“a large proportion of the general public in Northern Ireland do not feel engaged with the current system of governance.”

BBC NI political editor, Mark Devenport, had wondered just how bad the news from the Assembly’s Public Attitude Survey [pdf file] was that they chose to bury it ahead of the coverage of the Chancellor’s Spending Review.

Well now we know…

From the report’s “Key findings and implications” [pdf file]  (Added emphasis throughout)

It is clear from the survey findings that a large proportion of the general public in Northern Ireland do not feel engaged with the current system of governance. Only a minority feel that they have a say in how Northern Ireland (NI) is run, three quarters feel that the present system needs improvement and more are dissatisfied than satisfied with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive. It will be challenging to increase the Assembly’s engagement with the public; however, there is an appetite for greater involvement which could be capitalised on with the appropriate actions and communications.

Current interest in, and knowledge of, the Assembly among people in NI is low. Two in five say they are interested and only a quarter feel that they have some knowledge of the Assembly. There is, however, significantly more interest in local issues and people also feel considerably more knowledgeable about these issues. Topics which are commonly discussed with family and friends include those that concern the work of the Assembly, for example, crime, education, healthcare and the economy. Demonstrating the link between the work of the Assembly and its committees, and these local issues could prove useful in helping to increase general public engagement.

One of the key challenges will be to engage 16-34 years olds, people in social classes C2DE and women, who have lower levels of knowledge and interest not just in the Assembly, but in current affairs generally.

Information about the Assembly is most frequently received through television, newspapers (local and national) and radio. There is less use of direct Assembly resources. Only one in eight have ever visited the NI Assembly website. Three in ten have visited Parliament Buildings, but only 4% have done so in the last year. Knowledge of, and attendance at, Assembly Roadshows is also very low.

There is some evidence to suggest that there is some confusion between the roles of the Assembly and the Executive. While the majority agree that Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are responsible for representing the interests of their constituency residents, three quarters incorrectly believe that MLAs are also responsible for making decisions on how Northern Ireland is governed. If the public is unsure about the difference between the roles of the two bodies and their expectations of the Assembly are not being met as a result of this, it could lead to the development of apathy towards the Assembly. Emphasising the difference between the two may be a good starting point in the communications process to increase engagement with the Assembly.

In terms of overall satisfaction, individual MLAs do fare a little better than the Assembly as a whole. Knowledge of MLAs is also higher, with six in ten being able to correctly name one of their local MLAs. Satisfaction with MLAs and the Assembly increases among those who are able to name one of their MLAs and further still among those who have had contact with their MLAs. There may be scope to make more of the ‘faces of the Assembly’ given the slightly more positive image they have. Half of the general public would like to see MLAs representing the views of local people more or dealing with the issues of local constituents. Increasing the visibility of existing work by MLAs in these areas could potentially result in higher levels of satisfaction.

On that last point, could they mean rather than representing the interests of their party?

The “How much influence do you feel you have over decisionmaking in Northern Ireland?” figures are as follows.

No influence at all – 49%

Not very much influence – 40%

Some influence – 10%

A great deal of influence – 1%

Don’t know – 1%

The report adds

Unsurprisingly, perceived levels of influence on decision-making are highest among political activists (19% compared with 10% of non-activists).

And on the issue of timing…

Data was collected via the Ipsos MORI Northern Ireland Omnibus. Interviews were conducted on a face to face basis at 50 sampling points across Northern Ireland. 1,025 adults in Northern Ireland aged 16 plus were interviewed using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI). Fieldwork was completed from 30 November 2009 to 5 January 2010.

Adds  And, as Nevin has noted in the comments, the report is dated MARCH 2010