Prof Jon Tonge’s survey of all polls show only 39% support for a united Ireland and over 50% support for the Union

A survey of all opinion polls on Irish unification since the Brexit referendum shows that only 38-39% would support Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom.

By Philip Bradfield
Friday, 5th November 2021, 11:37 am
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 4:31 pm

By contrast, the same research found that support for remaining in the UK across all the polls averages out in the low fifties in percentage terms.

The work was carried out by University of Liverpool Professor of Politics Jon Tonge, author of The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power.

Prof Tonge was making his comments in the wake of a new poll of 1000 people online about the Northern Ireland Protocol and related issues by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies.

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The poll of polls was carried out by Professor Jon Tonge

It found almost 30% of people would support a united Ireland if a poll was called tomorrow but that almost 59% would prefer to remain in the UK.Prof Tonge said it is “quite clear there is not majority support for a united Ireland yet” and that the latest survey would convince the Secretary of State that there is “simply not enough support for a united Ireland to trigger a border poll”.He added: “I did a poll of all the polls a couple of weeks ago of every poll since the Brexit referendum. And that found support for the united Ireland at around 38-39% and support for the union at  in the low fifties per cent. And that is probably what most people would accept. It is quite clear there is not majority support for a united Ireland yet.

“Nationalists would say, well of course there isn’t because we haven’t been able to issue the prospectus yet. We want unionists to engage in the dialogue.”But he noted that unionists would take a different view.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson issued a statement last night saying there is clear support for NI to remain in the UK and a border poll is therefore out of the question.”

“The rules of the Good Friday Agreement couldn’t be clearer in one sense. It is the Secretary of State’s call as to when a border poll should take place. What we don’t know is what criteria the Secretary of State will use and how much polls will influence him.”

It was made very clear in the High Court that the Secretary of State should not be bound by a fixed set of criteria, he told the Nolan Show today.

“[But] if Brandon Lewis was reading this, this morning [the University of Liverpool Institute of Ireland survey] he would say, ‘well there is simply not enough support for a united Ireland to trigger a border poll’.”    

Speaking of the latest survey, Prof Tonge said the 30% support for a united Ireland doesn’t surprise him because Social Market Research in Belfast which conducted the survey found very similar results in their sample at the last General Election, “so the dial hasn’t moved much”. But he added that the “slight surprise” is the figure of 58.6% who wanted to stay in the UK because it is higher than the Lucid Talk polls, which are around 50%, and higher than Social Market Research found at the general election, which was around 50-52%.

“In other words about half the population in all the polls, whether they are online or face to face, have said, ‘Yeah we want Northern Ireland to stay in the UK’.”

But the level of support for a united Ireland has varied from 45% in some polls down to the NI Life and Times Survey where it was as low as 22%. So the 30% support for a united Ireland of this latest poll is “around the midpoint” of the various polls on the issue, he added.

The survey also suggests the Northern Ireland Protocol isn’t a major issue for the majority of people in Northern Ireland, with health, Covid recovery and the economy rated as more significant.

Less than 10% showed the Protocol as being the most important thing in their life, he said.

“People are relatively content with the Protocol provided - and this is a slight contradiction in the findings - that there is free movement of goods between GB and NI. [Though] Obviously critics of the Protocol would say - the problem is that there isn’t free movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“But overall what the survey shows is that people don’t want the institutions collapsed over the Protocol. That comes across very clearly from the survey.”

He added: “The electoral evidence from the survey is suggesting the next Assembly election might be a lot closer than some other surveys have suggested.”

The survey suggests that Sinn Fein is ahead, confirming what other surveys have found, he said.

“But it suggests that the gap is much closer and that there is only 3-4% difference between Sinn Fein’s position in the polls and the DUP’s.”

Commenting on the poll, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “With only one third of respondents expressing support to leave the United Kingdom, the poll exposes Sinn Fein talk about a border poll to be rhetoric and spin. It points to overwhelming support for Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

“Pro-Union voters will have to make a choice at the election to use their first preference vote wisely and support the DUP, and then transfer to other Unionists, to ensure unionism wins or alternatively to have their votes used in a way that allows Sinn Fein to emerge stronger and thus misinterpret the election as support for a border poll. More pro-union seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly will put the brakes on border poll spin.”

He added: “The poll points to this being a two-horse race as to who is the largest party in the next Assembly. With Sinn Fein focused more on a border poll than on making Northern Ireland work this poll re-enforces the need for the DUP to win the next election.

“We will have a new, fresh team with a mix of youth and experience working for the people. A team that can move Northern Ireland forward, but we need maximum influence in the next Northern Ireland Executive. The more seats we win, the more influence we will have over how the country is run.”

On the protocol, he said the DUP has a duty to be guardians of the Union today and tomorrow.

“I recognise that the Protocol is not the number one issue now but without the Irish Sea Border removed, the damage that will be done to the Union will become greater as the UK and EU diverge,” he said. “This poll demonstrates a majority of people value the Union and as political representatives it is our duty to ensure the Protocol threat to it is removed.

“There are reasonable solutions open to both sides. I welcome that both sides are back at the table negotiating. We will give space for those negotiations to continue but they cannot run indefinitely.”

But Sinn Fein chairperson Declan Kearney said he was “not surprised” by the results from the Liverpool University poll, which he said indicated that the DUP is “out of step with wider, civic unionist opinion”.

He added: “There is no credible alternative to the Protocol. People want power sharing to work properly.”

Read the full report here.

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