A united Ireland could be much less popular than some polls say, an analysis of opinion surveys suggests

Opinion polling in Northern Ireland may be over-estimating support for a united Ireland, new research suggests.

Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 14th January 2021, 2:35 am
Opinion polls that have reached many of the people who do not vote tend to show lower support for a united Ireland in a possible border poll than opinion polls that have not done

Marcus Leroux, an investigative reporter, has examined surveys that ask people in the Province about its constitutional future, and he has tried to understand the largely diverging results.

Some polls have found that support for a united Ireland is as high as almost 50% of people polled in Northern Ireland, while others have found it as low as under 20%.

In an article for ‘Fortnight’ magazine, reproduced in today’s News Letter (in the print edition, online link below), Mr Leroux finds that much of the variation seems to depend on the extent to which a particular poll has tried to ascertain the views of non-voters.

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Polls that have succeeded in reaching the views of large numbers of non-voters tend to show lower support for a united Ireland than polls that have not done.

This, he speculates, might reflect a large number of people from a unionist background, or people who have a pro-Union outlook, but who do not vote for unionist political parties.

In the article, Mr Leroux refers to the wider problems that pollsters face in getting accurate polls, which has been apparent in the US, where surveys recently again underestimated support for President Donald Trump.

He writes: “The polling industry is generally grappling with how to reach less politically-engaged registered voters in an era where people are less likely to answer their landline or own one at all.”

He adds: “But the general problem of pollsters reaching too few non-voters is colliding here with a Northern Irish peculiarity. Non-voters here are not apathetic, the evidence suggests, they are just turned off by orange-green politics. In the Northern Ireland parlance, the non-voters are Neithers.”

Mr Leroux cites a University of Liverpool review into the 2019 general election. “Pro-Union non-voters outnumbered pro-united Ireland non-voters by more than three to one. They are unionists too embarrassed by unionism to vote for a unionist party or, for the most part, to identify as unionists.”

He says that “another source of authoritative data, the Northern Ireland Life & Times series ... found a strong majority of Neithers have backed remaining in the UK”.

This, Mr Leroux speculates, has distorted some polls so as to exaggerate support for a united Ireland.

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