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NILT survey finds voters welcome immigrants, lean Left on the economy and Right on Social matters

New research from the Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey reveals that the adult population hold views that would be considered as Left-leaning with respect to economic policies and Right-leaning with respect to social matters.

Belfast waterfront, River Lagan

The NILT survey from ARK, a joint Queen’s and Ulster University initiative, also found that the adult population have predominantly ‘inclusivist’ or welcoming views when it comes to the topic of immigration. 

The survey presents a picture of public opinion in Northern Ireland that may be different to how the region is often perceived.  

Key dimensions of this are covered in research updates published this week by Professor Katy Hayward and Ben Rosher from Queen’s. They note that, “Placing public opinion in Northern Ireland on the Left/Right spectrum reveals some commonalities and differences that would otherwise be hidden, not least by a party political system in which constitutional preferences and identities predominate.” 

Other key findings:

On economic questions, a majority of NILT respondents come out as Left-leaning. Six in ten people would like to see a universal basic income provided (59%) and a similar proportion think that Government has a responsibility to address income inequality (57%). A plurality of people are supportive of the nationalisation of major public services and industries (45% agreed, 20% disagree), while 44% think that most people on social security benefits deserve such assistance (25% disagree). Younger people are particularly supportive of government intervention to reduce income inequality. 

The responses to questions on social matters, in contrast, show a Right-wing inclination. A majority believe young people should respect conventional values and authority (59%), the law should always be obeyed (58%), and criminal sentences are too lenient (56%). Additionally, a plurality think it should not be possible to change the sex on a birth certificate (43%), compared to 27% who disagree. The one outlier is in relation to gender equality, where only 22% think attempts to give equal opportunities to women have gone far enough, while 52% disagree. 

Views on migration are largely inclusivist. 68% state that we have a duty to protect refugees fleeing persecution, 72% believe migrant workers are good for the economy, and 75% think they make Northern Ireland more open to new ideas and cultures. Public acceptance of immigrants has increased significantly over the past two decades with those who think migrant workers take jobs from locals dropping from 48% in 2006 to 15% in 2023. Nearly a third (31%) think immigration should increase, up from 10% in 2012. Younger adults, nationalists, and 'neithers' tend to be more inclusivist in responses than older people and unionists. 

Professor Hayward, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s commented: “Twenty years ago, Northern Ireland was infamously labelled the ‘race hate capital of Europe’. It is a different place today. The loudest and most aggressive voices often get the most coverage, but it is important to look at the data that gives a more accurate representation of the views of the wider public in Northern Ireland. The fact that these views are perhaps different to those we expected – and different to apparent trends elsewhere in these islands and in Europe – makes it all the more important that we acknowledge them.” 

For the full findings of the NILT 2023 Survey and Research Updates on the data, please visit and follow on X: @ARK_info  

Featured Expert
Photo: Professor Katy Hayward
Professor of Political Sociology and Fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work (SSESW)

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