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exclusive Just 29% in Northern Ireland would vote for unity, major study reveals


A total of 29% would support Irish unity but 52% would back remaining in the UK if a referendum was held imminently

A total of 29% would support Irish unity but 52% would back remaining in the UK if a referendum was held imminently

A total of 29% would support Irish unity but 52% would back remaining in the UK if a referendum was held imminently

Less than a third of people here would vote for a united Ireland if a border poll was held tomorrow, according to a major study of 2,000 voters.

A total of 29% would support Irish unity but 52% would back remaining in the UK if a referendum was held imminently.

The key to nationalist success in a border poll is winning over those who define themselves as 'other' and vote for Alliance, the Greens and smaller parties.

But nearly three-quarters (73%) of those who define themselves as other - neither nationalist or unionist - would support remaining in the UK with just 27% opting for Irish unity.

If the 'don't knows' are removed from the overall result, the figures break down at 65% to 35% in favour of maintaining Northern Ireland's current constitutional position.

Support for the Union was higher among unionist voters than support for Irish unity was among nationalist voters.

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A total of 99% of DUP and UUP voters wanted to remain in the UK compared to 92% of Sinn Fein and 81% of SDLP voters saying they would support Irish unity in a border poll.

Just 30% of Alliance voters backed a united Ireland compared to 70% supporting the Union.

The results are revealed in Northern Ireland's largest general election face-to-face study ever carried out. Just over 2,000 people were interviewed across our 18 Westminster constituencies between December 28, 2019 and February 11.

The Liverpool University-led project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council with interviews conducted by Social Market Research.

Asked to define national identity, Irish was the most popular with 35% of voters choosing it to 34% saying they were British and 23% identifying as Northern Irish.

Asked to label themselves ideologically, 28% chose 'unionist', 25% 'nationalist' and 40% said neither.

Despite the cash-for-ash scandal, support for devolution was remarkably high. The restoration of the Assembly and Executive was backed by 81% of people with a minuscule minority of 2% opposing it.

Power-sharing with both unionists and nationalists in the Stormont executive governing together was also strongly endorsed with 61% support and 7% opposition.

But deep divisions remain on an Irish Language Act with 36% of voters supporting one and 32% opposed. DUP and UUP voters were equally against the legislation with 74% opposed while 82% of Sinn Fein and 77% of SDLP supporters were in favour. Alliance voters were 32% in favour to 25% against.

Despite the strong support for devolution, voters remain deeply divided along religious grounds.

The results indicate that the suggestion of a swathe of Catholics voting DUP over the abortion issue is a myth - zero per cent said they voted for either unionist party.

A half of Catholics voted Sinn Fein (51%) while 28% SDLP, and 13% Alliance.

No Protestants voted Sinn Fein and just 1% SDLP. Among those who said they were of 'no religion', 28% voted Alliance, 15% SDLP, 10% UUP, and 6% Sinn Fein and 6% DUP.

Despite significant criticism over her party's handling of Brexit and RHI, there was strong support for Arlene Foster among DUP voters.

Asked to rate her from zero (bad) to 10 (good), almost a third gave her 10/10 while 69% gave her eight or more. Michelle O'Neill's approval ratings were lower with her party voters with 55% scoring her at eight or above. But both leaders have bridges to build with the other community - 56% of Sinn Fein voters and 44% of SDLP supporters gave Mrs Foster zero.

Ms O'Neill was equally unpopular with DUP voters - 43% rated her at zero and 75% at two or under.

Colum Eastwood was most highly thought of among his party's voters with 95% giving him six or above.

Alliance's Naomi Long was the leader most popular with voters from other parties. For unionists, the DUP was regarded as the most effective Northern Ireland party (54%) compared to 9% for the UUP.

Among nationalists, 56% viewed Sinn Fein as more effective with 12% opting for the SDLP.

Across the entire electorate, the DUP was seen as by far the most effective party (19%), followed by SF (11%), Alliance (10%) and the SDLP (8%). The UUP scored worst with just 4% saying it was most effective.

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