NILT survey trends show bad news for Unionism

Yesterday, the 2009 Northern Ireland Life and Times survey was published on Ark.  It reveals a very sharp decline in support for unionism.  In response to the question, “Generally speaking, do you consider yourself as a unionist, nationalist or neither?” the answers were:

Unionist     32%,    Nationalist  24%,    Neither       43%,    Other          1%

In comparison with the 2008 survey, Unionism has declined by 5%.  Year on year comparisons are not helpful, of course, since they can show false trends.  However, when the surveys are linked over a period of years, the bigger picture emerges.  I have taken the results for this question in NILT surveys since they began in 1998.   To see a larger version of the graphs, please click them.   

The clear trends are that unionism is declining; nationalism is static or very slightly declining while non-designation (“neither”) is on the increase.   I believe that the Good Friday Agreement, which secures the constitutional future of Northern Ireland to the principle of consent, has contributed to a view, which is growing, that unionism is an irrelevance. 

Another trend, which could be linked to political attitudes, is people’s view of their identity.  In response to the question “Which of these best describes the way you think of yourself?” the answers were as follows:

British   35%,      Irish     32%,      Ulster   2%,      Northern Irish   27%,      Other   4%

The long term trend is, once again, bad news for unionism.  In the following graph, I have aggregated Ulster and Northern Irish.   

It shows Britishness to be in long term decline while Irishness and Northern Irishness show an increase between them.   I say this despite the fact that the point at which Northern Irish begins (29%) on this graph is exactly where it ends but I have also considered the breakdown of the age groups (see below)  

This shows a trend away from Britishness from older to younger and a trend in favour of Northern Irishness from older to younger.  

On Ulster’s Doomed, Horseman, commenting on the recently published Younger Life and Times Survey for 2009, also published by Ark, has observed that there is a weaker attachment to Britishness amongst young Protestants than there is to Irishness amongst young Catholics. 

The surveys and their trends will send an urgent signal to unionists that they will not survive unless they are able to re-define themselves.    At the very least, these trends are evidence that a merger, desired by many unionists, between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP is not in the interests of those parties.

Meanwhile, they also sit comfortably with the formation of a new non-designated centre-right party which puts Northern Ireland at the heart of its policy-making.

This entry was posted in Conservative Party, Good Friday Agreement, Identity, Nationalism, New Party, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland politics, Unionism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to NILT survey trends show bad news for Unionism

  1. I thought your graphs were nonsense until I realised that the x axis is the wrong way around. Very confusing.

    Of course, the NILT survey is highly aspirational – just because people say they’re “neither” doesn’t mean they’ll vote that way when it comes to an election. But the trends are clear.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Point taken Andrew. I have an unfortunate habit of making up my spreadsheets with the nearest time on the left.

      I have now updated the graphs to show the timeline left to right.

  2. Seymour Major says:


    I did not mean to imply that I knew of any proposed merger between the UUP and the DUP. It is something that has been muted as being desirable by Unionists all over the blogasphere. I have amended the post just in case somebody elese reads it the way you did.

  3. shane says:

    Seymour, may I ask what do you think of this suggestion?

    • Seymour Major says:


      If you believe that could work, you might as well invest in an orchard which grows bacon.

      I dont think it has been thought through very well for a number of reasons. If it could be put into practice, it could have the effect of making NI even more sectarian than it is now. I wont go into details about that argument though. There are just too many other negatives.

      Firstly, this idea would involve tearing up the Good Friday Agreement. On the basis of that, is anybody really going to take the idea seriously? I also recall that Joint sovereignty was discussed as an option before the GFA was negotiated. It was swiftly rejected as a non-starter.

      Just putting the problems of money and tax to one side, for one moment, Joint sovereignty has all sorts of wider implications. For example, how would they manage the responsibility for security? If soldiers were needed to assist the police, where would they come from. Would there be operational joint command. Would we see armies from two states involved. The more one thinks about it, the more it looks like fantasy.

      It is also unworkable in practice from a money point of view. I am not even referring to the hugely difficult and complex arrangement which would have to be set up. Income tax is not the only revenue. You have direct and indirect taxation but forget that for the moment.

      Never mind also that if you did set up such a system, you have to increase the number of civil servants to manage the system so those figures for Government spending would increase but let us just work with the figures quoted.

      Lets just deal with the £4.8 billion required to be contributed by Dublin. That is €5.24 billion. The Republic’s budget deficit last year was €7.9 billion and they are struggling to bring that down. The words “which would be very difficult in these times” is an understatement off the ridiculousness scale.

      Another silly thing about the article is that you would still end up electing politicians to becoming executive ministers and bickering over how they spend their money. Unfortunately, when it comes to spending Government money, you cant split it up into money for unionists and money for nationalists!

      I am sure that others could think of more problems with the proposal. If you dont mind, I wont re-visit it.

      The only thing I would say which is relevant to issues which remain is the question of the ROI being able to afford the North. People here who want a united Ireland, if they have any brain cells that work, would want the Conservative policies to be implemented. It is in the interest of Republicans and Nationalists to have a strong private sector in order to make a united Irelnd workable for the people in the ROI.

      The biggest irony of all is that it is the Unionists politicians who crave a vibrant private sector far more than the Natinoalists. Everything, quite frankly is the wrong way around. Still that is a problem for political definition for others.

      My ethos is that that NI economy should be put right to make NI people better off. Questions of sovereignty should never come into it.

  4. shane says:

    Your comments are interesting. I agree that it’s impracticable and probably undesirable. Although it is an interesting example of thinking ‘outside the box’. I agree with you that Nationalists should logically be seeking an economy less dependent on the public sector. Horseman also often made the same point. It is perhaps one of the biggest problems for a united Ireland. Sinn Fein and the SDLP are not political parties in the proper sense – they believe in ‘values’ more than ideology – and it’s hopeless trying to talk to them about this stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s