IPSOS/MORI poll on Good Friday Agreement: Scepticism on Stormont’s ‘progress’ on sectarianism

Some interesting polling figures on Nolan last night regarding the long term effects of the Good Friday Agreement.

Stand out difference is that whilst 78% of nationalists would still vote Yes, 41% of unionists would. There’s no way of really measuring that against the original poll, but Wesley Johnston estimates that 60% unionists voted Yes whilst Nationalists came in at 94% (which I think is a tad optimistic).

But the proportions of those who would vote NO is also down, with just 4% of nationalists and 25% unionists. So the balance on either side is shifting to ‘don’t know’…

And on whether Stormont is working well, or not 70% of nationalists and 39% of unionists say Yes, whilst 41% of the latter say No.

Tackling sectarianism? For all the talk of share future, and building united community, the public’s response is pretty universal: Get away with ya! But interestingly whilst 39% nationalists say Yes, just half of that proportion of unionists approve (22%).

Are we more divided? More says no than yes. 59% of nationalists and 41% of unionists say we’re less divided, whilst the figure for no are 11% and 19%. A significant proportion (29% nationalists and 39% unionists) say there’s been no substantive change.

Thoughts? Mine are that unionists are generally more sceptical than nationalists. I don’t see any catastrophic collapse in sentiment, but perhaps an acceptance that we are in a new space. And as Alan has noted in the past, unionist voters are looking for performance where nationalist may in aggregate just be happier with representation at the top table.


  • Taking it bit my bit and leaving aside my cynicism of polls….
    The Poll suggests that the majority of Nationalists would vote Yes…I think thats reasonable but certainly without any kind of enthusiasm. Certainly no euphoria.
    For what its worth we know that 94% (if memory serves) of the people in the Republic voted Yes….and it has generally been assumed that nationalists in North voted much the same way.
    I think 60% unionist support in 1998 is about the highest guestimate that I have seen. Around 56% seems more “reasonable”.
    With levels of support at seemingly 78% and 41%, I wouldnt attribute it all of this to nationalists merely accepting involvement and unionists wanting efficiency.
    based on the fact that unionists were less enthusiastic than nationalists in 1998, it is likely to be the same in 2013.
    And there is still a large section of unionism which hankers after the good old days of Basil Brooke. For many that is still the preferred option.
    As to the NO vote being down…well the lack of implementation, the amendment and undermining and the Passive nature of our society . probably shows that it was not the disaster that the naysayers on each side predicted.
    It also helps that the DUP are now signed up.
    Im not sure that the switch is from YES to “dont know”….more likely “dont care”…and possibly accounted for by a younger element that cant actually recall the 1970s and 1980s.
    We cant only ask these questions of the 1998 Electorate.

    Actually in that regard the “still vote YES” figure is misleading. The real question would be how would you vote in 2013….trying not to split hairs but thats important.
    Frankly we cant replicate the circumstances of 1998. I voted YES. Knowing what I know now, I would have voted NO. Because I signed up to a LIE.

    In respect of the “is Stormont working” can we not attribute the nationalist 70% Yes to SF support and the NO vote to SDLP thinking. On that simple question in a poll, Id be inclined to say No.

    tackling Sectarianism? Id have to say No but then I dont think its possible anyway.
    Are we more divided? Id say NO. We are not actually killing each other which is a substantive change. And in itself is not very important. A Society does not have to be homogenous and certainly not enforced to so be.

    Perhaps the GFA should have stipulated a second Referendum after 25 Years. “Has it worked?”. That would be an interesting end to a Decade of Centenaries.

  • For a book I wrote in 2010 on the NI peace process (and the Oslo peace process) I looked at the estimates of unionist voting in the 1998 referendum. For those who voted, it did appear that there was a unionist majority it was more likely somewhere in the 50-55% range than anywhere near 60%. What happened is that a large number of “garden centre Prods” who normally don’t vote were persuaded to turn out on a one-off basis. They didn’t continue to vote or otherwise participate after that. Without them there may have been a unionist minority in favor of the agreement, which is why Trimble was so embattled and besieged for his tenure as UUP leader after the GFA.

    Why so many more nationalists voted for rather than against is easy to answer: the two nationalist parties and two non-sectarian or bisectarian parties all favored a yes vote, whereas among unionists the parties were divided.

    Why a slight majority of unionists today are opposed to the GFA is probably a function of a zero-sum mentality. Because nationalists embraced it so fully and Republicans thought it was a good thing, the loyalists figured it must be a bad thing. For people who aren’t engaged in a detailed fashion in politics decisions are often made up on a simple basis of clues from the environment that are easily gathered. If my enemies like the agreement than it must be bad for me and I’m opposed to it.

  • sherdy

    ‘Unionists are more cynical than nationalists’.
    Could we expect anything else when we think that unionists from birth have been brought up with: ‘no surrender’, ‘remember 1690’, ‘never never never’ and ‘out out out’.
    When fed a lifetime diet of negativism, how could they be anything but nihilistic?

  • Morpheus

    “Because I signed up to a LIE.”

    What was the lie and who sold it to you?

    The GFA acknowledged that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom and that a “substantial section” of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland. Both of these views were acknowledged as being legitimate. No surprises there.

    The agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. No surprises there.

    Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under “a binding obligation” to implement that choice. No surprises there.

    Irrespective of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status within the United Kingdom, or part of a united Ireland, the right of people in Northern Ireland “to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both” (as well as their right to hold either or both British and Irish citizenship) was recognised.
    No surprises there.

    The two Governments also agreed, irrespective of the position of Northern Ireland:

    “… the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”.
    Again, no surprises.

    As part of the Agreement, the British parliament repealed Government of Ireland Act 1920 (which had established Northern Ireland and partitioned Ireland) and the People of Ireland amended Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland, which asserted a territorial claim over Northern Ireland.
    Again, no surprises.

    Granted there are big chucks of the GFA which have not been implemented but what is the lie exactly? In my eyes the agreement is sound – the issue is with inept politicians who have not fully implemented it.

  • FJH[6.22] Interesting that in the Nolan discussion, Gregory declined to trot out the old DUP line that the GFA was void having been ‘replaced by the DUP’s better deal for unionism, so he isn’t bothering with the figleaf anymore where in the past he would have objected outright the working assumption by commentators that St Andrews was just the tweaking of the nobs to get Paisley onboard. The tweak the DUP inserted of the change in the qualifying for FM from largest grouping to largest party, was so the DUP could blaclkmail their own voters with the threat of Marty as FM. So that line about GFA being caput has been abandoned by the duppers.

  • mjh

    The poll also includes first preference voting intentions:

    DUP 23.9% Down 6.1 from Assembly 2011
    SDLP 21.9% Up 7.7
    SF 20.1% Down 6.8
    UUP 13.7% Up 0.5
    Alliance 10.9% Up 3.2
    Cons 2.5% Up 2.5
    TUV 2.3% Down 0.2
    PUP 1.6% Up 1.4
    Others 3.0% Down 1.3

    First the normal warning about the margin of error. This brings us straight to the figure that stands out most, the apparent large swing from SF to SDLP.

    The previous Ipsos/MORI poll in January also showed a swing from SF to SDLP although not as big. SDLP was up 4.4% and SF down 5.2%. This still left SF clearly ahead.

    The Mid Ulster by election in March then had the SDLP up 2.7% and SF down 2.3%.

    So unless it is proved otherwise the size of swing showing SDLP overtaking SF is almost certainly a statistical outlier.

    We should be due another Lucid Talk poll soon. Their two polls last year both showed the SDLP losing ground. If they now show the SDLP up from 2011 it would be reasonable to conclude that the party has staunched and possibly reversed the flow of support to SF.

    Whatever they say in public, SF will be concerned.

    The DUP drop of 6.1% is bad for them. The PUP score of 1.6% is probably largely at their expense, although they could well get it back in transfers.

    While it is tempting to point the figure at the flags protest as the cause of the DUP’s woes, it is possible that they and SF are also suffering as the lead parties in the Assembly from the mid-term blues that effect most governing parties.

    Mike Nesbitt will be pleased that his strategy appears to be working. This is the second poll to show the UUP support solidifying. Indeed their 0.5% gain has come since the January poll.

    Alliance will also be pleased that it appears to be consolidating the increases shown in previous polling.

    The Jasil party was not offered as an option by the pollsters. Nevertheless the resignation of the two UUP MLA’s in February shows no impact on UUP support in this poll. The Conservatives score 2.5%. Since they currently have no plans to stand 2016 their support would appear to be up for grabs.

    Ipsos/MORI does not record a separate figure for the Greens.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’m glad you took it upon yourself to read that out… I thought it too anomalous to touch… not least because of the large number of people who did not answer…

  • mjh,

    If the voters actually follow through on this–or at least the nationalist voters–this will have been the biggest swing since the 2001 local elections when SF overtook the SDLP. I am extremely skeptical of this–that the recovery seems to come overnight out of the blue. I think it is a case of those interviewed giving the acceptable answer. This often happens with polls in Israel.

  • mjh


    You are certainly right that there used to be a pronounced problem of people in NI giving the acceptable answer to opinion pollsters, and for decades polls undercounted SF and DUP support.

    However the Lucid Talk polls last year did not exhibit that problem, with both the DUP and SF registering scores in line with their proven electoral support.

    Different polling organisations have different methodologies. It may be that Lucid Talk’s methodology overcomes the problem, while IpsosMORI’s does not; and it may be that IpsosMORI’s methodology in some other way results in a higher SDLP score. However in the natural order of events about one poll in 20 will throw up a result beyond the margin of error, and it is much more likely that this will be the explanation if this figure is wrong.

    At the moment we have two types of evidence pointing in the direction of an SDLP revival of some scale, the Mid Ulster by election and the two IpsosMORI polls. If Lucid Talk endorses this trend, then we will have three sources of evidence, which should permit us to quantify it.

    As a rough rule of thumb it is best to assume that any unexpected poll result is an outlier unless it is confirmed by other polls. But that does not mean that we should blithely ignore polling evidence. Even if you do not yourself believe them you can be sure of one thing, with very few exceptions, all politicians and activists take them seriously and will be influenced by them. So if you ignore them you cut yourself off from knowing something which is affecting politicians’ words and party tactics.

  • Seamuscamp

    They say that too much politics stunts the brain. You could probably say the same thing about polls. You say: “78% of nationalists would still vote Yes”; the word “still” doesn’t appear in thepoll question, so you seem to be inserting a gloss in order to give some authenticity to musings about how people’s opinions are changing.

    The polled group includes “all adults 16+”. So a lot of those voting 15 years ago will have died in the interim; a lot of those polled will have no memory at all of the situation then and a many others would not have voted then.

    So this poll gives us no window to the past. And no window to a hypothetical future. It doesn’teven tell us very much about the current situationgiven the high percentage of “don’t knows” (who might really be “why should I trust you with my opinions”.

  • Mick Fealty


    setting aside of the soundness of the poll, the SDLP are now surely suffering from a failure to appoint a head of comms? Any other party would have taken these two figures from Mori and blown them loud from the rooftops…

  • MF[6.25] McDonnell just isn’t an inspiring figure to have at the top of SDLP so I’m not surprised they’ve been caught napping over the SPADS issue. They should have gone for broke and picked McDevitt instead. 6% down for DUP is encouraging if accurate. That could see off Nigel in N Belfast among one or two others with any luck.

  • mjh

    True, Mick. A golden opportunity to raise a question mark over the almost universal assumption that the SDLP is in inevitable decline, and that it can never hope to challenge SF for leadership of nationalist politics. And no one uses it.

    But the dog that did not bark may indicate more than a staff vacancy at SDLP HQ. It beggars belief that no one in the party noticed the poll. The subject will have been discussed informally in conversation between senior members, and almost certainly formally in a political tactics meeting. And as politicians they will have appreciated the implications.

    My guess is that someone, or some committee, took a decision not to use the poll in this way.


    Do the SDLP no longer have the nerve or ambition to challenge the assumption? Or has it seeped so deeply into their own thinking that they no longer consider it worthwhile?