So John Coakley and John Garry have been working on the numbers from an ESRC funded survey of Northern Irish voters in the Referendum, and have come sup some interesting findings. Let’s start with the most bleedin’ obvious:
The most obvious difference is that between the two communities. A striking 60% of Protestants, but only 15% of Catholics supported the “leave” side. On the Protestant side, there is a notable further difference: working-class Protestants emerge as much stronger supporters of “leave” (71%) than middle-class Protestants (47%).
In terms of political parties, only the supporters of explicitly named Unionist parties’ voted strongly for Brexit:
TUV voters strongly pro-Brexit (89%), followed by the DUP (70%), but with Brexit supporters a majority even among Ulster Unionists voters (54%).
And yet, according to most mainstream Irish (and Scottish) analysis, this was the Unionist population behaving irrationally and playing with fire with the British Union itself. It is not an idea which has much traction within political unionism.
Some of those voting for Brexit within Nesbitt’s UUP were strong supporters of his in his early days of his rise to the leadership. Most acting on a strong belief in the core democratic argument that the UK’s membership the EU occludes the sovereignty of parliament at Westminster.
In fact, most believe that leaving the EU makes matters more difficult for secessionists. As one senior unionist said on the matter of Scotland, ‘there’s nothing left to give them, they’ve had it all’. The time may be coming for those who believe in the UK to hammer matters out with those who don’t.
Yet even the nationalist figures come with an odd little twist:
….in some border constituencies (such as Newry and Armagh, and South Down), the “remain” vote surprisingly fell below the total nationalist vote in the 2015 Westminster election. On the other hand, certain solidly unionist constituencies, such as North Down and East Londonderry, returned “remain” majorities.
After several generations of resolutely taking a Eurosceptic view of the EU in every public referendum in the Republic, Sinn Fein finally went pro European. It may be that the new clothes were a little ill fitting and did not convince their core support to come out.
Just as likely, since the SDLP has until recently been the most influential party in South Down, it fits with the wider evidence of northern Nationalism’s failing ability to influence or engage positively with its own voter base.
Hard to escape the view that in this particular part of the electoral cycle Unionist voters have been radicalised, whilst the nationalist electorate is slowly switching off.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty