ESRC Northern Ireland 2010 Westminster Election Survey

This ESRC-funded project aimed to provide the first General Election survey in Northern Ireland since 2001. The survey was carried out across Northern Ireland from 7 to 31 May 2010.  Market Research Northern Ireland (MRNI) completed 1,002 face-to-face computer-aided personal interviews, using clustered stratified random sampling.


Possible election scenarios tested by this election study included:

  • a thawing (via cross-community voting) of the acute sectarian divide between Protestant-British Unionists and Catholic-Irish nationalists
  • electoral divisions between Unionists over entering into government with Sinn Fein, via a strong showing by TUV
  • the prospects of Sinn Fein becoming the largest party in Northern Ireland amid such Unionist divisions, with the potential to provide the First Minister by 2011
  • movement away from the main ethnic blocs by voters who may support cross-community parties such as Alliance
  • further washing-out of the previous structural basis of party choice within Northern Ireland’s ethnic blocs, given the modern ‘respectability’ and ‘de-ghettoisation’ of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party.


The survey attempted:

  • continuity in the generation of data which can be used in conjunction with existing longitudinal studies
  • comparability with the British Election Survey, whilst also structured upon the particular circumstances pertaining to Northern Ireland
  • change assessment: to what extent has a new, innovative political dispensation in Northern Ireland been accompanied by electoral change?

The Survey also wished to:

  • analyse the voting behaviour of the Northern Ireland electorate on the occasion of the first domestic region-wide election since the formation of the devolved power-sharing executive in May 2007
  • explore whether the sectarian/confessional ethno-religious divide in Northern Ireland is diminishing, increasing or remains static
  • assess the level of support for the devolved executive consociation of political representatives of the main ethnic blocs created under the Good Friday Agreement
  • analyse the perceptions of voters in terms of the extent of powers that should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive
  • examine the degree of insecurity felt by the electorate given the ongoing threats posed by 'dissident' republican armed groups
  • gauge the priorities of electors as devolution embeds but is confronted by a period of financial restraint


Datasets from the survey have been logged at the ESRC data archive, but are also accessible here:


  • Professor Jon Tonge (Department of Politics, University of Liverpool), Principal Investigator
  • Professor Bernadette Hayes (Department of Sociology, University of Aberdeen)
  • Dr Paul Mitchell (Department of Government, LSE)

Advisory Expert Board

  • Professor Brendan O’Leary (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Professor Ian McAllister (Australian National University)
  • Professor Shane O’Neill (Queen’s University, Belfast)
  • Professor Yvonne Galligan (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Thanks are also due to Professor Jocelyn Evans (University of Salford) for helpful informal advice.


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