, in contrast to the publicity it normally gives to less reliable commercial surveys.

Unionists should demand an explanation for what is a notable imbalance on presenting evidence on NI’s major constitutional issue.

Dr Graham Gudgin, University of Cambridge

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