Money a big consideration for many in possible vote on Irish unity

ARINS/Irish Times surveys asked voters to assess how their vote would be influenced by positive or negative impact on their personal finances

For the individual citizen, the abstract possibility of Irish unification could quickly become a palpably negative reality if their personal finances took a hit. Or it could become tangibly positive if their quality of life, or the health of their bank balance, was enhanced.

Thinking about these two strongly contrasting scenarios in advance of possible referendums on Irish unification may cause serious reflection by voters. Their judgments on these possibilities could have a big effect if and when referendums are held on unification.

In the ARINS/Irish Times surveys, respondents were asked to assess the extent to which being made aware of possible negative and positive economic effects on them personally could sway their voting intentions.

Specifically, they were asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for Irish unification if it made them €4,000 (in the South)/£3,500 (in the North) a year better off. Roughly speaking, that translates to just over €10 per day, or €77 per week. They were also able to say that whether they would gain or lose would make no difference to how they would vote.


Half of Southern respondents (51 per cent) indicated they would be more likely to vote for Irish unification if it led to them being €4,000 a year better off, while the remainder said it would either make no difference or that they don’t know. A somewhat lower proportion of Southerners (43 per cent) said that the equivalent negative economic scenario (becoming €4,000 a year worse off) would make them less likely to support unity.

For Southerners, therefore, the influence of the positive economic scenario is greater than the influence of the negative scenario. This evidence may suggest that Southerners are not more reactive to negative economic possibilities than positive ones when considering Irish unification.

By contrast, Northern Protestants, and Northern “others”, are much more sensitive to bad economic forecasts than rosy outlooks. Some 45 per cent of Northern Protestants would be less likely to support unity in the negative economic scenario, whereas only half as many (23 per cent) would be more likely to support unity in the positive economic scenario.

The outlook of Northern Catholics is very different from Northern Protestants. They appear to be more influenced by a positive economic outlook than by a negative one. Some 54 per cent of Northern Catholics said the positive economic scenario would make them more likely to support unification. But only two-fifths (41 per cent) said the negative economic scenario would make them less likely to vote for unification.

These findings provide insight into the potential dynamics of public opinion if the debate on Irish unification focused intently on its impact on personal economic wellbeing.

Advocates of Irish unification may be comforted that Southerners and Northern Catholics do not appear to be especially susceptible to bad economic forecasts for their own fortunes.

Unionist strategists may be pleased that pro-unification advocates might struggle to win over sceptics, particularly Northern Protestants, who are especially susceptible to having their opposition to unification cemented by negative economic forecasts.

Further analysis of the effects of these contrasting economic scenarios reveals that what matters a lot is the respondents’ initial answer given to the key “constitutional question”. That is, whether they said they would vote for Irish unification or for Northern Ireland to stay in the UK.

Most notably, we find differences between Northern Catholics depending on how they say they would vote in a referendum. Northern Catholics who indicate that they would vote for Irish unification are particularly likely to have their pro-unification intentions increased by the positive economic scenario. In contrast, the minority of Northern Catholics who say that they would vote to keep Northern Ireland in the UK are fairly immune to the possible economic benefits of unification; the positive economic scenario only minimally makes them more likely to support unification.

Poll Monday

What does have a strong effect on them is the negative economic scenario: Northern Catholics who would vote to stay in the UK have their anti-unification preferences very strongly buttressed by the prospect of a poor economic outlook.

In sum, those Northern Catholics who favour Northern Ireland staying in the UK react to these economic scenarios very similarly to Northern Protestants: they are particularly influenced in an anti-unification direction by the negative economic scenario.

We find a similar, but weaker, pattern when we break down Southerners according to their answer to the question on how they would vote in a referendum. Southerners who say that they would vote for unification are more influenced by the positive economic scenario than those who say that they would vote to keep Northern Ireland in the UK. And the gloomy economic scenario has a more powerful effect on anti-unification Southerners than pro-unification Southerners.

The overall message from these findings is that some people are more influenced by the possible positive benefits of unification than by the negative consequences: Southerners and Northern Catholics – and particularly pro-unification Southerners and Northern Catholics. Other people are more influenced by a negative than a positive economic outlook – particularly Northern Protestants, and the minority of Northern anti-unification Catholics.