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Nesbitt's walkout is backed by majority of unionists

A new poll shows overwhelming unionist backing for the UUP decision to pull out of the Executive - including support from a fifth of DUP supporters.

An online LucidTalk poll of 1,932 voters in Northern Ireland showed that more than 82% of unionists believed Mike Nesbitt's move had been either 'broadly good' (14.6%) or 'excellent' and fully supported it (67.43%). Just over a fifth (21%) of those who thought he was right described themselves as DUP supporters.

The UUP leader caused consternation last week when the UUP pulled its only minister out of the Executive after PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said IRA members had been involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan. This, coupled with Sinn Fein denials that the IRA even existed any more, had, he said, led to a breakdown of trust with republicans.

The DUP described this action as fleeing the battlefield, but Mr Nesbitt seems to have hit a popular chord. The poll shows that even in the voting population as a whole, including nationalists and others like Alliance and independents, 54.82% support him.

Despite the support for the UUP walk-out, just about half (48%) of unionists believe that the political institutions at Stormont are either "very important" or "somewhat important" to Northern Ireland's political future - a view shared by nearly 57% of all voters. This will be seen by politicians as a slim margin of support, especially among unionists where Peter Robinson's position will be seen to be vulnerable.

Nearly 40% of unionists felt the institutions were 'mostly' or '100%' unimportant.

Confidence that things will work out is even scarcer on the ground. Only 31% were hopeful that the institutions would survive "the coming weeks and months" while nearly 44% thought they wouldn't and the rest didn't know. There was little or no difference between the opinions of unionists and nationalists on this point - both were pessimistic.

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The poll was carried out online on an 'open invitation' model among selected panellists.

Bill White of LucidTalk said that there was an error factor of 6-8% on this type of polls as opposed to target samples. He added: "That doesn't take away from the main trend that most unionists think the UUP's decision to leave the Executive was 'excellent 'or 'broadly good'.

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