Voters in Northern Ireland remain clearly opposed to Irish unity, but diehard opposition among some unionists has diminished since last year, according to comprehensive surveys of attitudes in Northern Ireland and the Republic to Irish unity and related issues.
Were referendums on unity held in both jurisdictions, the two polls suggest, the proposal would be passed in the South by a majority of four to one, and defeated in Northern Ireland by a comprehensive margin.
But the proportion of people in the North who say they would find a vote for unity “almost impossible to accept” has declined since last year, suggesting that hardline unionist opposition to a united Ireland may be waning.
However, there is no sign in the data that a successful unity referendum in Northern Ireland is likely at present. This is the threshold laid down in the Belfast Agreement for a border poll to be held.
The two simultaneous opinion polls are part of the North and South series, a research collaboration between ARINS and The Irish Times. ARINS, Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South, is a joint project of the Royal Irish Academy and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. This is the second year of the collaboration between The Irish Times and ARINS.
The simultaneous, identical polls were taken by Ipsos B&A in the Republic and Ipsos in Northern Ireland, which conducted in-home interviews with more than 1,000 voters in each jurisdiction. The margin of error in each is estimated to be about 3.1 per cent.
The findings show that support for unity remains strong in the Republic, with almost two-thirds of respondents (64 per cent) saying they would vote for unity in a referendum, with just 16 per cent saying they would vote against. Five per cent said they would not vote, and 13 per cent said they did not know.
The position in the North remains very different, however, with more than half of all voters (51 per cent) saying they would vote against unity. Thirty per cent said they would vote in favour, with 5 per cent saying they would not vote and 15 per cent undecided. More than a fifth (21 per cent) of all voters in the North from a Catholic background say they would vote to remain in the UK.
However, the numbers show there has been an increase in the numbers who want to see a referendum take place, with 59 per cent of voters in the North now saying there should be a border poll. Some of these are likely to be unionists who want to have a referendum to settle the question in their favour, with 31 per cent of DUP voters in favour of a border poll.
More than three quarters of voters in the Republic (78 per cent) want to see a border poll. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of people in the State who say that preparing for and winning a referendum on Irish unity should be a political priority over the next decade.
While housing, healthcare and the economy are the most important issues for voters, 22 per cent of them say “achieving a united Ireland” should be one of the priorities, an increase of seven points since last year, while 20 per cent say “preparing for a referendum on a united Ireland” should be a priority, up from 12 per cent last year.
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