Half of Northern Ireland population neither unionist nor nationalist, survey says
Half of Northern Ireland's population see themselves as neither unionist or nationalist according to a new survey.
The information comes from the 2018 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey on social attitudes.
The survey was produced by Ark through a partnership between Queen's University and Ulster University.
The wide-raging survey interviewed 1,201 adults over the age of 18 years on various topics including politics, the criminal justice system, LGBT issues and abortion.
Those taking part in the survey were asked 'Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a unionist, a nationalist or neither?'.
Of the respondents 26% identified as unionist, 21% as nationalist and 50% as neither. Other made up 1% while the remaining 2% was don't know.
The figures have taken a sharp rise from the inaugural study in 1998 which saw 33% of people designate themselves as neither, compared with 40% unionist and 25% nationalist.
The 2018 survey also looked at the issue by gender, with 31% of men seeing themselves as unionists compared to 22% nationalist.
Women designated as 23% unionist compared with 20% nationalist.
In response to the survey women saw themselves as more likely to be neither than men, with 55% to 45%.
The question was also addressed from a religious background with 55% of Protestants seeing themselves as unionist, with 1% nationalist and 42% neither.
Catholic responders designated themselves as 50% nationalist and 48% neither with 0% considering themselves unionist.
Those of no religion were overwhelmingly more likely to see themselves as neither (64%), while 25% saw themselves as unionist and 8% nationalist.
When taking age into account 25% of those aged 18-24 saw themselves as unionist, 14% as nationalist and 59% neither.
In the 25-34 age bracket the majority saw themselves as neither again (53%) compared to 22% unionist and 21% nationalist.
The highest age group to identify as neither was the 35-44 bracket (63%), with 18% considering themselves unionists and just 15% nationalist.
The 45-54 age group saw the highest number identifying themselves as nationalist (28%) compared to 23% unionist and 46% neither.
In the 55-64 age group 51% of people saw themselves as neither, with 24% unionist and 22% nationalist.
The 65+ was the only group topped by unionists (41%), with 38% considering themselves neither and 19% nationalist.
Academic Dr Cathal McManus jointly conducted the survey on behalf of Queen's Unioversity.
He told the BBC that the results suggest that the political identity in Northern Ireland is in a "process of change".
Dr McManus said that Northern Ireland's 'neither' population had not traditionally supported a specific political party.
"The big question this raises, of course, centres on the political impact that this change brings about, or doesn't as the case may be," he said.
"It seems that a political apathy may have set in within the 'neither' section of the population which, of course, both limits its political impact and ensures that the traditional nationalist/unionist narrative continues to define our political culture."
Belfast Telegraph Digital