Distrust of MLAs and rejection of the parties dominate annual survey

A browse in the NI Life and Times Survey for 2008-09 published recently reveals the usual benign political attitudes without being able to explain how these fail to have a decisive impact  on voting patterns or the attitudes of elected representatives. Cynics say this shows the persistent unviability of political polling even now.  But this time, the main results may make even them sit up and take notice.

A whopping 85% trust politicians not very much or not at all. 63% are either fairly or very dissatisfied, though to be fair, as politics professor Rick Wilford has pointed out in a slightly different form, 54% believe the Assembly has achieved at least a little. More positively the survey suggests that the public hasn’t lost faith in the Assembly but longs for a better performance.

However the big winners are the None of the Above Party, with 19%, level with the SDLP’s 19, ahead of the DUP’s 17%, UUPs 16% and Sinn Fein’s 15% . The Nones have a commanding lead in the designations race also with 43%, compared to the unionists 32% and nationalists 24%.

As is usual in these surveys, the nones are strongest in the 18-24 age group at 27% compared to 22% for SF and 21% for the DUP; with the trialing UUs and the SDLP , despite their strong-ish showing overall, displaying the profiles of ageing parties. So it’s in the youth category then that we get some indication of comparative SF strength, although not wholly so, as the voting turnout of the young is poorest.

All round none-ness is strongest among the 18+ young, 36% of those declaring no religious affiliation also supporting no political party. On none-ness Catholics and Protestants are fairly evenly divided at 15% to 19%. Party agnosticism may therefore hit unionism harder than nationalism, as the geographer Peter Shirlow has recently discussed, if it is assumed that there are more Prod agnostics than Cath agnostics, if you see what I mean.

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