Polling on the state of play of the parties is far less interesting than those which take a subject and plumb it in depth. The Irish Times IPSOS poll released over the weekend really goes for the United Ireland question in some detail.
Commissioned by a group of Irish academics including Brendan O’Leary and John Garry, this survey covers both Northern Ireland and the Republic and asks a series of very searching questions around the true extent of support for constitutional change.
What’s great about it is the number of angles it takes (not least the different perspectives north and south which has been the subject of much speculation with little backing evidence). Answers to the main question are as follows:
The first thing you notice is that there seems to be little of the much reported diffidence about a united Ireland in the south. The other is that support for change amongst Catholics is less than half that in the Republic.
Just 55% of Catholics are certain that they want a politically united Ireland and 42% being either unsure or against change). Others split 35% to 66%, and Protestants 79% against to 17% in favour or unsure, while Catholics.
This is an important corrective to the dominant theme in the media (dominant mainly because of the lack of any movement in the political institutions of the Belfast Agreement) that a united Ireland is coming soon and only needs “one more push”.
There is however a degree of popular opinion in favour of calling a border poll now (one of the few bright spots in an otherwise ominously dark pieces of news for UI proponents):Although the question arises, why would you when the option is far from popular in Northern Ireland and is, according to Pat Leahy, the option is widely popular if not particularly deeply held. This chart might explain why:
So southerners worry they are going to get a load of trouble dumped upon them whilst northerners are concerned about swapping the NHS for the HSE. Both want reassurance on the economic futures (each model has diverged massively).
Pat includes a telling quote from the qualitative survey that comes with the poll:
Asked what she would need to know before a vote, one female focus group participant, a 43-year-old working-class protestant woman from Co Antrim replied: “Exactly what it would look like. Not like Brexit, but exactly how it would look before it was passed.” [Emphasis added]
Old stagers will recognise a picture I’ve been painting for the last 20 years. Yes, uniting the island is possible, but it was never going to be easy or quickly done because it requires firing up a series of retro engines on the course we’ve taken up to now.
Recent majoritarian attitudes that have developed amongst some nationalists are deeply unhelpful to the long term aim of unification (however you see that becoming manifest). Not least because it ignores the barriers within their own community.
It also shows that the opposition to constitutional change is dug in amongst Protestants, Neithers and Catholics. To find the problems that must be overcome for advocates, the search needs to start much closer to home than Unionism or feckless Brexiteers.
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