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Just 29pc in Northern Ireland would vote for unity, major study reveals

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Storm on the horizon: Traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal

Storm on the horizon: Traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal

PA

Storm on the horizon: Traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal

Less than a third of people in Northern Ireland would vote for a unity if a border poll was held tomorrow, according to a major study of 2,000 voters.

A total of 29pc would support Irish unity but 52pc would back remaining in the UK if a referendum was held imminently.

The key to nationalist success in a border poll is winning over those who define themselves as 'other' and vote for Alliance, the Greens and smaller parties.

But nearly three-quarters (73pc) of those who define themselves as other - neither nationalist or unionist - would support remaining in the UK with just 27pc opting for Irish unity.

If the 'don't knows' are removed from the overall result, the figures break down at 65pc to 35pc in favour of maintaining Northern Ireland's current constitutional position.

Support for the Union was higher among unionist voters than support for Irish unity was among nationalist voters.

A total of 99pc of DUP and UUP voters wanted to remain in the UK compared to 92pc of Sinn Fein and 81pc of SDLP voters saying they would support Irish unity in a border poll.

Just 30% of Alliance voters backed a united Ireland compared to 70pc supporting the Union.

The results are revealed in Northern Ireland's largest general election face-to-face study ever carried out. Just over 2,000 people were interviewed across our 18 Westminster constituencies between December 28, 2019 and February 11.

The Liverpool University-led project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council with interviews conducted by Social Market Research.

Asked to define national identity, Irish was the most popular with 35pc of voters choosing it to 34pc saying they were British and 23pc identifying as Northern Irish.

Asked to label themselves ideologically, 28pc chose 'unionist', 25pc 'nationalist' and 40pc said neither.

Despite the cash-for-ash scandal, support for devolution was remarkably high. The restoration of the Assembly and Executive was backed by 81pc of people with a minuscule minority of 2pc opposing it.

Power-sharing with both unionists and nationalists in the Stormont executive governing together was also strongly endorsed with 61pc support and 7pc opposition.

But deep divisions remain on an Irish Language Act with 36pc of voters supporting one and 32pc opposed. DUP and UUP voters were equally against the legislation with 74pc opposed while 82pc of Sinn Fein and 77pc of SDLP supporters were in favour. Alliance voters were 32pc in favour to 25pc against.

Despite the strong support for devolution, voters remain deeply divided along religious grounds.

The results indicate that the suggestion of a swathe of Catholics voting DUP over the abortion issue is a myth - zero per cent said they voted for either unionist party.

A half of Catholics voted Sinn Fein (51pc) while 28pc SDLP, and 13pc Alliance.

No Protestants voted Sinn Fein and just 1pc SDLP. Among those who said they were of 'no religion', 28pc voted Alliance, 15pc SDLP, 10pc UUP, and 6pc Sinn Fein and 6pc DUP.

Despite significant criticism over her party's handling of Brexit and RHI, there was strong support for Arlene Foster among DUP voters.

Asked to rate her from zero (bad) to 10 (good), almost a third gave her 10/10 while 69pc gave her eight or more. Michelle O'Neill's approval ratings were lower with her party voters with 55pc scoring her at eight or above. But both leaders have bridges to build with the other community - 56pc of Sinn Fein voters and 44pc of SDLP supporters gave Mrs Foster zero.

Ms O'Neill was equally unpopular with DUP voters - 43pc rated her at zero and 75pc at two or under.

Colum Eastwood was most highly thought of among his party's voters with 95pc giving him six or above.

Alliance's Naomi Long was the leader most popular with voters from other parties. For unionists, the DUP was regarded as the most effective Northern Ireland party (54pc) compared to 9% for the UUP.

Among nationalists, 56pc viewed Sinn Fein as more effective with 12pc opting for the SDLP.

Across the entire electorate, the DUP was seen as by far the most effective party (19pc), followed by SF (11pc), Alliance (10pc) and the SDLP (8pc). The UUP scored worst with just 4pc saying it was most effective.

Belfast Telegraph