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Irish Political Studies Data Yearbook 2008 – The Northern Ireland figures… May 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

It’s that time of year again when the Political Studies Association of Ireland Data Yearbook drops through the letterbox. And as ever it’s… well, perhaps not a great read, but certainly a read.

This is the reference work to go to learn the members of the “Consultative Group on Dealing with the Past”… or the Independent Monitoring Commission. If you wonder who are the Sinn Féin members on the Committee on Procedures, wonder no more…

And for those of us interested in such abstruse facts as the numbers of people in the North who in 2006/7 thought of themselves as Unionist, Nationalist or Neither… here’s the answer…

36%, 23% and 40% respectively… and 1% don’t know.

Unfortunately the breakdown is by religion rather than political identity, so only 3% of Catholics consider themselves Unionist, while no Protestants in this sample considered themselves Nationalist. Those of either tradition who were Neither amounted to 42% of Catholics and 30% of Protestants. And those with No Religion amounted to 73% considering themselves Neither.

Does that sound plausible? Perhaps.

What of the answers to the question ‘Do you think the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it to remain part of the UK?’… 54%… ‘reunify with the rest of Ireland?’…30%… ‘become and Independent state’… 3%, Other… 1%… Don’t Know… 12%.

Apparently 22% of Catholics considered it should remain part of the UK while 7% of Protestants thought it should reunite.

Of those who thought it should not reunify the question …’if the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to become part of a United Ireland, do you think you would find this…’ was answered…

‘Almost impossible to accept…’ 10%, ‘Would not like it but would live with it…’ 43%, ‘Would happily accept the wishes of the majority…’ 42%, ‘Don’t know’ 6%.

Of those 1% of Catholics found it almost impossible to accept, and 21% said they would not like it but would live with it.

Where the question was posed in the opposite direction, i.e. ‘to remain part of the UK if the majority of people in NI never voted to become part of a UI’… the response was:

‘Almost impossible to accept…’ 3%, ‘Would not like it but would live with it…’ 27%, ‘Would happily accept the wishes of the majority…’ 60%, ‘Don’t know’ 10%.

Of them 4% of Catholics and 1% of Protestants ‘would find it impossible to accept’. I’m always fascinated by those 1% on either side of that equation coming from the other national identity. Is that a joke response or some utterly marginal opinion?

Overall when asked how they voted in 1998 on the Good Friday Agreement, 40% voted Yes, 13% voted No, 18% didn’t vote, 15% not registered to vote, 13% didn’t know or can’t remember.

Of Catholics asked 50% voted Yes, 3% voted No, 15% didn’t vote, 19% weren’t registered to vote and 12% didn’t know or couldn’t remember. Of Protestants asked 34% voted Yes, 25% voted No, 18% didn’t vote, 9% weren’t registered while 14% don’t know or can’t remember.

Which is interesting when we look at the actual figures for the GFA/BA which had an overall Yes vote of 71% and a No vote of 28.9% (on a turnout of about 80%). Various estimates have been made as to the breakdown of those votes, but generally it is thought that somewhere around 90% plus of Catholics and 55% plus of Protestants voted Yes.

Clearly memory is a fickle thing.

And support for the present dispensation…. ‘given a vote on the St. Andrews Agreement‘ (and this was last year when the poll was taken)…vote Yes… 45%, vote No… 8%, wouldn’t vote… 16%, not registered to vote 3%, Don’t Know… 28%. I wonder what it would be today?

As for political identity? What of this question? ‘Which of these statements comes closest to your view?’

NI should become a separate independent state from the UK and EU: 2% total, 6% of Catholics and 3% of Protestants.

NI should become independent and separate from the UK but remain part of the EU: 4% total, 6% Catholic, 3% Protestant.

NI should remain part of the UK with it’s own parliament which has law-making and taxation powers: 42% total, 8% Catholic, 22% Protestant.

NI should remain part of the UK with its own elected assembly which has limited law making powers only: 16% total, 8% Catholic, 22% Protestant.

NI should remain part of the UK without an elected assembly: 5% total, 3% Catholic, 7% Protestant.

NI should unify with the Republic of Ireland: 23% total, 48% Catholic, 2% Protestant.

Don’t Know 9% total, 13% Catholic, 5% Protestant.

So, we can pick away at these to our hearts content. Everyone can find something to give them solace.

Still, a number of thoughts come to mind. No wonder political unionism has been so oddly weak over the past decade or so in the face of such division on what the shape of the future should be. And these divisions remain. Simply put there is no agreed position and the dominance of the DUP at the present time may well simply be a facade, or a product of the electoral processes that have led us to this point, a sort of ‘least worst’ option as it were.

And while the largest bloc of coherent communal support is for a UI (albeit considering the number of Catholics is lower in the poll than Protestants) and that implies that a party able to monopolise that on the nationalist/Republican side will have a secure base, it doesn’t preclude alternative nationalist or Republican parties making headway around other stances and positions.

The chaotic aspect of this is underscored by party political support in another poll in answer to the question ‘which Northern Ireland political party would you support…’

UUP – 14%, SDLP – 13%, DUP – 18%, APNI – 6%, SF – 11%, PUP – 0%, NIWC – 1%, Other – 2%, None – 21%, Don’t Know – 13%.

Oddities in the data? The 1% of Catholics supporting the DUP – and another 1% supporting the UUP, whereas 0% of Protestants supported SF. The 22% of Catholics supporting none (along with 15% of Don’t Knows), while 17% of Protestants supported none and 11% plumped for Don’t Knows.

Again, this might indicate short-term political memory loss, or more likely hidden within the Don’t Know’s and Nones a significant tranche of support for SF and the DUP.

But it is the deviation of this poll when contrasted with the elections which is most remarkable. Because in the 2007 Assembly Elections the results were (in percentage terms)…

UUP – 14.9%, SDLP – 15.2%, DUP – 30.1%, APNI – 5.2%, SF – 26.2%, PUP – 0.6%, NIWC – N/A%, Green Party – 1.7%.

There was clearly an epidemic of indecision up North in 2006/7… or someone was being very coy to the pollsters. And it seems clear which it was.

This then throws up an anomaly. How much can we trust this data? If such significant active information as regards voting intentions is concealed then can we set any store at all in the answers to the questions on broader political/national identity? Even with the obvious health warning that a poll, any poll, is a snapshot it seems to me that the data here is open to considerable question.

The only means of determining genuine, as distinct from aspirational or even deliberately inaccurate findings, would probably be an election. But who wants that?


1. Phil - May 29, 2008

NI should remain part of the UK with its own parliament which has law-making and taxation powers: 42% total, 8% Catholic, 22% Protestant.



2. Conor McCabe - May 29, 2008

This is not 8% + 22% = 42%

42% of respondents chose this answer out of the 6 available – the actual number of those who did corresponds to 8% of the total number of catholics in NI, and 22% of protestants in NI.


3. John O'Neill - May 29, 2008

I canvassed in NI on a number of occasions. People do not tend to be very forthcoming about their political preferences. I would suggest this could have been a factor in the unusual results above. People not living in a very ‘secure’ area would be reluctant to indicate to anyone their religon or support for, say, SF or the PUP or even an opinion on Irish unity or what way they voted.

I have a friend living in the heart of republican West Belfast and she would never admit to a stranger at her door that she opposes a united Ireland.

I think you would have to look at the method used for gathering the data and if it was ‘cold calling’ I wouldn’t take it too seriously.


4. Phil - May 29, 2008

Conor – I realise that, but I still can’t see how the figures add up. We’ve got

4% total, 6% Catholic, 3% Protestant.
16% total, 8% Catholic, 22% Protestant.
5% total, 3% Catholic, 7% Protestant.
23% total, 48% Catholic, 2% Protestant.
9% total, 13% Catholic, 5% Protestant.

all of which some intuitive sense in terms of the balance between two communities. But then you’ve got

2% total, 6% of Catholics and 3% of Protestants
(“independent state”)

and then the figure I commented on:
42% total, 8% Catholic, 22% Protestant.
(“part of UK with parliament with full powers”)

I can just about make the maths come out for the second of these, if a large majority of the ‘No religion’ group chose this option *and* the ‘No religion’ group is larger than the other two. The first one will only work if you assume ‘No religion’ is actually three times the size of the other two. WBS, what *was* the confessional breakdown?


5. Phil - May 29, 2008

Out damn smilies! Out I say :-/ 🙂 😮 etc etc etc


6. Garibaldy - May 29, 2008

This study is blatantly bollocks. Not to be unacademic in our language about it. We all know that surveys significantly underplay the support for the extremes, and that people are reluctant to reveal information about themselves. 40% neither unionist nor nationalist. I mean, for fuck’s sake. If I were responsible for this, I would have refused to publish it without a serious warning as to how utterly useless it was.


7. WorldbyStorm - May 29, 2008

Sorry, there are other figures in there. I should have given them.

Totals are grand totals, the combined Catholic/Protestant figures are not the entirety of the total since some went for None/Other.


8. Phil - May 29, 2008

Sure, but I still can’t work out what the underlying confessional/NOTA/don’t know split would have been – have you got those figures to hand?


9. WorldbyStorm - May 29, 2008

I have discovered the original data…

here http://www.ark.ac.uk/nilt/2006/Political_Attitudes/FUTURENI.html

Sorry about this. Not my finest moment…


10. Phil - May 30, 2008

Not theirs either. Apart from the first table, they’ve printed row 2’s figures in rows 1 and 2, and row 4’s figures in rows 3 and 4. No wonder the maths didn’t work.


11. D.J.P. O'Kane - May 30, 2008

Years ago I did some cold calling market research in Andersonstown, where mixed in amongst the ‘what soft drink do you buy’ type questions was one about whether or not the UK Labour party should organise in the six counties.

What stands out in my mind was that one guy said ‘we should be able to vote for UK parties and also for parties from the south’.


12. WorldbyStorm - May 30, 2008

I like it…


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