Our recent Belfast Telegraph-LucidTalk East Belfast constituency poll, showed that the 'non-voters' are still with us, and are increasing in number. The latest figures from this poll suggest that the Non-Voters are growing again, making up 38% of those who took part, up four % points from our last Northern Ireland (NI)-Wide poll in September 2014. So who are these ‘Don’t Know/No Opinion/Don’t vote’ people? – the question has puzzled politicians for decades. They are on the rise not only in Northern Ireland, but in Southern Ireland, the UK, and other western democracies. In terms of where they come from, the LucidTalk poll results over the past three years show that Northern Ireland’s non-voters are either from the top or bottom social groups, more female than male, are probably employed in the private sector more than public sector, and tend to be from the younger age-groups. They also tend to be more urban than rural, and are mostly of ‘no religion’ or from ‘other’ religions i.e. they don’t identify themselves as Protestant or Catholic.
Hopefully you will have seen our East Belfast constituency poll last week, and as with all polls this has generated its fair share of comments and opinions. On practical point we've been asked about is how we decide what political parties to include, or not include, in the poll. With political polling there's always the argument as to where to draw the line in terms of how many political parties should be included in any poll. Already I've had questions as to why certain political parties weren't included in our East Belfast poll. Let's clear this point up - The accepted standard as advised by the professional polling organisations is to include all the parties that are currently represented in main local legislature, in this case the NI Assembly, and we did this.
All polls are snapshots. What a representative sample of people are thinking about a current issue at a particular point in time. This applies to the whole range of polling and market research services and not just political polls.
Some complain about the accuracy of polls - that e.g. political polls don't seem to be able to precisely predict the outcome of elections, even though the evidence shows that they actually do! But predicting elections isn't the main reason polls exist - they're meant to track ups and downs in opinion, and the ebb and flow of views on particular issues, in between elections, and during the build-up to elections. This provides information to the politicians and the public as to what issues are important, and not important, to the voters. This in turn informs and enhances the debate.
Well, a three-year period of elections, and election campaigns, is about to get underway. This all starts with the European parliament elections in May 2014, with Northern Ireland local government elections sometime next year as well – maybe on the same day as the Euro election.
This will be followed by the Westminster election in May 2015, and the NI Assembly election in 2016 - so get ready for plenty of electioneering, point scoring, and retreating into entrenched positions over the next three years.
The first, the Euro next May, has three seats up for grabs in a PR election, in one large Northern Ireland wide constituency.