The Recent Our Future Our Choice (OFOC) poll in Northern Ireland has generated a lot of interest especially given the result of voting intentions regarding a United Ireland if Brexit goes ahead. This has shown a lead of 13-16% for a United Ireland. Should the UK remain in the EU there is an even greater lead in the opposite direction with 52% choosing to remain in the UK and only 35% choosing to join a United Ireland.
Whilst there is general agreement that Brexit will make a United Ireland more likely, what is interesting is the size of the lead. In December last year, a Lucid Talk poll asking a similar question in the context of a hard Brexit, only gave a majority of 2.5% in favour of a United Ireland; well within the margin of error. The new poll therefore is a dramatic shift, particularly in the context of the near glacial pace of change in Northern Ireland.
Polling of this sort is very useful as the GFA allows for a Border Poll to be called if it looks likely to succeed. One way out of the logjam on the withdrawal agreement caused by the Irish border is for a successful reunification poll. However the DUP will fight tooth and nail against this as Unionism is their raison d’être.
The result has been largely seized upon by Sinn Féin but rejected out of hand by the DUP. One criticism leveled against the poll is that it was commissioned by OFOC, a pro staying in the EU pressure group, which will have a vested interest in a pro EU result.
The actual polling however was carried out by Delta Poll and the methodology seems sound. The quote a 90% confidence interval of about plus or minus 4%. This seems to be a generic descriptor as the actual wording is: On the basis of the historical record of the polls at recent general elections, there is a 9 in 10 chance that the true value of a party’s support lies within 4 points of the estimates provided by this poll, and a 2 in 3 chance that they lie within 2 points.
Some detail on the methodology:
- For each poll, a nationally representative sample is selected in proportion to population distribution from an online panel.
- Data is rim-weighted (Random Iterative Method) to a matrix of geo-demographic variables. Weighting targets are sourced from various locations, including Census 2010 updated to mid-year population estimates, British Election Study and the National Readership Survey.
There were also a number of baseline questions which could be cross-checked with the previous general election and the referendum result.
These can be compared to actual polls and seem to show no pro EU bias; indeed the opposite seems to be the case.
Q1 Talking to people about the General Election on June 8th 2017 we have found that a lot of people didn’t manage to vote. How about you? – did you manage to vote in the General Election last year. IF YES – Which party did you vote for in the General Election on June 8th 2017? Please select one answer only.
Poll Result: DUP 25% SF 21% UUP 9% SDLP 9% AP 7% Other 5% Unknown: 3% Didn’t Vote: 22%
Analysis: If one removes the Unknown and didn’t vote results the results can be recalculated and the DUP and SF votes come to 33% and 28% on a 75% turnout.
This can be cross checked with the actual result of the GE which was 36% and 29.4% for the DUP and SF respectively on a 65% turnout. The results look reasonable and within the margin of error, but more respondents say they had voted as compared to the actual population.
Q2 Generally speaking do you consider yourself to come from a Nationalist or Unionist heritage? Please select only one answer.
Poll Result: Unionist:47% Nationalist:42% Neither: 9% Other 1%
Analysis: It is estimated that for people of voting age in 2018 there is a 5% gap between the Unionist and Nationalist communities (for all age groups the gap is close to disappearing). So this figure seems to be representative of the actual electorate, probably because the figures were weighted to map onto the known demographics.
Q3 In the Referendum on the 23rd of June 2016 on whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union which way did you vote? – – or did you not vote? Please select only one answer.
Remain: 41% Leave: 39% did not vote 18% Unknown 1%.
Analysis: This 2% gap compares to the actual referendum gap of 12%. If anything therefore the sample seems to be Leave rather than Remain Biassed.
Q4 Imagine that the referendum on the 23rd of June 2016 on whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union DID NOT take place but instead is taking place for the first time tomorrow – If the referendum was being held for the first time tomorrow – How would you vote? Please select only one answer.
Remain: 60% Leave 38% Don’t know: 1% Would not vote 1%
Analysis: this is not majorly out of line with other polling, but some give a higher percentage of 69-70% wishing to remain in the EU. Again if there is any bias, it is towards a more Leave the EU position.
Questions about a United Ireland under various scenarios.
These were asked in 3 scenarios, the UK remaining in the EU. The UK leaving the EU and the UK with the addition of a hard border.
Q5 Imagine now that the UK decided to REMAIN IN the EU. Under these circumstances how would you vote in a referendum on the constitutional arrangements of the island of Ireland? Please select only one answer.
Result: Remain part of the UK: 52% United Ireland outside of the UK: 35% Don’t know: 11% Would not vote: 1%.
Analysis: This is not out of line with other polls giving a pro Union majority in this scenario.
Q6 Imagine now that the UK decided to LEAVE the EU. Under these circumstances how would you vote in a referendum on the on the constitutional arrangements of the island of Ireland? Please select only one answer.
Remain part of the UK: 39% United Ireland outside of the UK: 52% Don’t know: 7% Would not vote: 1%.
Analysis: a clear result and almost the mirror image of the Remain scenario. It seems that Brexit is very unpopular in NI.
Q7 Imagine now that as part of the UK leaving the EU there is a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Under these Under these circumstances how would you vote in a referendum on the constitutional arrangements of the island of Ireland? Please select only one answer.
Remain part of the UK: 40% United Ireland outside of the UK: 56% Don’t know: 4% Would not vote: 1%.
Analysis. An even clearer result than without a hard border. The strongest majority of the three scenarios.
How well are the NI Politicians Doing?
Q8 Putting aside your own party preference do you think politicians from Northern Ireland are representing the interests of the people of Northern Ireland in the process of the UK exciting the EU? Please select only one answer.
Very badly: 57% Quite badly: 19% Neither well nor badly: 12% Quite well: 8% Very well: 2% Don’t know: 1%.
Analysis: This is not looking good for the NI politicians. There is clearly a lot of dissatisfaction. This is not just in Westminster, the NI Assembly has now overtaken Belgium as the country/region with the longest period without a functioning government.
Q9 And again putting aside your own party preference, do you think politicians from the Democratic Unionist Party – DUP, are representing the interests of the people of Northern Ireland in the process of the UK exiting the EU? Please select only one answer.
Very badly: 68% Quite badly:9% Neither well nor badly: 8% Quite well: 7% Very well: 7% Don’t know: 0%.
Analysis: Bad as the NI politicians are seen in general the DUP fares even worse.
The results look fairly sound. Any obvious bias in the sample seems to be more Leave than Remain in the EU as evidenced by Q3 where there is a much smaller Remain margin than was actually the case in the Brexit referendum. The swing towards a United Ireland is not that surprising, given that the Irish economy has been so much stronger over the past year, governance seems professional and competent, the country more liberal and the influence of the Catholic church receding. The recent Irish referendum on abortion (still illegal in NI) may have had an impact particularly with female voters. The figures for female only correspondents to Q7 (Brexit+Hard border) show a 67% pro UI to 30% pro remaining in the UK (male correspondents still favour remaining in the UK even in this scenario).
The UK on the other hand seems to have regressed, with the economy weakening (NI may be going into recession) and its politics is becoming ever more chaotic.
Another interesting result again on Q7 is the clear splitting by age cohort with strong support for a UI from the under 45s, almost neutral in the 45-64 range and only the 65+ range being strongly in support of remaining in the UK. This is symptomatic of the often stated demographic time bomb and the reason that many predict that a UI is inevitable in the next few decades, unless there are unforeseen circumstances.