If only NI society were like the Life &Times survey..

Following up on Andrew’s post yesterday, it has always frustrated me that the Life and Times survey has consistently produced more benign and consensual results than are translated into politics. If behaviour reflected the results, NI tensions would have eased much faster – just think of this week – and Sluggerees would all be competing for the Nobel Peace Prize. Is society still in the grip of an wholly unrepresentative minority, certainly much less than 30% hardliners on both sides? If so, how can we give greater voice to the majority? Before we get on to that, the survey results prompt various questions: One, is the methodology flawed?. Is the methodology flawed?. Unlikely, after so much experience and peer scrutiny. Worrying though that while “ the… Survey involved 1179 face-to-face interviews with adults aged 18 years or over…the number of respondents has been reduced from 1800 as in previous years due to problems in securing funding for the survey… ( bad mistake to skimp funding)

People give politically correct answers i.e. the answers they think the questioners require.
During the Troubles this seems to have been a feature, but with more regular polling today it should have been much reduced.

Other polls are held under hotter conditions – i.e. coming up to an election, or on a hot topic that divides the community. The L&T survey is more reflective.

The political system – STV, power sharing is loaded in favour of division. Well, STV is imperfectly proportionate and as Wilson and Wilford argue, AV+ might compel greater consensus but that doesn’t seem like the whole answer.

If translated into behaviour, just about all the results would mean a Slugger of sweetness and light – or at least a Slugger even more untypical of society. Among results:
%

RUC Crest doesn’t make me uneasy No 84
I am neither unionist nor nationalist 40

Political party preferences
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 20
Sinn Féin 14
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) 18
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) 20
Alliance 8
Other party (please specify 2
None of these 15

If response to NIRELND2 is not ‘To remain part of the United Kingdom’ …
If the majority of people in Northern Ireland never voted to become part of a United Ireland do you think you …

Would find this almost impossible to accept 4
Would not like it, but could live with it if you had to, 34
or, would happily accept the wishes of the majority? 58
Don’t know 4
What if you were watching the local TV news around November time and two of the news presenters were wearing poppies. How uneasy would this make you feel?
Very 1
A bit 4
Not at all 94
Don’t know 0

This selection is typical of the consensual nature of the responses. Yes they are unionist-angled but as this represents a status quo majority however you measure it, I thought it was interesting to see how that majority was standing up. Nationalist-angled answers are equally consensual as you can see.

  • kensei

    Brian

    Is the methodology flawed?. Unlikely, after so much experience and peer scrutiny. Worrying though that while “ the… Survey involved 1179 face-to-face interviews with adults aged 18 years or over…the number of respondents has been reduced from 1800 as in previous years due to problems in securing funding for the survey… ( bad mistake to skimp funding)

    With respect Brian, if a poll does not produce results that are not actually reflective of the wider population, then of course the methodology is flawed.

  • Rob

    Weird… I suppose we get what we vote for. But I wonder if the turnout has anything to do with the results in elections. We are earning what we sowed by voting DUP and Sinn Fein, who don’t actually know what being a government is about!

    I am amused by the RUC question, just goes to show how “wise” the powers-that-be were to do away with the Harp and Crown… One symbol Irish, the other British, couldn’t possibly have something that wasn’t another piece of corporate blandness!

  • George

    Rob,
    I’m sure if you just put up a photo of a harp a lot of people wouldn’t be “uneasy” either. Put up a picture of a harp with the word Éire above it and the numbers might change.

    Same with the picture of a harp and crown and a picture of a harp and crown with the words Royal Ulster Constabulary added.

    (Naturally my thesis falls flat on its face if the people were shown the crest with the RUC name.)

  • I think the ‘face-to-face interviews’ bit gives it away. We all know that our responses in such circumstances are not always representative. That is why, for example, we have secret ballots.

    The small size of NI may even mean that people know the interviewer (or know of, or are friends of a friend, etc), and adjust the responses accordingly. Or maybe they just fear the possibility that their private preferences might become known to the ‘wrong’ people. If you lived in a loyalist estate, but had an ‘alternative’ constitutional preference, would you tell that nice lady who comes to the door? Ditto, I suppose, if you live in a republican estate.

    I thought the ‘political party preferences’ question was especially stupid. The only correct way to measure that is at the polls. And if people don’t vote, then they clearly have no political party preference worth noting.

  • Sean Fear

    Statistically speaking, there is virtually no difference between the accuracy of a poll of 1,179 and a poll of 1,800, so long as each poll is accurately weighted to match age, social class, gender, etc.

    The answer lies in people giving politically correct answers. They do this when answering telephone pollsters, and they are particularly prone to do so when answering face to face interviewers.

    How many people would admit to an interviewer that they support the BNP for example? Yet, 130,000 people voted BNP in the London Assembly elections, and the party won a seat.

    If people were polled over the internet in Northern Ireland, you’d likely find people giving answers that corresponded more closely to their actual beliefs.

  • eranu

    the survey, and others like it, show that most people in NI dont get their knickers in a twist about the silly little details that people on slugger think important. they have real lives to get on with. this shouldnt be surprising to anyone!

  • DK

    eranu – correct.

    Key one for me was the “I am neither unionist nor nationalist 40%” – which is spookily close to the % that don’t vote.

    There was also one about whether you thought that loyalist paramilitaries were justified in using violence. The percentage saying yes was almost exactly the same for protestants and catholics. However for the converse (were republican paramilitaries were justified in using violence) the percentages were very different.

    Another – encouraging sign – is that more and more people are starting to describe themselves as “Northern Irish” rather than the bland “Irish” or “British”.

  • Dec

    the survey, and others like it, show that most people in NI dont get their knickers in a twist about the silly little details that people on slugger think important. they have real lives to get on with. this shouldnt be surprising to anyone!

    Unfortunately the ballot boxes, with their attendant privacy, tell a different story.

    Another – encouraging sign – is that more and more people are starting to describe themselves as “Northern Irish” rather than the bland “Irish” or “British”.

    I’m not British but I fail to see how it’s ‘bland’ (and Irish too, obviously).

  • … more and more people are starting to describe themselves as “Northern Irish”

    The key word being ‘Irish’. What this shows is a reduction in the proportion whose identity is tied up to the neighbouring island, compared with those whose identity is tied up, in some way, with Ireland.

    Bad news for unionism, I’d say!

  • aquifer

    In many jurisdictions moderates get to hold the balance of power. Not here. The extremists are guaranteed to get in every time. There is no disincentive to voting for the most extreme position as a moderate vote is a wasted vote in the Irish-British vote pulling contest.

    The problem is with the moderates, they need to cut up rough and walk away from time to time.

    There is also a problem with D’Hondt, which leaves nominations publicly with parties rather than privately with the assembly members in a secret vote, so there is no opportunity to vote moderate ministers in.

    This sad equilibrium could perhaps be unhinged if moderates attached to Irish or British parties.

  • Mayor Curley

    Expressing tolerance in surveys but practicing intolerance is par for the course in any divided society. Also, AV is more disproportionate than even the first past the post system, and it is not the panacea that Wilson and Wilford make it out to be. I can’t believe that they still get away with this argument.

  • Brian Walker

    Nice to hear from you Mr Mayor. Haven’t come across you before I’m afraid. I can’t resist asking you- how are the Boston Irish upstarts theses days? Still all lace curtains and no knickers?

    Kensei, Perhaps, but it begs the question – IS the methodology flawed? I look for expert guidance.

  • kensei

    Brian

    Kensei, Perhaps, but it begs the question – IS the methodology flawed? I look for expert guidance.

    Outcome, outcome, outcome. It doesn’t matter if it works 100% perfectly everywhere else. If you aren’t capturing accurately what you like, then it is the wrong methodology for here. Anywhere else when that happens pollsters change things to try and get it right.

    We know they aren’t — the party support figures are way off. Ergo the methodology is flawed.

  • eire

    Interesting post which somewhat undermines the optimism I felt as I pored over the results yesterday. It’s perhaps important to note that the exact question about political preferences might have an impact on the results, namely, “Which NI political party do you feel closest to, even if you do not always vote for them?’ Compared to IPSOS Mori’s question in its poll in June “If there was a (sic) election tomorrow to which political party would you be most likely to give your first preference’: 20% DUP; 11% SF; 14% UUP; 13% SDLP; and Alliance 7%.

  • DK

    Kensei: “We know they aren’t—the party support figures are way off. Ergo the methodology is flawed.”

    But the party support figures are based on 100% of the sample, while we know that only some 60% will actually bother to vote. So you can’t dismiss the survey on those grounds. All you can do is extrapolate that certain parties supporters are more likely to vote. A better question would have been – “who did you vote for in the last election” – with an option for “did not vote”. Then you could see exactly whether the survey is flawed.

    Horeseman: “… more and more people are starting to describe themselves as “Northern Irish”

    The key word being ‘Irish’. What this shows is a reduction in the proportion whose identity is tied up to the neighbouring island, compared with those whose identity is tied up, in some way, with Ireland.

    Bad news for unionism, I’d say!”

    Yes – but doesn’t favour a united ireland either. Rather it shows that there is a possible common identity here that just maybe might be a way out of the divide.

  • dosser

    Mayor Curley,

    you are right.

    The Alternative Vote is a deeply flawed model. Its capacity to negate ethnic outbidding, promote cross-cleavage alliances and the emergence of the so-called non-sectarian middle-ground, is based on a best-possible scenario. Its methodological weakness was exposed in Fiji.

    The problem with the Wilson & Wilford brigade, including ARK, is that their view of empricial data is onbscured by their own ideological predisposition. They are ‘middle-grounders’, who believe that segregation and sectarianism is purely a product of the machinations of ethno-national entrepreneurs. They believe that out there is a huge groundswell of liberals, disefranchised by the democratic defecit of sectarian party politics in NI, waiting to bring NI forward.

    Their survey, in this sense, has a ideological function: to expose the numeric importance of the ‘middle-ground’ in order that alternative poliitcal models can be forged.

  • kensei

    DK

    But the party support figures are based on 100% of the sample, while we know that only some 60% will actually bother to vote. So you can’t dismiss the survey on those grounds. All you can do is extrapolate that certain parties supporters are more likely to vote. A better question would have been – “who did you vote for in the last election” – with an option for “did not vote”. Then you could see exactly whether the survey is flawed.

    I still can’t see how that is sufficient to account for the discrepancy.

    What if you were watching the local TV news around November time and two of the news presenters were wearing poppies. How uneasy would this make you feel?

    I also find questions like these a bit useless. For a start, would you feel uneasy if they weren’t wearing poppies? Do you think that wearing poppies should be a policy, as I believe it is on the BBC, or if it should be down to the Presenter’s choice? You aren’t getting near the issues.

    Second, most of these questions on symbols are in the abstract. People are generally good at dealing with stuff in the abstract and alone. They know the “right” answer in any case. They get worked up when it starts impacting on their daily lives.

    A Tricolour or Union Jack might not make you feel uneasy, but what if you are in an unfamiliar area and there is one hung on every lamppost? What if the Tricolour is flying beside the Union Jack on top of Belfast City Hall? What if the Union Jack is beside the Tricolour on a GAA ground? What if you are at a rugby match and it’s only Amhran na bhFiann playing? What if it’s GSTQ at a football match? What if some in your social group is annoyed about one of these things, does it change how you feel? And so on.

  • Rob

    George, I would assume that it was the full RUC crest, which comprised the harp, crown, shamrock and the name in a green belt.

    I would doubt it was the old cap badge which was just the harp and crown on a red background.

  • Rob

    George, I would assume that it was the full RUC crest, which comprised the harp, crown, shamrock and the name in a green belt.

    I would doubt it was the old cap badge which was just the harp and crown on a red background.

  • Mayor Curley

    Dosser,

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Wilson, Wilford, and Horowitz premise their argument on the mistaken belief that UUP and SDLP would have to seek preferences across the ethno-national divide, whereas they would probably seek lower order preferences within their own blocs. Also, Alliance would not be some sort of kingpin under this system–the party would be wiped off the map. It’s odd that those who promote the AV (rejected by African American voters in the American South, by the way, because of it’s disproportionate effects) never engage in a quantitative analysis of its likely effects in Northern Ireland–where’s Sydney Elliott when you need him?

    Mr. Walker,

    Lace curtain we may be, but I believe it was a Bostonian (Newton, to be exact) who forced Adams & co. to sign up to policing.

  • dosser

    Mayor Curley,

    right on!

    Of course, the truly ironical thing about the projections of the Wilford/Wilson/ARK axes is that the results of the ARK surveys contradict their own analyses.

    Wilford and Wislon argue that the conscociational model entrenches and intensifies sectarianism and segregation, yet the results of ARK constantly testify that attitudes are improving for the better.

    Does this not point to the success of the consociational plus framework?