NILT for 2012 suggests passion for constitutional issues is dropping fast…

Headline findings from the 2012  Life and Times survey includes some mixed news, and some fascinating snippets. Ive added emphasis to highlight some of the more intriguing findings:

  • percentage believing that a United Ireland is very unlikely has now risen to 41%.
  • proportion of Catholics expecting Irish unity remains less than among Protestants.
  • a marked rise in the percentage of people describing their national identity as Irish, up from 26% in 2010 to 32% in 2012
  • a fall in the proportion describing themselves as Northern Irish ‑ from a historic high of 29% in 2010 to 22% in 2012
  • a jump in the percentage of Protestants calling themselves British from 60% to 68%
  • proportion of Catholics calling themselves Northern Irish fell from 26% to 17%. – the lowest in more that a decade
  • 60% of Protestants described themselves as Unionist
  • 49% of Catholics describe themselves as Nationalist
  • the proportion describing themselves as neither Nationalist nor Unionist rose to 47%, reflecting an increase among both Catholics and Protestants.
  • percentage of respondents thinking it either very likely or quite likely that there will be a United Ireland has fallen from 29% in 2003 to 15% in 2012
  • significant drop in the number expressing a positive wish to remain in UK from 72% to 63% since 2010 and the lowest since devolution in 2007, especially among Catholics.

[Strictly for you night owls, I’m off to bed…]

Rolling blog on the detail

So today I’m going through the main findings bit by bit (in no particular order of importance), and adding commentary…

NILT Political ID by age[1] Political identity by age is very interesting. If we make the assumption that each generation’s base attitudes are set in the years of early adulthood, we can make a rough (if unreliable) sketch of historic attitudes. So disillusion with the generic description ‘unionist’ sets in very early with it being strong in the over sixty fives (those already in adulthood when the Troubles began) and the drop happening almost in concurrence with the outbreak of civil rights and first riots… By contrast, the onset of the Troubles seems to have hardened nationalist identity, with a massive dip coming after the GFA generation hit majority. Looks like the street troubles of recent years has a positive effect on Nationalist ID, but no effect on the decline of Unionist ID.

NILT Mixed schooling: Catholics and Protestants

[2] Schooling by age again is interesting and it shows the same bump in people wanting separate schooling in that lower 18-24 demographic are sitting significantly above those in all other  age bands. But for this is interesting. There is only a 5% gap between Protestants and Catholics who want separate schooling. So it is not a case that Protestants want to co-opt Catholics into their system so much as a significant majority in both camps want some form of co-schooling.

NILT Is it getting better by age[3] Is it getting better, by age? Now look at the top, pre Troubles demographic and then the bottom ‘parades’ and ‘flegs’ generation. Both these age groups express less optimism than any others. But the pessimism is concentrated on that lower age group. Youth unemployment may also be an important, non troubles related influence. Not least since the eldest in this group would have been at most nine years old and at least three when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

NILT Gay child by religion[4] Comfortable with gay child is interesting cut by religion. I chose this because it’s probably the question where people might have the most practical reason to worry about not having a blood grandchild. There is a significant difference between Catholics and Protestants, suggesting that whilst socially liberal attitudes are in the majority in both communities, the Protestant community has almost double the proportion of those saying they would be uncomfortable.

[5] Now a comparison with 1998 that shows no movement whatsoever. Could you live with never having a United Ireland? Back then with the SDLP in a leadership position of Northern Irish nationalist, some 90% of Catholics said they could either live with it or would happily accept it.NILT Tolerance of no united Ireland 1998

Roll on to 2012 and you can see that after twelve years of Sinn Fein’s leadership this figure has barely changed with the only category rising slightly being the ‘Don’t know’ column… NILT Tolerance of no united Ireland 2012

Are you a Unionist or a Nationalist?[6] A reprise of a data set mentioned earlier on the self description of people as Unionist or Nationalist. The largest single group is Neither, which is nearly half the population at 47%. The implications of the change since 1998 is not uniform. There has been virtually no change amongst nationalists, but a 12% decline of those self declaring as unionists in 1998. You’d have to ask, is unionism is becoming an outmoded political motivator now the smoke of war is beginning to clear?

More to follow…

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  • Starviking

    Some interesting stuff in the Community Relations section:

    Only 20% want to live in a uni-religious area, only 12% want to work only with co-religionists, and 31% want their kids schooled only with co-religionists.

    Interestingly there is little difference in these views across the sectarian divide.

  • aquifer

    Those flag protests seem to have cost Unionists a lot.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think the political ID by age is very revealing. The pre Troubles generation of Unionists have least difficulty in identifying as such. And nothing that’s happened since halts a long steady decline…

    Nationalist ID (as opposed to politics) however gets a boost from the pre Troubles low rate of 20% to mid twenties during the Troubles and a huge slump amongst the post GFA generation to 15% rallying back to 22 for those most recently on the electoral register…

  • Morpheus

    Mick: “percentage believing that a United Ireland is very unlikely has now risen to 41%.”

    You forgot to mention that the question was “in the next 20 years, do you think it is likely or unlikely that there will be a United Ireland?”

    Is 41% surprising? Has anyone any clue what a United Ireland would look like in terms of housing, economics, jobs, political representation, health, education etc? This is where SF and the SDLP are failing – they are pro-UI parties yet they are making no strides whatsoever to educate the electorate what a UI would look like.

    Some of the results are really confusing;
    –> a significant drop in the % of people who want to remain part of the UK with either direct rule or devolved Government
    –> the % of people who want an independent state marginally increased from 3% to 5%
    –> the % of people who want a reunified Ireland stays the same.
    –> the % of those who ‘don’t know’ more than doubles

    So do we conclude from that that more and more people are unsure which is the best option for them? The % of Catholics who don’t know has more than doubled, the % of Protestants who don’t know has tripled and the % of those with no religion has see a significant increase as well.

  • Delphin

    The age profile is not only revealing but provides hope for the future. Can SF/DUP adapt to meet these aspirations? I don’t think so. One can’t hep but wonder what would have happened if the comunities had not followed the leadership of fossils such as Paisley and Ó Brádaigh. Still those two should have some interesting conversations round the fiery furnace by and by.

  • keano10


    Slugger made a big song and dance after the last survey about the number of people who described themselves as Northern Irish. A new emerging ground-breaking identity was heralded.

    What is your take then on the fact that the “Northern Irish” have slumped by a third in this latest poll?

  • Mick Fealty

    Listen keano, what I’ve been pointing to for ten years is that resistance to a UI was always much higher than than the proportion of the population who could not stomach being in the UK in perpetuity for ten years…

    Both those figures, I think (I’m cutting through this report slowly and carefully as I can) HAS changed. And progressive Republicans should take very careful note of that fact. As should progressive Unionists.

    My view of the NI ID is now, and always has been, that it’s at best whimsical and tells us very little that’s of use. I pointed out that the Census 2011 figures when compared with those before the Troubles weren’t that different.

  • mjh

    Age differences are also prominent in the section on support for political parties.

    I use the word support deliberately. 62% of those questioned expressed support for a political party. Since the turnout at the last Assembly Election was 55% those parties which are good at getting their voters out will win a higher percentage of the vote than their support level suggests. While less organised parties, or those with less motivated voters, will not do as well.

    And it is amongst the young that support for any party is at its lowest. Half of electors under the age of 35 do not support any political party, compared to only a quarter of the over 65’s.

    Only SF bucks this trend. The younger you are, the more likely you are to support SF. Amongst those under 25’s who expressed a preference SF support is shown at 36%, but this drops to 10% in the over 65’s.

    Whilst the older you are the more likely you will support UUP. 25% of the over 65’s chose the UUP, and this dropped to 8% of the under 25%.

    If you overlay on these figures the proportions of the population in each age range you get some highly interesting outcomes.

    A quarter of those entitled to vote are aged under 35, and another quarter are over 65. So, broadly speaking a political party would want to have more than 25% of its votes coming from the under 35’s, and not to have too much more than 25% coming from the over 65s.

    Again SF sits in a highly enviable position. They get 33% of their support from the under 25’s and only 15% from the over 65s. If they can hold that younger support as those voters age, time is literally on their side.

    For the UUP however the picture is horrible. 43% of their supporters are over 65, and less than 13% from the under 25’s. Unless they can turn around drastically, time alone could rob them of nearly a third of their support over the next 20 years.

    On these figures the direction of travel is the same for the SDLP, although it will take longer to get there. They too have under 13% of their supporters under 25, but they are stronger in the middle age voters (35 to 64) than the UUP and have 31% over 65.

    Alliance also needs to think hard on how it can attract younger voters. It gets under 15% of its support from the under 25’s. But its share of over 65’s is only 25%. It is the party with the biggest proportion of its supporters in the middle age groups.

    The DUP position is reasonably comfortable. It is over-exposed amongst over 65’s where it has 31% of its support (the same as the SDLP). However it pulls its weight in the under 35’s, where it draws 24% of its support.

    For the record, the full percentages of those expressing a choice were:
    DUP 27.4%
    UUP 16.1%
    Alliance 12.9%
    SDLP 21.0%
    SF 19.4%

  • mjh

    Sorry, left out

    Other parties 3.2%

  • Dec

    Another year, another NILT survey claiming the SDLP has more support than SF. Zzzzz….

  • Reader

    Dec: Another year, another NILT survey claiming the SDLP has more support than SF. Zzzzz….
    There are two ways to look at that:
    1) This is support, not votes. Tired old SDLP aren’t getting their wishy-washy supporters out to vote.
    2) Or ignore the raw numbers, and watch the year on year trends. The trends can be interesting even if some people are a bit coy about their actual behaviour. (Of course, there can be trends in coyness, too…)

  • JR

    Support for a UI clearly remains strong in Crossmaglen and lower Creggan. In the recent mock border poll over 1000 people came out to cast a vote. Over 92% in favor of a UI.
    Anecdotaly I think support for a UI has dropped significantly among Belfast nationalists in particular as they are effected much less by partition but remains very strong in Newry, South Armagh, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone.

  • mjh

    What was the percentage turnout, JR?

  • JR

    I am not sure, I read there there are about 3000 people on the electoral register in the total area covered by the poll so I suppose that would make it around 35%. Very high given that it was only a mock poll. I believe they also had Roy Gartland out to speak at a debate to put the Unionist case across.

  • Mick Fealty

    We’ve a guest blog coming out later on that JR, with some of the relevant data… In the meantime, ±I’ve added some very interesting stuff on mixed schooling…

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve added…

    “…only a 5% gap between Protestants and Catholics who want separate schooling. So it is not a case that Protestants want to co-opt Catholics into their system so much as a significant majority in both camps want some form of co-schooling.”

  • Submariner

    Mick as you say the survey claims a significant majority of people claim to want mixed religion schools . But in practice continue to freely send their children to single religion schools when there are plenty of integrated schools available. Is it a case of people saying what they think the surveyor wants to hear.

  • Mick Fealty

    This is where I think most politicians are missing a trick. You cannot have a place in a school or a school environment that does not exist. That depends on the implementation of policy that allows, or permits a shift in resources.

    You may have noticed that in six years in education no one has got beyond the sixth form argument over selection… 😉

    I hate to say it (for fear of winding some people up) but the DUP have clearly been taking this survey serious whilst others have been either ignoring it, or pouring scorn on it.

    If you ignore what citizens are telling you through surveys like this you can only expect to drift further from them when you hold down senior governmental responsibility.

  • gaygael

    also thought what is interesting is the strong support for equal marriage – despite a number of politicians continually expressing the ludicrous idea that ‘the vast majority of people are opposed to equal marriage’
    They should really be honest and say ‘exceptionally wealthy, well funded, motivated and organised special interest groups keep telling us that their members are against, but this fails to reflect wider society’s opinion, but we are in hock to these groups and will keep trying to project their opinions as that of wider society

    57% in favour, 32% against and 11% undecided – with only the over 65 category majority against.
    I think this broadly reflects emerging data in the western world with Northern Ireland not being that special case conservative that some people hope it to be

  • JR

    I see that 7% of protestants could never accept it if northern Ireland never voted to become part of a UI and 18% wouldn’t like it but could live with it.

    There you have it in Black and white, 25% of protestants support a United Ireland.

  • JH

    Hang on a minute, am I reading this right?

    7% of Protestants couldn’t live with it if there was never a united Ireland?

    and 18% wouldn’t like it but could live with it?


  • JR

    I also note that the willingness of Protestants to happily accept the result of a democratic vote drops from 60% to 30% depending on the outcome of that vote.

    Seems like the a la carte democrates we saw at the flag protests do reflect a wider ethos.

  • Keano10[10.03]It was amusing to watch the BelTel, BBC and UTV falling over themselves on the day of the census2011 identity question in their neurotic desperation to spin catholcs responses to the question and the BELTel’s silly headline the next day ‘RISE OF THE N IRISH
    Unfortunately for these organ’s the NILT survey questions appear to have been asked later the same month and catholics remembered how their census anwers were misused deliberately by the jingoistic norn iron media. Note the muted coverage on this contradicting the census claims.
    BBC website doesn’t revisit this question in their item

  • Morpheus

    Mick, in relation to point 5 above – the % who would accept not having a United Ireland haven’t changed since the GFA. Are you shocked? No one has any idea what a UI would look like so how are people supposed to give an opinion on something they know nothing about? It’s like asking you to move into my house without seeing it or knowing if the electricity or hot water works.

    That’s why all these pro-UI/pro-Union polls and statistics are meaningless. Since a UI is a legitimate aspiration i=enshrined in the GFA then the very least that should be done is an independent fact finding exercise, in partnership with the British and Irish Governments to educate the electorate and then ask them their opinions. If there is an appetite then progress to a border poll.

  • Reader

    JR: I also note that the willingness of Protestants to happily accept the result of a democratic vote drops from 60% to 30% depending on the outcome of that vote.
    Looks almost identical to the reaction of Catholic MLAs to the SpAd vote, doesn’t it?
    And why are you implying that “could live with it if you had to” is not a democratically and morally valid answer?
    The 25% or 7% of potential troublemakers would surely be a more worthy complaint than your discovery – above – that there is a shortage of Prod unicorns.

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s the third time you’ve asked me that, but no, I am not surprised. Just wondering why we’re not seeing policies that would sharpen the appetite for unification rather than a call for a border poll against the trend of opinion… It’s sort of kicking at what is, right now, a pretty closed door…

    If you want the door open, first thing I would recommend is to stop kicking…

  • Morpheus

    But you don’t know if it’s a closed door or not do you Mick?

    The people who respond to these surveys are responding from a position of total ignorance because they have absolutely no idea what a UI looks like. None whatsoever. Then the results are being used to fuel statements like ‘kicking on a closed door’ and ‘no appetite for a United Ireland’ in the hope that more and more people believe.

    We are not mushrooms, we cannot just be fed shit and kept in the dark. We, the entire electorate both North and South of the border, need to be educated on what a UI looks like so we can decide for ourselves if we want it or if we reject it.

  • BarneyT

    Has there ever been a poll, survey or referendum that we all accept as clear and concise? Either the scope of the poll is unrepresentative (Crossmaglen) and is as relevant as asking the flag protestors if they wished to remain part of the UK.

    The post poll analysis often avoids the original question and qualifiers (assuming it has been effective) and this is done deliberately to illicit a response or manipulate reality. It’s all mostly a waste of time. The fact that they are open to many interpretations points to the inherent weakness of the original proposition.

    We should focus on why a united Ireland is desirable for some and why retention within the UK is key to others.

    These questions need to be posed under the acceptance that the current state does not work for all inhabitants and will always create division and conflict. NI is broken and a fix is needed. If it were a Japanese car it would be recalled.

    We need to truly determine if the perceived Roman Catholic influence in the south is seen as impedance to Anglican Catholics in the north, with regard to Irish reunification. I would like to assess if loyalists felt that they would not be able to preserve their identify (or key aspects of it) in a United Ireland and why.

    It may be that the greatest fear is social and economic loss, however for me that demonstrates successful manipulation by proponents of division. It’s a distraction and dismisses the notion that collectively all of us on this island stand a chance of demanding the government and services we want. Imagine the impact that 2 million people used to a national health service and perhaps better services in other aspects of life can have.

    There are many more issues that need to be discussed before we post pointless caveat based questions. The question, “Do you see an united Ireland occurring in the next 10 or 20 years” only conjures up emotions on both sides of the community, inducing fear of loss on one side and a sense of imminent victory on the other.

    The united Ireland question is however firmly on the agenda, and even if SFs push for a border poll is seen as pointless and unrealistic, it has and is serving its purpose i.e. to get people talking about a Reunited Ireland.

  • First of all Barney, love the flag – the orange comes across a bit yellow though.

    Really surprised to see 7% of Protestants are very pro UI (at some point in time). Also another 19% are pro UI (at some point in time). That only 58% are vehemently anti UI – That’s heart warming news. I’d like to see the age profile of this. The trend also shows the futility of violence. Al the mor interesting as the ROI is going through a rough time economically. Now, if we could only convince the Catholics 🙂

  • socaire

    I have quite a large circle of relations,friends acquaintances etc. Slugger has a fair size readership. Does anybody know anybody that has ever been asked to take part in one of these ‘surveys’?

  • ForkHandles

    “We should focus on why a united Ireland is desirable for some and why retention within the UK is key to others.”

    Basically the UK is better economically and socially when considered in a rational way. The ROI is preferred if you are stuck in a tribal way of thinking – I’m from a Catholic background, so I should be wanting to be part of the Catholic ROI. Its that simple and everyone knows it !

  • Neil

    Socially? You’ll have to expand on that.

    Each year since 1990 the Human Development Report has published the Human Development Index (HDI) which was introduced as an alternative to conventional measures of national development. The HDI represents a broader definition of well-being and provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income.

    The latest HDI report is from 2011 with emphasis on Sustainability and Equity, titled: A Better Future for All.
    The three Human Development Indicators are: 1. Life Expectancy Index (LEI): Life expectancy at birth (in years); 2. Education Index (EI) Mean years of schooling (in years), and Expected years of schooling (in years), and 3. Income Index (II): Per capita income (PPP $).
    Below is the list of countries with a “Very High Human Development” including Barbados (rank 47), followed by three countries with “High Human Development”.

    Ireland comes 7th. The UK, 28th. Face it folks, this is no nirvana – probably significantly worse in NI due to troubles legacy issues, economic inactivity and disability. Let’s face it, the situation here in NI is utterly crap and likely to get worse in the short term.

  • Neil

    Just looking at the figures from the OECD regarding the relative situations in Ireland and the UK. Interesting stuff. Ireland is ahead of the game in life satisfaction (the biggie), education, health, work/life balance, community and about a mile ahead in terms of housing.

    The UK wins on income and jobs (at the minute, no surprise), environment, civic engagement and health and safety.

    So if you assume the Ireland’s economic problems were to last forever you’d still have to accept that for health and life satisfaction (for many more valuable than pounds and pence) Ireland’s the place to be. If you want a hard hat and a very inequal society the UK’s your best bet.

  • Morpheus

    The Legatum Prosperity Index is an annual ranking of 142 countries based on a variety of factors including wealth, economic growth, personal well-being, and quality of life. It is based on 89 different variables analysed across 110 nations around the world.

    Guess who was number 10 in 2011 and 2012?

  • Raymonds Back

    Just to be a pedant for a while, but where does this term ‘Northern irish’ as a nationality come from? Northern ireland is not a nation, and not described as one; it is known as a region within the UK. Also, the only nationalities available under the Good Friday Agreement are: Irish, British, or both.

    So who is pushing this term Northern Irish, and for what reason?

  • Starviking


    It’s an identity within the UK, an option on the census, and also an unofficial nationality that some people self-identify with. I’ve identified with it since 1987, and I’m sure others here do too.

    So I guess the answer to your question is that people who consider themselves Northern Irish have pushed this term, for the reason that they want their identity to be recognised.

  • gendjinn

    NILT survey is the great shibboleth of Northern Ireland that most accurately predicts which side of the divide you fall.

    If you accept it’s findings you’re a Unionist.
    If you don’t you’re a Nationalist.

    If you refuse to acknowledge that those commissioning the survey get the results they desire then you’re an idiot.

  • ayeYerMa

    Interesting that they have stated that they have now newly cooperated with the “Rainbow Project” for the “LGBT” questioning. I think this may have subtly biased such questioning.

    For example, the “born that way” and other questioning does not have an option which accurately reflects the current dominant scientific theories in that area, namely that twin studies (which most people seem unaware of) don’t support it simply being a genetic inevitability, with most indicating a strong, if not even dominant, environmental component.

    There are also are several questions using words with negative connotations such as “prejudice” which are not used in other categories of questioning, and would tend to weight responses (especially given that we have laws such as politically correct “hate speech” meaning you might not be able to say as such), as well as the fact that “same-sex marriage” (a disputed term, along even with “gay” itself) is talked about in terms of “rights” even though the current debate has little to do with the “rights” which are already in place in ECHR law and with civil partnerships (and the outcome of other polls on this issue are dramatically affected by whether the existing civil partnership arrangements are mentioned or not).

  • sectarianheadcount

    Only 17% of RCs identity as Northern Irish. Such a triumph of state(let)-building…

  • sectarianheadcount[11.04] That’s the notion of the cjhattering classes in BT9 who want to create a spurious impression of a new NI which catholics in post troubles era have bought into and NI is then one happy place in the new dispensation as G Adams is constantly on about. But this is wishful thinking and the flags row has exposed that for what it is. They’ve gone strangely quit in the BBC and UTV news editor’s suites since the bubble was burst yesterday. It’s still the same old place, as Barry McGuire sang of in another context in the ‘Eve of Destruction’ song.

  • Mick Fealty

    I disagree with most of the critical comment on the NILT. The dataset is 1800. But as people have pointed out there are some odd anomalies. That’s because it’s a lengthy survey with a somewhat onerous set of complex questions which in any normal polity would just help inform politicians, not ask them to set their clocks by.

    It always bemuses me why we have to have this argument year after year after year. Polls, surveys, elections and referenda are all different instruments. None of them give the same answers on ANY questions. Anyone who thinks they do, needs to bone up on methodology.

    This exchange between Noel Thompson and Gerry Kelly is a perfect example:

    If people are convinced there’s a problem with the survey, then what is it? Seriously lads, you cannot go on mumbling into your pints… what is the problem, other than you don’t believe that people are more complex than their own political choices at the ballot box?

  • gendjinn


    if we take the NILT survey at face value then two questions remains:

    What is so toxic about the existing Unionist parties that such a large block of Unionists are voting for SF & SDLP?

    Why don’t these Unionists choose Alliance over SF & SDLP?

  • Republic of Connaught

    The NILT survey should be stopped for a decade at least. There isn’t going to be a unification referendum for ten or fifteen years so why keep treating the people like guinea pigs?

    If was I living in the north and asked to participate I would tell them to fvck off. Unless they bought me a few pints, of course

  • Starviking


    Only 17% of RCs identity as Northern Irish. Such a triumph of state(let)-building…

    Thought it was 16%. Protestants come in at 24% – and yet the statelet still stands…

  • Starviking

    danielsmoran (profile)

    sectarianheadcount[11.04] That’s the notion of the cjhattering classes in BT9.

    Ah, so BT60 has been subsumed into BT9 then? Poor Armagh!

  • FuturePhysicist

    There is an assumption that Irish Unity and ‘Maintaining the Union’ are the only constitutional issues present. I would say introducing opposition, reexamine petitions of concern, increasing fiscal powers to resizing the Assembly are all constitutional matters under Strand 1, but also the constitutional stability of both the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland and their effect on the other strands also are constitutional, as well as international relationships such as the EU, NATO etc.

  • FuturePhysicist
  • Starviking[1.57] When I sent the post you’ve quoted, I was unaware what the postcode of Armagh was. My bt9 reference is a reference to the NI establishment and the letsgetalongerist crowd which FJH is so scathing of[and rightly so in my view].

  • Raymonds Back


    well then, I would like my nationality to be defined as West European (even though it is not a nationality and not available to me as a choice of nationalities). If I ask long enough will the census people pinclude it as a choice? Or maybe they are not pushing that particular identity?