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Poll results: How does Northern Ireland public rate politicians ahead of Assembly election?

By Bill White

Published 13/04/2016

Graph 1: How do you rate each of the NI Political Party Leaders performances over the past 1-2 months e.g. Leadership, Decisions made, Media performance, etc.
Graph 1: How do you rate each of the NI Political Party Leaders performances over the past 1-2 months e.g. Leadership, Decisions made, Media performance, etc.
Graph 2
Graph 3
Graph 4
Graph 5

As you may have seen from our previous reports, LucidTalk are running regular 'Monthly Tracker' polls of their Northern Ireland Opinion Panel during the build-up to the NI Assembly elections on 5th May, and the UK EU Referendum in June.

The LucidTalk Opinion Panel (currently 1,400 members) consists of Northern Ireland residents (age 18+) and is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland.

The objective of these scheduled and regular monthly 'Tracker' polls is to research opinion on key issues at key points in time during this critical pre-election period + track changes in trends and opinions about key topics and issues on a monthly basis. These key issues include: Political Party popularity, Party Leader ratings, Key election issues, and EU referendum opinion.

For this 'March Tracker' poll-project our 1,400 member NI Opinion Panel was targeted, and invited to participate, and after data auditing 970 full responses were recorded in terms of the final results.

Graph 1 shows the Political Party leader rating scores in terms of the question 'How do you rate each of the NI Political Party Leaders performances over the past 1-2 months?' - from 'Very Good' through neutral to 'Very Poor'.

NB: NI21 has now been excluded due to that party not now running any candidates in the forthcoming NI Assembly election.

We can see that Arlene Foster continues to have an impact as the new DUP leader, with 46% of respondents thinking she is putting in a Very Good, or Good performance as DUP party leader. But unlike in February when she came top in the Very Good/Good score, Martin McGuinness pips Mrs Foster this time with 49% of respondents thinking he is doing a Very Good, or Good job. It is noticeable that Jim Allister also scores high on the Very Good/Good score at 48%, sort of joint top with Martin McGuinness. Steven Agnew also scores near the top with a Very Good/Good score at 47%.

Mike Nesbitt has improved since our February Opinion Panel poll with 45% thinking he's doing a Very Good to Good job, but there are 30% thinking the opposite. Colum Eastwood continues to have a high No. of 'neutrals' (the green column) indicating that perhaps the jury is still out on his leadership, with our poll respondents perhaps wanting more evidence about his leadership before making a decision one way or the other. Alliance leader David Ford is not fairing that well with his Very Good/Good score but like Colum Eastwood he also has a high No. of neutrals.

PARTY LEADER RATINGS - Leader Satisfaction Scores

A useful way to look at Leader rating results is by 'Leader satisfaction' scores - this is calculated by adding the combined 'Very Good/Good' scores, and subtracting the combined 'Poor/Very Bad' scores, ignoring the neutral (green column) scores. If calculated this way the Leader ratings come out as (in order of scores from high to low): STEVEN AGNEW +24.4, MARTIN MCGUINNESS +22.5, ARLENE FOSTER (DUP) +20.9, JIM ALLISTER +20.4, , MIKE NESBITT +15.5, COLUM EASTWOOD -2.5, DAVID FORD -17, , DAVID MCNARRY -65.

So this has changed since the February Opinion Panel Poll. Steven Agnew now leads with Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster 2nd and 3rd respectively. Arlene Foster lead in our February poll but has now dropped back to 3rd place, although still with a very respectable leader rating score of +20.9 which is much better than the previous DUP leader's score on this question. In close 4th place comes Jim Allister on +20.4, although frankly all of the top 4 have scores so very close to each other, that it could be said that the top 4 are all sort of joint leaders.

Mike Nesbitt score has doubled from our February poll to +15.5, showing a good upward trend - along with Colum Eastwood who has improved from -18.3 (February) to -2.5 maybe indicating perhaps that as a newly elected leader he is beginning to make an impact.

Alliance should note that a lot of the comments back from respondents (we note all comments) indicate that Naomi Long would probably score higher as a more favoured leader of Alliance. As you can see above our Opinion Panel didn't think David McNarry is doing a very good job as NI UKIP leader - and NB our poll was before his interview on the Nolan radio show on Monday (11/4/16). Remember we did ask our Opinion Panel respondents to answer this question neutrally, disregarding their own political views.


Well the UK In/Out Referendum campaign is well underway, with as we now know the date of the UK EU Referendum being Thursday June 23rd, and we'll be polling on this issue on a regular basis right up to Referendum day. This is our second monthly tracker poll (March 2016) of the election season so we now have a good comparison to our previous polls i.e. our February 'Tracker' poll, and our January/February BIG100 Poll (2,886 responses), and therefore we'll be able to see what way the argument is trending. So in Graph 2 above we show the way our NI representative Opinion Panel is currently intending to vote in the EU referendum - these are the results from our March Opinion Panel poll, balanced and weighted to be reflective of Northern Ireland as a whole.

So compared to our February 'Tracker' poll 'Remain' is up 9.5% points, 'Leave' is down 0.6%, and the undecided (but intending to vote) has dropped a huge 8.3%. So we can see that a large chunk of the 'undecideds' have now made up their mind (at least at this stage they have - they can still change their minds again!). We can see that the vast majority of these undecideds are now thinking of, and planning to vote 'Remain'.

As per our February 'Tracker' Poll, and our January/February BIG100 poll, there is a large (very large!) difference of opinion between the traditional NI Unionist and Nationalist communities on this issue. Graphs 3 to 5 above show how Unionist Voters (Graph 3), Nationalist/Republican Voters (Graph 4), and Alliance/Green/Other Voters (Graph 5), are thinking about the EU Referendum issue. NB It is noteworthy that a small No. of Nationalist/Republican voters said they weren't intending to vote at all in the UK EU Referendum.

Note that compared with our February 'Tracker' poll 'Remain' within the Unionist community has jumped 6 points, but Leave also went up 7 points, and Unionist undecideds going down a large 11 % points - showing perhaps that lot of the Unionists are making up their minds on the EU issue (at least at this stage!). When we do a Male - Female analysis we find that Males are proportionally more for Leave than Females - and this applies across all communities (and NB across the UK), and if we look at this within the Unionist community we find that over 70% of Male Unionist voters are intending to currently vote Leave.

On the Nationalist/Republican side there has been in previous polls, and there still is, overwhelming support for 'Remain', - and that support is still there with this Tracker poll with 89% of Nationalist/ Republican voters planning to vote 'Remain'.

We also asked about what were the factors that people were considering in terms of making up their minds about the EU referendum.

The main reasons for people voting 'Remain' were:

(1) NI specifically gains from the EU - business, agriculture, social programs etc. (2) UK & NI are net beneficiaries from the EU i.e. the UK gets more out than it puts in. (3) To remain in same trading block as Republic of Ireland,

Interestingly 'To maintain cohesion of UK i.e. avoid Scotland leaving UK' figured a bit as a reason, but not that high up in terms of frequency of mentions. Again, most of the voluntary comments that came from the SDLP and Sinn Fein voters all stressed the attractiveness of the all-Ireland economy and country, in the context of the UK staying in the EU.

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

(1) Immigration - UK & NI needs more control of its borders. (2) The EU is becoming an super-state not a trading block & not democratically accountable for decisions. (3) UK is a net contributor to the EU & NI would gain from the saving.

It should be noted that the No. 1 reason above i.e. Immigration, and lack of border controls, was running a close second to the No. 2 reason above in all previous polls (like our February Tracker and BIG100 polls), but as can now be seen, Immigration has become the No. 1 factor for the 'Leave' voters in our Opinion Panel. Again, perhaps surprisingly, the reason: 'UK would fully control who it pays benefits to' came in way down the list of reasons in terms of the frequency of mentions etc. This again shows that the 'Leave ' supporters seem to be more concerned about border and immigration controls, than controlling benefits to immigrants once they are in the UK?

In addition, the 'Undecideds' showed that the following two factors were uppermost in their minds in terms of deciding what way to vote in the referendum:

(a) NI specifically gains from the EU - business, agriculture, social programs etc. (reason to remain) (b) Immigration - UK & NI needs more control of its borders. (reason to leave)

It's key to note, that even among the 'Undecideds', immigration and border controls is a concern, and is in a battle with the gains that NI obtains from EU membership, i.e. in terms of the Undecideds eventually deciding which way to vote. However compared to our February 'Tracker' poll a lot of the Undecideds seemed to have now made up their minds (at least for now) and have gone to Remain maybe showing that (a) above has come out on top in terms of the battle with (b). Again, it's important to note that the majority of the 'Undecideds' come from the Unionist community.

So it looks as if NI is tending towards the Remain side of the EU argument, but it's key to note that 2 out of 3 Unionist voters are currently intending to vote Leave! Plus remember, and as we said before, the result in Great Britain could be very close, and there is a possibility that the NI result could end up deciding the overall UK decision. So there's a still a lot to play for.

Project – Background Information


Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk. The project was carried out online for a period of 60 Hours from 10am 30th March to 10pm Friday 1st April 2016 (60 Hours). The project targeted the established LucidTalk Opinion Panel (1,400 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. 1,022 full responses were received, and a data auditing process was carried out to ensure all completed poll-surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses, resulting in 970 responses being considered in terms of the final results.

All data results have been weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.0%, at 95% confidence.

All surveys and polls may be subject to sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, and measurement error. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting. NB In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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, and have been, carried out to the professional standards laid down by the BPC.

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