Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph poll - from abortion and same-sex marriage to a border referendum

By Bill White

Well did you enjoy all the poll-project coverage, pie-charts, and graphs, last week?

As you will have seen, our poll questions covered a wide range of subjects from politics, and a border poll referendum, to abortion and same-sex marriage. These latter two questions finished off our weeks coverage last Friday.

Abortion is a complex issue and formulating a balanced and representative poll question to accurately research attitudes into this issue, is therefore no easy task. Many poll respondents may have recorded what could be considered contradictory answers, but on further review we can see this isn’t so. Each of the abortion circumstances we asked about could be supported along with others, and this was shown in the results reporting.

For example, if we take the 19.7% who said they would not support abortion under any circumstances – some of these may have changed their minds if the various abortion options had been put to them e.g. where pregnancy would lead to the mother's death? But we didn’t do this. Frankly there is no way of researching this issue totally, via polling, because as with all complex issues they would also need to be researched via a combination of Polls and Focus groups.

However, one overwhelming fact that should be noted is that among those who supported abortion of some form, nearly 99% said that ‘Abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it after being counselled on the available alternatives’.     

As expected, same-sex marriage got strong support from the 18-24 year-old age-group and less so from the 65+ age-group, with 55.1% of the 18-24s saying Yes, compared with only 28.6% of the 65+ age-group. Again rural areas were more towards No (averaging 7%) and the two big urban centres of Belfast and Londonderry had more support for Yes (averaging 15%). Again, and as was shown throughout the week, the gender split showed an interesting pattern. Yes was 55.4% male and 44.6% female, and No was 43.8% male and 56.2% female. NB the average NI demographic for gender is approx. 51% female, 49% male. So you can see that again, men are more supportive of change, whereas women seem to take a more cautious approach.       

However, I suppose following the Scottish referendum it wasn’t surprising that the ‘Should NI have a similar referendum...’ question aroused the most interest. This showed that excluding the Don’t Knows 56.2% would like a referendum about NI’s constitutional position. Some found this contradicted the results from the actual border poll question showing a majority still supported Northern Ireland (NI) staying in the UK. However, once again, when you look at the patterns behind the results we see that those supporting a referendum are made up of several groups. First of all, the 18-24 year-old age-group were very enthusiastic about a referendum.

Then there was the section of Protestants who had the ‘bring it on..’ attitude, for example, let’s show that NI still wants to be British. Interestingly there was also a reasonable number of Catholic pro NI-in-UK voters, who although they would currently support NI staying in the UK, said they could change their mind, and thought it would be ‘healthy to have a debate about it, and sort it out’ (as one poll respondent said).

However, the poll also showed that most unionists and Protestants still said they were against a referendum. However they should note, that once the debate has started (as it has), support and momentum for a referendum usually grows. Perhaps the Unionists should adopt a strategy of supporting a referendum to get the issue settled? Otherwise this issue is going to fester – It’s not going to go away.                 

In any case, the way our politicians approach decisions it will probably take a long time to sort out the details regarding the referendum i.e. timescales, question wording etc. One point to note about referendums it is always an advantage for your camp to be on the ‘Yes’ side of the argument, like the ‘Yes’ campaign in Scotland. Research shows this can affect the result – people just feel better saying ‘Yes’ rather than ‘No’. So we’ll have Sinn Fein going for the question ‘Do you want NI to join a United Ireland’, and the unionists will want ‘Do you want NI to remain part of the UK’. So, amongst many possible referendum rows, the referendum question wording will be an argument all on its own!

Bill White is Managing Director of LucidTalk, polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph.

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