Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Empty booths... the women and young who won't cast their vote in Northern Ireland

The most noticeable thing about voting figures in Northern Ireland is that they are falling, especially among women and young people under 24.

Half of both groups told us they wouldn't vote if an Assembly election was held tomorrow.

In opinion polls here people generally overstate their willingness to vote or suggest that they would vote for a moderate party than is actually the case.

This is because some polling companies push for an answer or ask which party they would generally feel closer to. As a result, election turnout is usually lower than predicted.

However, our pollsters are told not to push for a response and as a result the number of people telling us they would not vote this time was more or less neck and neck with the last Assembly election, at 44%.

That is four points up on the last time we polled for voting intention in November 2012.

Looked on historically the fall in Northern Ireland voting turnout is stark and is already well below the UK average. In 1998, for instance, we had a 70% turnout compared to 54.7% in 2011.

As recently as the 2005 general election turnout was 62.9%, the highest of any UK region, but it fell to 57.6% in 2010. It seems set to continue to fall.

Our polling gives important clues to who these non-voters are and what they think. In most countries non-voters are concentrated in the lower earning DE social categories.

Here, 51% of the AB groups (Professional and Managerial) say they won't vote compared to 39% of DE. The middle classes are turning off politics. Women are also less likely to vote than men in the proportion of 51% to 36%.

Voters tend to be older than non-voters, a sign that the young are switching off politics. 52% of the 18-24 age-groups said they wouldn't bother voting, compared with 40% of the 45-64 age-group, and 38% of the 65+ age-group.

When we looked at their opinion, we found them more likely to be agnostic on divisive issues with 31% of them taking no view, as opposed to 23% of the total sample, and 22% opting for civic flags as opposed to 14% overall.

In terms of religion those who described themselves as 'other' and 'none' are the most disengaged from politics. 41% of Protestants said they wouldn't vote compared with 37% of Catholics. In contrast, 56% who gave their religion as 'other' and 55% who said 'none' don't intend voting.

 

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