- Analysis of polling over the past five years indicates no clear change in support for a United Ireland.
- It’s correct that there is no evidence of an increase in support for NI leaving the UK.
- However, it is not the case that every major poll points in the other direction.
On 15 March, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP told the National Press Club in Washington DC:
“There is no evidence of growing support for Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. Indeed, every major poll points in the opposite direction.”
Tracking all major polls since November 2017 reveals no significant trend, up or down, in support for Irish unity.
It is accurate to say there is no evidence of an increase in public desire for NI to leave the UK.
However, it is inaccurate to say that all major polls point in the other direction.
The key method for assessing public support for Irish unity comes from polling.
Different polling organisations use differing methodologies. NILTS conducts telephone interviews and surveys, whereas LucidTalk uses an online opinion panel. The wording of questions varies, and the timing of polls can be impacted by external social, economic and political events. Individual polls are a snapshot of a moment in time and may be out of date within a few weeks.
It is also important to remember that polls typically have margins of error of around 2-3%.
Over the past year, four major surveys of public opinion on this question have taken place, conducted by the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, LucidTalk, the ARINs project and the Northern Ireland Life & Times Survey (NILTS).
- In April 2022, University of Liverpool (UL) published their latest poll in the Irish News. 31.9% of respondents said they would vote for Irish unification compared with 48.2% who said they’d vote to remain in the United Kingdom. This showed an increase in support for a United Ireland since their previous poll (30%) and a decline in stated support for continuing as part of the UK (59%).
- The Northern Ireland Life and Times survey was published a month later and found support for Irish Unity at 34% against 48% to remain in the UK. This again represented a small improvement in support for Irish unification compared with their previous survey (30%) and a decline for remaining in the UK (53%).
- In August 2022, LucidTalk released polling results in which 41% of respondents said they were in favour of a United Ireland, compared with 48% who indicated a preference for the status quo. This represented a dip in support for unity and a boost for UK membership, compared with LucidTalk’s previous poll (42% UI and 47% remain).
- The most recent poll on Irish unity came from the ARINS Project, which published results in the Irish Times in December 2022 stating that 27% of respondents supported Irish unity while 50% said they wanted to stay in the UK.
This was the first such poll from the ARINS Project. It indicates a big drop in stated support for Irish Unity, compared with similar polls in the past half decade. However, one poll result standing out against many others is not proof of a trend. There is no trend whatsoever when only considering ARINS Project polls, because only one has taken place. Any future ARINS Project polls will help illustrate how their results sit alongside other contemporary polling.
The key point is that these results, even taken altogether, do not adequately assess whether there is any trend in public support for Irish reunification.
Aside from the ARINS Project, each of these organisations have carried out several polls on support for a United Ireland over the past five years or so. Another notable pollster, Lord Ashcroft, also carried out polling, though none in the past year.
Examining these results as a whole is the best way to identify any trends, or establish that there is no clear trend.
- Tracking results
The graphs below look at major polls since November 2017. All the data used is available in a table at the bottom of this article.
Figure 1 – all polls’ support for Irish Unity (in percentages)
In short: the data suggests no clear trend upwards or downwards.
LucidTalk and Ashcroft polls have tended to indicate higher support for Irish Unity than the UL and NILTS surveys (and the one-off result from the ARINS Project).
Overall, however, polling over this period does not indicate a general increase or decrease in support for Irish Unity.
Other types of analysis could look at this data in slightly different ways. The gap between support for remaining in the UK and support for reunification could be tracked, the don’t know/would not vote cohort could be removed from consideration, and so on.
However, while that might be interesting for anyone investigating the probability (or improbability) of a United Ireland happening any time soon, the claim being examined was specifically about public support for Irish Unity.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s claim is, in fact, two claims:
- There is no evidence of growing support for Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom
- Every major poll points in the opposite direction
The evidence indicates that there is no clear trend, either way. The DUP leader’s first claim – “There is no evidence of growing support for Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom” – is accurate.
His second claim is not. There is no clear evidence that support for a united Ireland is shrinking.
There is also no clear evidence that support for remaining in the UK is growing, as can be seen from the polling results in the next section.
The full results of the polls considered are in the tabled below..
Only one poll shows a greater proportion of respondents in favour of Irish unity than remaining in the UK. However, the large proportion of undecided/won’t vote is sometimes larger than the gap between pro-unity and pro-union. The figures for those preferring to remain in the UK consistently hover around the 50% mark.
|Poll Conducted by||In favour of Irish Unity||Remain in the UK||Undecided/Won’t vote|
|ARINS Project (December 2022)||27%||50%||23%|
|Lucid Talk (August 2022)||41%||48%||11%|
|Northern Ireland Life and Times survey (May 2022)||34%||48%||15%|
|University of Liverpool (April 2022)||31.9%||48.2%||19.8%|
|Lord Ashcroft (December 2021)||41%||49%||8%|
|University of Liverpool (October 2021)||29.8%||58.6%||11.6%|
|LucidTalk (August 2021)||42%||49%||9%|
|Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (June 2021)||30%||53%||14%|
|LucidTalk (April 2020)||43%||49%||8%|
|LucidTalk/The Detail (February 2020)||45.4%||46.7%||7.8%|
|University of Liverpool (December 2019)||28.3%||53.5%||15.2%|
|Lord Ashcroft (Sept 2019)||46%||45%||9%|
|Lord Ashcroft (June 2018)||44%||49%||7%|
|Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (June 2018)||22%||55%||22%|
|LucidTalk/YouGov/BBC (May 2018)||42.1%||45%||12.9%|
|LucidTalk (Nov 2017)||33.7%||55.4%||10.9%|