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How will Northern Ireland vote in the upcoming EU referendum?

Published 06/11/2015

A referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union could be held as early as 2016 if treaty negotiations are successful.
A referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union could be held as early as 2016 if treaty negotiations are successful.

With a UK European Union referendum coming up within the next two years we thought it would be relevant to include a poll question on this issue in our recent BIG60 online poll.

You may have seen in previous reviews of our NI-Wide BIG60 (i.e. 60 Hours) online poll that we received a whopping 2,642 responses, and after data auditing we considered 2,517 in terms of the final results and analysis.

So what way is Northern Ireland (NI) going to vote in the upcoming UK EU referendum? Here are the results from the total poll, balanced and weighted to be reflective of Northern Ireland as a whole:

FusionCharts (92).jpg  

So we can see that at the present time the poll shows that 56.5% of NI voters would support staying-in the EU, 28.3% would vote to leave, and 15.2% are still undecided, but are planning to vote.

But it's more interesting when we look at the two communities in NI - Here is the way Unionist voters say they intend to vote in the UK EU referendum (i.e. those who say they normally vote DUP, UUP, TUV, UKIP,  PUP, or NI Conservative):

FusionCharts (89).jpg  

Therefore at the present time, we can see that the Unionist community is going against the total NI trend in that 54.3% say they are planning to vote to leave the EU, with only 21.5% intending to vote to stay-in, and a sizable 24.2% saying they haven't made up their minds yet, are still thinking about it, but intend to vote.

So then what about the Nationalist/Republican voters i.e. those who say they normally vote Sinn Fein or SDLP. Here are the results from that grouping in terms of the EU referendum:

FusionCharts (88).jpg  

The contrast between the Unionists and Nationalists is fairly dramatic with a huge 91.2% of Sinn Fein or SDLP voters saying they intend to vote for the UK to stay-in the EU, a small 7.7% intend to vote to leave, and a very small 1.1% saying they are undecided yet. This last statistic is interesting i.e. only 1.1% of Nationalists/Republicans are undecided, compared to 24.2% of Unionist voters (nearly 1 in 4), who are undecided on this issue. In raw number terms this means there are only about 2,000-2,500 Sinn Fein or SDLP voters who are undecided, compared with about 80,000 Unionist voters who are undecided, and are still thinking about their decision, on the EU issue.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of Alliance and 'Others' (e.g. Green Party) supporters are supportive of the EU and are planning to vote to remain in:

FusionCharts (91).jpg  

We also asked about what were the factors that people were considering in terms of making up their minds about the EU referendum, offering respondents a No. of options .

In terms of those who said they were going to vote to stay-in here are the three main factors stated in order of how popular they were indicated:

(1) UK needs to be inside one of the world's largest trading blocks.

(2) The UK needs to be in the EU to exert influence and trade around the world.

(3) UK is a net beneficiary from the EU i.e. it gets out more than it puts in.

No. 3 was mentioned very frequently in the context that NI specifically does very well in terms of financial support from the EU. However, most of the voluntary comments that came from the SDLP and Sinn Fein voters also mentioned the attractiveness of the all-Ireland economy and country, in the context of the UK staying in the EU.

Likewise here are the three most popular answers given by those who said they were intending to vote to leave the EU:

(1) The EU is becoming an super-state not a trading block - I want the UK to be independent.

(2) Immigration - UK needs more control of its borders.

(3) UK is a net contributor to the EU i.e. it puts in more than it gets out.

It should be noted that No. 2 above i.e. immigration, and lack of border controls, was very close to being the No. 1 reason.

In addition, we asked the undecided's what factors they were currently considering in terms of coming to their decision as to which way to vote - again here are the top three reasons the 'undecideds' said they were thinking about at the present time:

(1) The EU is becoming an super-state not a trading block - I want the UK to be independent.

(reason to leave)

(2) Immigration - UK needs more control of its borders. (reason to leave) 

(3) The UK needs to be in the EU to exert influence and trade around the world. (reason to stay-in)

It's not surprising that being 'undecided' there's a split, and uncertainty of whether the benefit of being in the EU expressed by No. 3, outweighs the disadvantage of No. 1, in terms of staying-in. Or you could look at that issue the other way round, with No. 1 being more important than No. 3, which would sway the 'undecideds' in the end to vote to leave. However, it's key to note, that even among the 'undecideds', immigration and border controls is a concern, and is right up there as an issue they are considering in coming to their decision on the EU. Plus remember, as the poll results above show, the vast majority of the 'undecideds' come from the Unionist community.   

Of course there's still a long way to go to the referendum, and a lot can happen. The key to the NI decision is going to be those 24% (nearly 1 in 4) of unionist voters who have yet to make up their mind - that could swing the result either way. Plus remember the result in Great Britain could be very tight, and there is a possibility that the NI result could end up deciding the overall UK decision. So there's a lot to play for.

Bill White is Managing Director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk. You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter: @LucidTalk.



Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk. The project was carried out online for a period of 60Hours from 10am Monday 19th October to 10pm Wednesday 21st October 2015. The project used a combination of participants from the established LucidTalk Opinion Panel (1,200 members) which is NI demographically representative and balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background. In addition respondents for this survey were also selected from among those who were either invited or volunteered to participate. In total 2,642 completed responses were received and after data auditing 2,517 completed responses were included in the data and results analysis. The data has been weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland. Because the sample is partly based on those who initially self-selected for participation rather than a probability sample, sampling error can be higher than a standard targeted sample poll.

In addition, all surveys and polls may be subject to sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, and measurement error.

All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.9%, at 95% confidence. All reported margins of sampling error will include the computed design effects for weighting.

LucidTalk is a member of all recognised professional Polling and Market Research organisations, including the UK Market Research Society (UK-MRS), the British Polling Council (BPC), and ESOMAR (European Society of Market Research organisations). The BPC are the primary UK professional body ensuring professional Polling and Market Research standards. All polling, research, sampling, methodologies used, market research projects and results and reports production are carried out to the professional standards laid down by the BPC.

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