A recent poll, conducted by Lord Ashcroft Polling, an independent pollster on British opinion, shows that just over half (51%) of Northern Irish voters would opt for unification with the Republic of Ireland -- if it came to a referendum on the matter. Between August 30 and September 2, the pollster surveyed 1,542 people in Northern Ireland. 

This number (51% for, 49% against) excludes the segment that “doesn’t know” or “doesn’t plan to vote.” If these responses were included, the results shift marginally in the other direction: 45% for and 46% against.

Ashcroft says that this result is actually “statistical tie”. “Such a result might also reflect the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Brexit,” he concludes. “The Irish border and its potential effect on life in the province could recede when the outcome is settled. Be that as it may, the result underlines what could be at stake in the quest for a workable Brexit solution on the island of Ireland,” concludes Ashcroft.

Despite a first-time indication of movement in the direction of unification, Northern Ireland remains deeply divided along religious lines. 98% of Irish “Nationalists” (Catholic Irishmen) want to become part of Ireland proper, while 95% of Unionists (Protestant) say they want to remain in the UK. Younger people, ages 18-24, of both religions show themselves to be more flexible: 60% of Nationalist young people want unification; 40% of Unionists feel the same way. Women were much more likely than men to say they were not sure what they would do. The over-65 age group was alone with a clear majority for staying put in the UK: 62% to 38% when excluding the don’t knows and the wouldn’t votes. 

There is still a majority that believes that in a vote today, the Northern Irish would opt to remain in the UK. But when confronted with the same question ten years down the road, the result was the other way around: most believe the vote would be for unification.

Unionists are markedly less confident about the chances of winning a more distant referendum, concludes Ashcroft, while 87% think Northern Ireland would vote to stay in the UK if a border poll were held tomorrow, this falls to just 59% if a ballot were held a decade from now. Nationalists are correspondingly more confident: while only just over half think the province would vote for unification tomorrow, 93% think this would be the case in ten years’ time, according to the pollster.

51% of voters in Northern Ireland believes that Brexit makes Irish unification in the near future much more likely. Just more than half of the poll’s respondents want the UK to stay in the EU. 

[Text author: Paul Hockenos]