Belfast Telegraph

EU referendum: How will Northern Ireland unionists and nationalists vote on June 23?

By Bill White

With a UK European Union referendum coming up we started polling on this issue in Northern Ireland last October.

As part of our recent BIG100 poll we once again researched the upcoming UK EU referendum to find out what the people of NI really were thinking about this issue.

Read more: Explainer: Everything you need to know about EU referendum and what Brexit could mean for you

Our 'BIG100' ran online over a 100 hour period from February 8 to 12 and achieved a huge 3,023 full responses, and after data auditing - i.e. to determine only the genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses, we considered 2,886 in terms of the final results and analysis.

So what way is Northern Ireland going to vote in the upcoming UK EU referendum - Graph 1 above shows the results from the total poll, balanced and weighted to be reflective of Northern Ireland as a whole.

So compared to our previous poll last October 'Remain' is down 1.5% points at 55%, 'Leave' is up 1 % point at 29.5%, and the undecided (but intending to vote) has dropped nearly 0.5 % point to 15%. So a few more people have made up their minds on this issue since last October.

But it's more interesting when we look at the two communities in Northern Ireland - Graph 2 shows the way Unionist voters say they intend to vote in the UK EU referendum (i.e. those who say they normally vote DUP, UUP, TUV, UKIP, PUP, or NI Conservative).

Graph 2 shows us that the Unionist community is going against the total NI trend in that 63.6% say they are planning to vote to leave the EU, with only 20% intending to vote to stay-in, and a sizable 16% saying they haven't made up their minds yet, are still thinking about it, but intend to vote.

These 'Don't knows' (yet) at 16% is down from the previous Unionist 'undecideds' last October which was 24%. This shows perhaps that a No. of Unionists have now made up their mind on the issue with the majority of these now intending to vote to 'Leave' the EU.

So then what about the Nationalist/Republican voters i.e. those who say they normally vote Sinn Fein or SDLP. Graph 3 above shows the results from that grouping in terms of the EU referendum

Like our previous polling on this issue last October - The contrast between the Unionists and Nationalists is dramatic with a huge 74% of Sinn Fein or SDLP voters saying they intend to vote for the UK to stay-in the EU, a small 10.5% intend to vote to leave, with 14.8% saying they are undecided yet.

This last statistic is interesting, because compared to last October the No. of Nationalist/Republican 'undecideds' has grown, but is still less than the Unionist 'undecideds'.

In addition the 'Remain' vote has dropped from over 90% to 74% indicating perhaps that a No. of Nationalist/Republicans have moved from 'Remain' to 'having a further think about the issue' i.e. moved to the 'undecideds'.

Again, like our polling last October, and not surprisingly, the vast majority of Alliance and 'Others' (e.g. Green Party) supporters are supportive of the EU and are planning to vote to remain in - see Graph 4 above.

We also asked about what were the factors that people were considering in terms of making up their minds about the EU referendum, offering respondents a No. of options .

In terms of those who said they were going to vote to 'Remain' i.e. stay-in the EU, here are the three main factors stated in order of how popular they were indicated:

(1) NI specifically gains from the EU - business, agriculture, social programs etc.

(2) EU is a World leading trading block allowing movement of people, capital, and services.

(3) UK & NI are net beneficiaries from the EU i.e. the UK gets more out than it puts in.

Maybe a bit surprisingly the following two reasons came in only 4th and 5th to the above three reasons.

(4) To remain in same trading block as Republic of Ireland, and (5) To maintain cohesion of UK i.e. avoid Scotland leaving UK.

No. 3 was mentioned very frequently (i.e. it come very close to No. 2) in the context that NI specifically does very well in terms of financial support from the EU. However, most of the voluntary comments that came from the SDLP and Sinn Fein voters who 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 three main factors stated in order of how popular they were indicated:

(1) The EU is becoming an super-state not a trading block & not democratically accountable for its decisions.

(2) Immigration - UK & NI needs more control of its borders.

(3) UK is a net contributor to the EU & NI would gain from the saving.

It should be noted that No. 2 above i.e. immigration, and lack of border controls, was very close to being the No. 1 reason.

Again, perhaps surprisingly, the reason: 'UK would fully control who it pays benefits to' came in a low No. 5 on the list of 'Leave' reasons, showing perhaps the 'Leave ' supporters are more concerned about border and immigration controls, than controlling benefits to immigrants once they are in the UK?

In addition, we asked the current 'undecideds' what factors they were currently considering in terms of coming to their decision as to which way to vote in the UK EU Referendum. Here are the top three factors they are considering - not surprisingly there is a split between the 'Remain' reasons and 'Leave' reasons!:

(1) The EU is becoming an super-state not a trading block & not democratically accountable for its decisions (reason to leave).

(2) NI specifically gains from the EU - business, agriculture, social programs etc. (reason to remain)

(3) 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 right up there as an issue they are considering in coming to their decision on the EU. Plus remember, as the poll results above show, the majority of the 'undecideds' come from the Unionist community.

We now know that the referendum will be on June 23rd so there's still a long way to go, and a lot can happen. The key to the NI decision is going to be those 15% of voters who have yet to make up their mind - that could swing the result either way. Plus remember the result in Great Britain could be very tight, and there is a possibility that the NI result could end up deciding the overall UK decision. So there's 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 100Hours from 4pm Monday 8th February to 8pm Friday 12th February 2016. The project used a combination of participants from the established LucidTalk Opinion Panel (1,200 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. In addition, a selection of respondents were either invited or volunteered to participate. In total 3,023 completed responses were received and after data auditing 2,886 completed responses were included in the data and results analysis. The data auditing process was carried out to ensure all completed surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses.

All data results have been weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland. NB Because the sample is partly based on those who initially self-selected for participation rather than a probability sample, sampling error can be higher than a standard targeted sample poll. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-4.0%, at 95% confidence.

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. In addition, 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 will include the computed design effects for weighting.


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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