Is a middle force emerging in Northern Ireland?

John Coakley*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Analysis of the flow of demographic trends and the evolution of political forces in Northern Ireland has long had a predominantly binary focus. The many studies of the fall and rise of nationalism, and of the rise and fall of unionism, are based on a sometimes explicit but more often unspoken narrative of competition between two communities. This article considers an issue in relation to which a much smaller literature has appeared: the steady growth of an apparent middle ground. This is made up in part of those who were born outside Northern Ireland. But it also includes people who have exited from affiliation to the two dominant communities defined by religious background, or perhaps never belonged to either; of those who do not see themselves unambiguously as British or as Irish, but rather report a dual or alternative identity; and of those who identify with neither the unionist nor the nationalist community. Using census and survey data, the article tracks the evolution of this expanding section of the population, and assesses its implications for political choice and for the future constitutional path of Northern Ireland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-51
JournalIrish Political Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank ARK?The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and the UK Data Archive for making available the data on which this article is based. I am indebted to Kevin McNicholl and the anonymous referees for perceptive comments on an earlier draft.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Political Studies Association of Ireland.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • centrist politics
  • dealignment
  • nationalism
  • Northern Ireland
  • religion
  • unionism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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