Nationalist parties have played down the Belfast Telegraph’s poll showing Irish unity is effectively a dead issue.
But unionists have welcomed the results and said the first day of our survey undermined any claim that support for a united Ireland is growing.
Sinn Fein said that despite the poll results, the issue over Irish unity should be decided by a border referendum.
“It is not for the Belfast Telegraph to decide the future of the debate on how a united Ireland will come about,” a spokesman said. “The best way for that to happen would be for a border poll to be called to test where people are at on all of this.”
The SDLP’s Declan O’Loan said the figures — showing just 7% of voters wanting to remove the border immediately and just 25% more backing moves towards a United Ireland in 20 years time— were “not at all surprising”.
He said: “I don’t think the issue is any more dead here than it is in Scotland at the moment, but what it does mean is that the steps we have to take towards Irish unity must be of a practical character, particularly around the economy.
“At the moment given the recession it would not be ideal to move to unity in a sudden, dramatic way. We in the SDLP have always talked about a ‘unity of people’. We must continue our work to build up the quality of relationships.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “It undermines any republican propaganda arguing that there's a groundswell support for a united Ireland.
“With only 7% of Catholics surveyed suggesting they would vote to remove the border and less than half even countenancing the notion within 20 years, it is clear that our constitutional position has been settled.
“Those who dreamed of some kind of demographic ‘time bomb’ taking Northern Ireland out of the Union will not see that succeed.
“It is equally clear there is no rationale for a border poll to be taken in the foreseeable future.
“The task now is to build a better and shared future with Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. It is important that everyone feels proud to be from Northern Ireland.
“Even those who would traditionally support nationalist and republican parties should able to call this society their home.”
Former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott said the findings reinforce previous conclusions by the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey and the Community Relations Council indicating a growing acceptance that a united Ireland is no longer a live issue.
“The onus is now on those who continue to push the notion of a united Ireland to admit publicly that it is a fantasy which is not wanted on either side of the border. That aside, unionists must not be complacent (but) instead seize the opportunity to make the case for the Union and move away from a crude sectarian headcount.”
How we calculate the ‘Favourability Factor’
All polling, indeed all elections, offer a snapshot of opinion on a particular date or at a particular time.
The key advantage polling has over elections is that they can occur more frequently and, therefore, can show changes in opinion more quickly.
This LucidTalk poll has shown and confirmed a number of trends already seen in recent elections, and which many people would know are an accurate reflection of current Northern Ireland opinion.
One example of this is the satisfaction rating with the current political institutions at Stormont.
Poll participants were asked to grade the performance of the NI Executive and Assembly from 5 grades: A = Excellent, B = Good, C = No Difference, D = Poor, E = Very Poor.
In terms of those who responded, professional pollsters often calculate what is known as a ‘Favourability Factor’. This is the difference in numbers between those who choose A&B, and those who choose D&E. No Opinions are ignored, and those who answered C are treated as neutral, and are also not included in the calculation.
Based on this approach the results of the poll show that the Executive and Assembly have a favourability ratio of around -40%, which is close to the very low favourability figures that the last Greek government scored with their own electorate a few weeks ago.
In terms of party political preference, the poll shows a continued advance for Alliance, particularly in the east and mostly at the expense of the UUP, reflecting the trends from last year’s Assembly elections.
It was only in West Belfast that the UUP outperformed the Alliance party in terms of improving their percentage share of the vote — an important trend for both to consider.
Bill White is Managing Director of LucidTalk