'Ulster says No....to Brexit' - new poll reveals Northern Irish voters are overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU
Published 26/05/2016 | 08:27
Northern Ireland voters are overwhelmingly in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union, but Protestants are far more divided than Catholics on the issue.
The economic argument for staying in the EU, including the fear of losing access to billions of pounds worth of European funding for local projects and people being economically worse off in the event of Brexit, are the main factors driving public opinion.
In the first major poll of the EU referendum campaign in Northern Ireland, just over 1,000 people were asked if the UK would be stronger or weaker if it voted to quit.
Almost half of respondents - 44% - said that the UK would be weaker.
A fifth - 20% - believed the UK would be stronger outside the EU.
A third of people said they were still undecided or didn't know - perhaps confused by the claims and counter-claims of both camps as the campaign has gathered momentum and grabbed headlines ahead of the referendum on June 23.
The poll, carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Belfast Telegraph, revealed that Protestants were deeply divided on the issue, with 34% saying the UK would be weaker if it left, and 28% claiming it would be stronger.
In contrast, Catholics were more united in their support for Europe: 56% believed a Brexit would weaken the UK; just 12% thought it would make the country stronger
This chimes with local political opinion on Europe. Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP are strongly in favour of remaining in the EU, while the unionist parties are split - the DUP, Ukip and TUV are pro-Leave, and the UUP is backing the Remain campaign.
Across Northern Ireland, while all areas opted for the Remain position, some were more pro-Europe than others.
In Belfast City and Co Derry, half of all respondents were worried that the UK would be weaker outside the EU.
The highest levels of support for a Brexit were found in counties Fermanagh and Tyrone, and in the Greater Belfast area, where around a quarter of people felt the country would be stronger if it left Europe.
Men are split two to one on the question of leaving, with 47% taking the view that the UK is better in, while 24% favour the Leave campaign.
And there's a gender divide, with just 17% of women supporting Brexit.
The survey shows that half of young people, aged 16 to 34, are firmly in favour of continued EU membership, with just 17% opting for the Leave stance.
Older people are more likely to have sympathy with the Brexiters - just over a fifth of over-55s said the UK would be stronger if it left the EU, although the majority - 41% - still backed the Remain option.
When it comes to social groups, people from a managerial or professional background were heavily pro-Remain, in tune with the big business lobby groups like the CBI and some major employers.
Just over half (51%) thought that the UK was better off in the EU. Lower income workers, pensioners and the unemployed were less convinced by the benefits of Europe: the pro-EU figure drops to 40%.
Uncertainty over the economic impact of a Brexit may be causing concern among private housing tenants, who were firmly of the view that leaving the EU would be negative (46%). There was a similar response from homeowners.
But in the social housing sector, fewer people (36%) said that leaving would be bad for the UK.
Overall, none of the groups based on religion, gender, social background or geographical location were in favour of Brexit.
The leader of the NI Stronger in Europe campaign, businessman Tom Kelly, said the results of the poll "reflect the fact that people in Northern Ireland understand the risk of leaving".
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, he added: "They understand the economic security offered by remaining in the EU. It isn't rocket science, unless you are a Leave fanatic or fantasist."