Friday, 8 August 2008

Winning over the pro-Union 'nationalists'

The UUP and Conservative Parties have commissioned a poll from YouGov to examine their premise that pro-Union Catholic votes are there to be won. The figures are encouraging and will reinforce the parties’ common view that an inclusive unionism, underpinned by a deal between the Ulster Unionist and Conservative Parties, can broaden its appeal to attract new voters.

The survey found that 28% of SDLP voters would be happy to remain within the United Kingdom and a minority (44%) aspire to a united Ireland. Even amongst Sinn Féin supporters, 16 % were found to favour Northern Ireland remaining within the Union.

What is striking about these figures is that a substantial proportion of the perceived nationalist electorate are simply voting along community lines rather than registering disapproval of the constitutional link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They are voting for parties that they understand to represent their community, but they are quite happy to remain part of the United Kingdom.

As Reg Empey acknowledges, although the results should be treated with caution, the figures are substantial enough to suggest that there is a significant proportion of the electorate who currently vote nationalist, but who wish to retain the Union. ‘For other reasons’ these voters feel more comfortable giving their support to the SDLP or even Sinn Féin.

Shadow Secretary of State Owen Patterson sees the result as an affirmation of the UUP / Tory project.

“The poll confirms there is a demand for what we are currently talking about with the Ulster Unionists, which is national politics, and that people do look more to mainland Britain than perhaps to southern Ireland.”


The challenge for the new alignment is to offer pan-UK, pro-Union politics, which represent, and certainly do not alienate, voters of all cultural identities. There is clearly more of an appetite for the severance of cultural and political identity amongst Northern Ireland’s electorate than is often allowed.

9 comments:

Aidan said...

It looks like Owen Patterson needs some geography lessons. For 'mainland Britain' surely he means mainland UK, for 'southern Ireland' I am sure he means the Irish Republic not Munster (and as we all know the most northern point of Ireland is not in the UK).
I am not at all surprised that there are many 'nationalists' who want to stay in the UK. I don't know if you have read Fionnuala O'Connor's "In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland", this phenomenon is not something new.
From that point of view the idea of a UK national party looking for votes from the 'nationalist' community is not at all strange. The fact is that Northern Ireland has an extremely bloated public sector and many nationalist people work in it so they are not necessarily all going to vote themselves out of a job (you can't eat a flag and all that).
The idea that a 50% + 1 Catholic majority could ever deliver a united Ireland is far-fetched for this very reason.
There will only be a majority for a united Ireland when the economics of the situation allow it. While the UK treasury continues to subsidize Northern Ireland to such an extent that is not going to happen. For most people their own economic situation matters more than political ideals as long as they are not being persecuted.

Anonymous said...

aidan

The geographic term 'Great Britain' is differnt and more specific than the 'versatile' term 'Britain' which has a range of meanings and is often (probably most commonly) used to mean UK. Check out wht Britain section of the Economist, for example, etc etc.

David

Anonymous said...

The survey "Life and Times" run by Queens University had found these kind of results each year for many years. The fact that a completely different professional, respected, polling organisation, YouGov, presumably using a different methodology, have also found a similar result, is significant and surely must add credibility to this finding.

Aidan said...

David,
Two wrongs don't make a right, The Economist has always irked me in that respect.
By the way you are also wrong in saying that people use Great Britain when being specific. Look at the Olympics team - team GB not team UK. I cannot for the life of me understand why it is so difficult to use the right terms.

Anonymous said...

Yes not just Life and Times many, many opinion polls have shown this down the years. But 'The Troubles' probably kept people in their respective tribes. Certainly think Conservatives can reach some of these people - as long as voters think this is really the Conservative Party and not some murky allliance with UUP

Chekov said...

Aidan on the Olympics issue Team GB is less unwieldy than Team GB and Northern Ireland which is official the designation. The team is organised by the British olympic Association which connotes nationality as opposed to geographical description. Personally I haven't a major issue with Team GB.

Aidan said...

Team UK is just as easy to say as Team GB though ;-) (and more accurate).

Chekov said...

I take your point.

Ignited said...

I find the poll very encouraging and confirms many of the similar figures that have been bounded about over the last few years.

What I think the crux issue is - will nationalist voters stop voting for nationalist parties and vote for unionist ones? Boarder polls are completely separate where it is not support for a party per se that leads to remaining in the UK. That is probably a good thing seeing unionism inability to articulate the case over the years.

Maybe after 'normalisation' we may see a change over but I wouldn't bank on it short-term. Would need 'transparent and verifiable' results.