Northern Ireland has now gone three months without an election and that feels like progress of a sort. If we continue like this we might actually make it a whole year without going back to the polls.
Yet the issue of how we are governed and by whom hasn’t gone away. The negotiations continue and the civil service continue to run Northern Ireland – making quite a few controversial decisions along the way.
Consequently we have been treated to the sight of elected politicians from all parties campaigning against the decisions made by the civil service they themselves were elected to direct.
Anywhere else this would be completely unacceptable. To explain it to a visitor to this place, as this writer recently had to do, is an exercise in humiliation.
One would assume therefore that support for the re-forming of the Executive and continued devolution would have fallen drastically. Yet an opinion poll by LucidTalk underlines just how determined the people are to have local people make local decisions.
This latest poll, carried out from the 8th-11th September, shows that 53% of voters in Northern Ireland still see devolved government as the best way forward. This is down from 60% in June but, given all that has transpired since then, it is positive to note that the majority have faith in devolution.
The 7% who have changed their minds since June have split almost evenly between Joint Authority and temporary Direct Rule with support for both options up by just under 4%. Meanwhile, support for permanent Direct Rule has fallen by (a statistically negligible) 1%.
On the surface this is a relatively positive result given the ongoing political stalemate. Yet a breakdown of these figures by ethno-national identity reveals a far more fascinating picture.
Support for continued devolution for instance is highest amongst Alliance/Green/Other voters at 62% with Nationalist voters not far behind on 55%. However only 44% of Unionists support this option – the only group where a majority does not support the immediate re-forming of the Executive.
Instead a sizeable number of Unionists, 37.4%, prefer temporary Direct Rule, an option that only 3.7% of Nationalists selected but which 17.9% of Other voters also supported. This makes for a considerable contrast between the different groups of voters.
There is also a notable contrast in support for permanent Direct Rule with around one in six unionists (16.5%) preferring for Westminster to permanently take back control of Northern Irish affairs. Support for this option is at 0.2% amongst Nationalists and at a mere 2.2% amongst Other voters.
Unsurprisingly. support for Joint Authority is highest amongst Nationalist voters with 41% preferring this option, and lowest amongst Unionists with only 2% preferring this form of government. Interestingly support for this option is relatively high amongst Other voters with support at 17.7%.
All in all there are some interesting pieces of data here. Support for joint authority is higher than expected amongst Other voters and a majority of Unionist voters prefer an option other than the immediate re-forming of the Executive. Meanwhile more than 95% of Nationalists preferred either immediate devolution or joint authority.
This leaves Northern Ireland in a relatively precarious place. If a devolved government cannot be established soon then a decision will have to made as to what form of government replaces it. In this context it would be fascinating to see what the second preference of those who supported devolution would be – would they then support Direct Rule, Joint Authority or something else?
In the meantime the onus remains on our politicians to get back around the negotiating table and to work hard to deliver the devolved government the people of Northern Ireland want – before support for devolution ebbs any further.
Methodology, and more on LucidTalk
Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk. The project was carried out online for a period of 80 Hours from 1pm 8th September 2017 to 9pm 11th September 2017 (80 Hours). The project targeted the established Northern Ireland (NI) LucidTalk online Opinion Panel (10,103 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland.
3,104 full responses were received, and a data auditing process was carried out to ensure all completed poll-surveys were genuine ‘one-person, one-vote’ responses, and also to collate a robust and accurate balanced NI representative sample. This resulted in 2,080 responses being considered in terms of the final results – the results presented in this article.
All data results have been weighted by gender and community background to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland resulting in 2,080 responses being considered in terms of the final results. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.0%, at 95% confidence.
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).
For more information, visit www.lucidtalk.co.uk and follow @LucidTalk on Twitter.
Also published on Medium.