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Will Northern Ireland count double in the referendum?

March 30th, 2011

Will we get polling from the high turnout province?

In almost all the discussions on the May 5th referendum nobody seems to be considering that part of the UK that almost always has the highest turnout in elections of all kinds – Northern Ireland.

For on the same day there are the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly where, four years ago, the turnout exceeded 63%.

If that’s repeated it could easily be double the overall average turnout level for England which means that the province looks set to have a disproportionate impact on the overall referendum outcome.

England will be divided into two on referendum day: one part where there are local elections taking place at the same time with a turnout level in the high 30s; the other part, including London, has no simultaneous elections and it’s hard to see levels of participation exceeding 25%.

Now for those trying to predict and/or bet on the result Northern Ireland presents a problem – for the standard polls that we see do not cover the province.

Because the party and political structure is different in the province it is excluded from all the national voting intention polls. These are GB only – that is England, Wales and Scotland. The same has applied so far to the AV polling.

Today I sent a round robin to the major pollsters asking if this polling gap was going to be covered. Their response is that it would be if one of their clients was prepared to fork out and pay the extra costs. What are the chances of that? I wouldn’t be too hopeful.

There’s another element in all of this – what if opinion in Northern Ireland is particularly for one side or the other could it be that it’s extra voting power could change the result?

If that happens I can see a lot of post May 5th rows about the validity of the election.

Mike Smithson