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Middle class Protestants are least likely to vote: poll

By Liam Clarke

A new survey confirms that middle class Protestants are the least likely group to vote in Northern Ireland.

The research also suggested that the UUP, the party which they traditionally support, was seen as the least effective in the last Executive.

The survey of 1,200 people was conducted by Dr John Garry, a political scientist at Queen’s University, shortly after last May’s Assembly elections.

In most societies the educated middle classes are the most likely to register a vote — but in Northern Ireland the situation is reversed.

Those at the bottom of the social scale in terms of income have a turnout of over 60% compared to 50% for those in the highest-earning groups.

“Catholics are more likely to be working class than Protestants, hence driving up the working class participation rate,” Dr Garry wrote in his report.

Younger people are also less likely to vote. Barely half of 18 to 22-year-olds (51.3%) voted compared to two-thirds of people aged 65 or over. If current trends continue, turnout will continue to fall as older voters die.

After the last Assembly there were signs that people did not consider the Executive could influence the economy — 67% of people felt the economic situation had got worse, but only 30% held Stormont responsible.

But nearly twice as many (59%) held it responsible for the state of education, suggesting this may be a key policy area on which parties can compete for votes.

Stormont was also credited with improving policing and justice by most, with only 25% believing that devolution of powers had made things worse.

The study forms the basis of a report to the Electoral Reform Society.

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