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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London