Poll showing 42% back Irish unity at odds with decades-long survey

A new NI poll showing 42% of respondents would back a united Ireland stands in contrast with a long-term set of surveys spanning decades.

Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 3:07 pm
The Union flag alongside the Irish tricolour

The 42% figure appeared in an online poll done by the Belfast firm LucidTalk for the Sunday Times, and after being published at the weekend it has gone on to be widely quoted in the media.

But its results differ significantly from the face-to-face Life and Times surveys, run routinely year-on-year by a Queen’s University Belfast academic, and showing a far lower level of united Ireland support.

The issue of opinion polls is particularly important because there exists provision in law for the Northern Ireland Secretary to call a referendum on Irish unity if it appears to them that the pro-unity side may win.

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LucidTalk’s new survey asked: “If there was a referendum, ie border poll, on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland would you vote for NI to be...”

> Part of the UK: 46.8%

> Part of a United Ireland: 42.3%

> Don’t know/not sure currently (but will vote): 10.7%

> I wouldn’t vote / would spoil my vote: 0.2%.

That poll by LucidTalk involved about 2,3o0 voters and ran from January 15 to 18.

Previous survey work done by the firm has threw up similar results in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Life and Times poll has been running regularly since the 1990s, and was created jointly by the Province’s two universities.

It is headed by is Dr Paula Devine, senior social survey officer at Queen’s.

Its most recent results (2019) involved 1,203 face-to-face interviews of people at randomly-selected addresses between September 2019 and March 2020.

It asked: “What do you think the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be?”

The 2019 result showed 22% in favour of a united Ireland – almost half the figure that appears in the LucidTalk poll.

The proportion of those favouring Irish unity in the Life and Times survey has ranged from 30% in 2006, all the way down to 14% in 2015 (with the average being 20.4%).

The 2019’s Life and Times survey also asked a closely-linked question, which again showed a roughly similar figure in favour of Irish unity:

“Suppose there was a referendum tomorrow... would you vote ‘yes’ to unify with the Republic or ‘no’?”

The results were:

> Yes: 25%

> No: 51%

> Wouldn’t vote/ineligible: 9%

> Don’t know: 14%.

Whilst economic analyst and unionist commentator Graham Gudgin has described the Life and Times survey’s face-to-face model as “the gold standard,” LucidTalk says that “online research is the accepted ‘gold standard’”.

The way LucidTalk works is that it invites people online to become part of its survey-answering pool.

Known as the LucidTalk “panel”, there are roughly 13,400 people signed up to it, and the firm says it is “balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background”.

It then issues questions to this pool of people, and the firm used about 2,300 responses for this latest poll – adding that the results are “weighted... to reflect the demographic composition of NI”.

Bill White, who runs LucidTalk, was asked why he believes there is such a difference in pro-united Ireland answers in his poll as opposed to the Life and Times one.

“I don’t know – it’s a difficult one,” he said.

“That’s a puzzle. But equally by that, there’s a consistency in the polls of 50% pro-Northern Ireland staying in the UK.

“There’s a difference, yes. It’s hard to explain why.

“There’s the online factor which removes the sort of shy factor within voting a lot more than face-to-face which could be a reason for it – but it’s hard to ascertain.”

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Alistair Bushe