Northern Ireland has now gone almost six months without devolved government and we are now mere hours away from the latest deadline in the seemingly unending series of negotiations involving our elected representatives.
Our NHS is in crisis, our schools are struggling, our infrastructure is crumbling and we don’t even have a budget for the current financial year. Yet the talks continue and there is little to suggest a deal can be done by Thursday.
In all this it would be easy for the people of Northern Ireland to lose faith in devolution – yet the most recent Lucidtalk poll suggests that support for an immediate re-forming of the Executive is at 59.5% – up 15% from April.
Support for Joint Authority (by the UK and Irish governments) meanwhile has fallen from 22% to 17%. Support for a temporary period of direct rule by Westminster whilst talks continue has also fallen from 26% to just 16% now. Support for permanent Direct Rule appears to have remained steady at just under 8%.
On the surface, this is a positive result. Yet, as is so often the way in our wee country, views on the best outcome vary considerably depending on what party an individual votes for.
Take DUP voters for instance. This poll suggests that 21% of DUP voters would prefer permanent direct rule (the strongest support amongst any group of voters). A further 33% would like to see temporary direct rule with only 45% in favour of an Executive being re-formed now. Unsurprisingly less than 1% supported joint authority.
Ulster Unionist Party voters on the other hand are far more supportive of re-forming an Executive with 59% backing that outcome. Support for temporary direct rule at 25% and permanent direct rule at 13% is noticeably lower than amongst DUP voters.
3% of UUP supporters indicated a preference for joint authority which is slightly higher than might have been expected for unionist voters.
This is in stark contrast to the views of Sinn Féin voters. Sinn Féin voters overwhelmingly reject direct rule – whether permanent or temporary – with less than 4% supporting those outcomes. Support for joint authority is on 36% with 60% supporting the re-forming of the Executive – a figure that is very much in line with the population as a whole.
A further contrast is provided by Green/Alliance/Independent voters, 66% of whom support the immediate re-forming of the Executive. This group also showed strong support for a temporary period of direct rule with 18% preferring this outcome. 11% backed joint authority whilst just 6% supported permanent Direct Rule.
Overall, this is an encouraging poll that suggests that the people of Northern Ireland are still willing to give Stormont a chance. It is worth noting that this poll was conducted in the period before the DUP-Conservative deal was announced and there may well be even more support for an immediate re-forming of the Executive now that Stormont will have additional funds at its disposal.
Yet beneath the surface there are several points of interest. The lack of DUP voter support for the immediate return to devolution may be due to a reluctance to share power with Sinn Féin or a recognition of the power that the DUP now hold in Westminster. But, regardless of the cause, the DUP will be keen to ensure those voters see the value in the DUP re-entering an Executive.
For Sinn Féin, the key figure is the growth in support for re-forming the Executive. Lucidtalk’s last poll in April showed only 48% of Sinn Féin voters supporting this option, which means support for this outcome has increased by 12% in just a few weeks.
This may well be a consequence of the DUP’s newfound influence in Westminster but it is certainly something the Sinn Féin leadership will want to consider in the days ahead.
So, as ever with Northern Irish politics, there is a lot of potential in this poll. The growth of support for a re-established Executive is a tailwind that could give the talks and a newly formed Executive a renewed impetus and energy.
Yet this poll also indicates a volatility amongst Sinn Féin and DUP voters in particular. And should the Executive fail to deliver, we may all be in for a bumpy ride.
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 60 Hours from 11am 21st June to 11pm 23rd June 2017 (60 Hours). The project targeted the established Northern Ireland (NI) LucidTalk online Opinion Panel (8,827 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland.
2,883 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 report.
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.