The latest LucidTalk poll results have shown some interesting patterns and trends.
Some 2,209 responses were used in the final weighted representative sample, and the results are accurate in terms of representing NI opinion to within an error of +/-2.3%.
Now because there is always debate and controversy about polls, perhaps we should clarify what we mean by a NI representative sample.
First of all, polling works, and is accurate, because if we take, for example, a young unionist male around 18-24 years old, living in a working-class area in Fermanagh, it is likely that he will have similar views on a whole range of issues (including the recent legacy proposals) to an 18-24 year-old working-class unionist male living in, say, east Belfast. This is even though they don’t know each other. The same can be said for obtaining opinions from 25-35 year old females with two children living in rural areas, middle-class nationalists/republicans, the over 65s and so on. These groups are known as demographics.
A NI representative sample has the same representative numbers from the various demographics that make up the total population. It will include little groups of all the different types of people, such as working-class and middle-class unionists and nationalists, a set number of 18-24 year-olds, 25-35 year-olds, the 65+ age group, and people from all areas of NI. Most importantly, the sample will be designed to have the same proportion of males and females, Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists, young and old, rural and urban people as there are in the total population.
This opinion sample is an accurate little ‘mini-micro’ Northern Ireland. The theory then is that if we ask this sample if they, for example, supported or opposed the current proposals on legacy and ‘dealing with the past’, and it produced a result that 71% do not support them (which is the actual poll result), then if the Government ran a NI-wide referendum on this topic it would almost certainly produce the same result, or pretty close to it.
Now that’s all the technical stuff over, and we can see that these poll results should and do accurately reflect what NI thinks about the legacy proposals. So, what did the results show us? Well, overwhelmingly, the vast majority say ‘no’ to the proposals, but interestingly unionists are less against the proposals than nationalists/republicans. Some 34% of unionists support the proposals compared to only 10% of nationalists/republicans.
Why is this? Well we also offer our respondents an opportunity (voluntary) to make comments, and these can give some perspective. Looking at these comments, it would seem perhaps that unionists think there are more and more ‘inquiries’ into incidents such as Soldier F, Loughinisland etc, but they are not seeing (as they view it) inquiries or debate about IRA atrocities. Perhaps, then, this third of unionists who support the proposals would rather see an amnesty for all if it stops, as they see it, a lopsided, ongoing, and lengthy investigative process, which they think is biased against the security forces.
We also see an interesting pattern with regard to age, with older people tending to show less opposition to the proposals. We can assume that there’s a fair likelihood most of these older respondents remember the darkest days of the Troubles, and perhaps that experience and memory has influenced their view that we shouldn’t keep going back to the past. It’s a past a lot of these older respondents would like to forget.
So, we see NI is sort of united (for once) with 71% disagreeing with the legacy plan. But the polling shows, and indeed we all know, unionists and nationalist/republicans oppose it for very different reasons. When justifying their views, you won’t hear Sinn Fein representatives quoting Claudy and La Mon as examples as to why these proposals should not proceed. Likewise, you won’t hear unionists quoting Bloody Sunday or the Ballymurphy massacre to justify their opposition. So maybe this is why there are 23% who support the proposals (the mostly older unionists), thinking perhaps that the ‘amnesty’ is a sort of ‘best of a bad job’. As commentator Newton Emerson said last week: “We were always going to reach this point, one way or another.”
Bill White is managing director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk