Opinion polls are supposed to reflect the views of those questioned, which they generally do. Of course people could and I’m sure on occasion do misrepresent/lie about their views and preferences, but by and large we accept that polls are a truth response to what is asked.
Take for example an opinion poll about Irish unity that was held last September. In the Lord Ashcroft poll, voters were asked “If there were a ‘border poll’ tomorrow, how would you vote?” Here’s the good Lord on the responses:
“In my poll, 45% said they would vote to stay in the UK, and 46% said they would choose to leave and join the Republic of Ireland – a lead of 51% to 49% for unification when we exclude don’t knows and those who say they would not vote.”
There’s a temptation as a nationalist or republican to note the results and yell “Yipee!” while pogo-jumping round the room. I’ll come back to that.
The good Lord also asked another question: “If there were a border poll tomorrow/in ten years’ time, what do you think the outcome would be?”
In this case the good Lord found that 59% of people think a border poll tomorrow would result in people in the north voting to stay in the UK, 29% voting for Irish reunification. But when it came to a border poll in ten years’ time, 54% believe voters would be in favour of a united Ireland, 29% think it would result in a vote to stay in the UK.
You can see where the trend is going. In a vote tomorrow, there’d be a 2% lead for a united Ireland.
OK, get off that pogo-stick and listen to me. Opinion polls are useful only when they ask sensible questions. If you were asked by a pollster “If the moon was made of green cheese, would you favour it being brought back to Earth in spaceships or left where it is?”, my guess is you’d tell the pollster to put their head in a bucket of water three times and take it out twice. Because it’s an absurd question – most of us (except for the occasional TUV member ) know that the moon is not made of green cheese, so asking questions about it is at best stupid and at worst insulting.
In the same way, questions that ask about a border poll tomorrow are at best stupid and at worst mischievous. There is not going to be a border poll tomorrow. It would be undesirable as well as impossible. We all saw the Grand Canyon of ignorance in which the great British public voted for Brexit. They made their decision, not knowing what Brexit would mean for them. Those in favour of a border poll should learn the lesson.
People north and south need to be informed as to what kind of state this new Ireland would be. That can only be done when forums and/or citizens’ assemblies are set up so that matters of health, education, infrastructure can be looked at and answered. Talk of the north “joining the south” is claptrap – that’s one thing that a new Ireland will not be. It will be the creation of a new country where its nature, governance and finances will be thrashed out in advance.
So pollsters intent on frightening the horses with talk of the north “joining up with the south” should be told to knock it off. The energies currently going into creating and answering opinion poll questions would be better employed establishing planning bodies, so people can vote on reality, not on moon-calf fantasies.