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2012 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

6 June 2013

The results of the 2012 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT) – published today – offer challenging insights into the changing nature of Northern Ireland politics and society.

The NILT Survey is an annual survey conducted by ARK at the University of Ulster andQUB.It records public attitudes to a wide range of social issues.
Headline findings from the 2012 survey include:percentage believing that a United Ireland is very unlikely has now risen to 41%.proportion of Catholics expecting Irish unity remains less than among Protestants.a marked rise in the percentage of people describing their national identity as Irish, up from 26% in 2010 to 32% in 2012a fall in the proportion describing themselves as Northern Irish ‑ from a historic high of 29% in 2010 to 22% in 2012a jump in the percentage of Protestants calling themselves British from 60% to 68%proportion of Catholics calling themselves Northern Irish fell from 26% to 17%. – the lowest in more that a decade60% of Protestants described themselves as Unionist49% of Catholics describe themselves as Nationalistthe proportion describing themselves as neither Nationalist nor Unionist rose to 47%, reflecting an increase among both Catholics and Protestants.percentage of respondents thinking it either very likely or quite likely that there will be a United Ireland has fallen from 29% in 2003 to 15% in 2012significant drop in the number expressing a positive wish to remain in UK from 72% to 63% since 2010 and the lowest since devolution in 2007, especially among Catholics.

In one respect, the findings see an intensification of traditional identities, while at the same time this polarisation is not translated into political preferences.

Dr Duncan Morrow of the University of Ulster, said: ‘These results confirm that that the hybrid nature of Northern Ireland as a shared space sharply and persistently divided over questions of national identity is unchanged.

“However, this does not translate into a similar division over constitutional status, where there is little evidence of any strong desire for Irish unity at present.

“At the same time, there is evidence that events over many years have caused a significant rise in the proportion of people describing themselves as neither nationalist nor unionist among both Catholics and Protestants and a measurable alienation from the United Kingdom among Catholics in 2012.

Professor Rick Wilford of QUB added that, "Without further data, it is impossible to definitively diagnose the underlying dynamics. However it appears that recent political events in Northern Ireland may have alienated some Catholics from emergent preference for the United Kingdom without yet persuading many that a United Ireland provides a desirable destination."

The NILT Survey is an annual survey conducted by ARK at Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. It records public attitudes to a wide range of social issues. The 2012 Survey was completed by 1,204 adults across Northern Ireland and it contained a number of questions relating to identity and constitutional preferences.


Notes to editors:

The 2012 NILT Survey explored attitudes to autism, community relations, minority ethnic groups, migrant workers and asylum seekers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, and political attitudes. Full results are available