Update: A few clarifications from the DUP: “the researchers approached us and it is a funded research programme to costs party nothing”. The funding is from the Leverhulme Trust. The questions were drafted by the researchers around a year ago, building on previous work with the Orange Order.
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Membership survey forms were being handed out to members at the DUP conference as the party works with three English universities to slice and dice and understand the make-up of their party. The 78 questions over 21 pages capture:
- when, how and why members joined;
- attitude towards level of member subs;
- what they like most about being a DUP member;
- what they would change about the party;
- stance on DUP/UUP unity;
- importance of political issues like MP/MLA expenses, transfer tests, size of public sector in NI, double jobbing;
- attitudes on women in politics (discrimination? vote losers?) and whether DUP should have a fixed proportion of women candidates.
One question asks members to rate on a five point scale whether “abortion should be legalised in Northern Ireland”. Another asks whether “homosexuality is wrong”. Further questions explore attitudes towards Orange Order marches through nationalists areas, with options for marching without restrictions, marching only with prior agreement from local residents, and not marching at all.
Each member’s view on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16, and “major British political parties (labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat) contesting elections in NI” are also recorded.
Attitudes towards other political parties are captured along with voting habits, and a rating of trust and competence for the main political leaders. Steven Agnew will be devastated that while Jim Allister is on the list, the Green Party NI leader is not. The questionnaire also doesn’t allow DUP members to record thst they would transfer votes to the Greens.
There’s a question on tolerance of mixed marriage amongst close relatives, as well as a set of questions studying how members voted in the Belfast Agreement referendum and how they would vote today if a referendum was held again.
The final section gathers information about the member filling out the form, age, dependent children, highest educational achievement, newspapers read, household income, religion if any (with a selection of around 20 denominations and religions to choose from) and frequency of church attendance.
The question on marital status includes “married” and “living as married”, though omits “civil partnership”. Neither sexual orientation nor ethnicity are being captured. And the question asking about membership of organisations such as trade unions or the Orange Order neglects to take account of the subtleties of the Independent Orange Order!
It’s a pretty comprehensive survey, and one that will certainly inform the party about their current membership, and perhaps identify unexpected gaps.
For a party that is currently dominating unionism, it is far-sighted for the DUP to invest in understanding the make-up of their members before abandoning any out-dated dogmas or making adjustments to the party to make the party more attractive to disenfranchised Catholic voters.
Potentially it could be quite a costly exercise. While the full results will be for party eyes only, it will be interesting to see if papers will emerge in political science journals and conferences from students studying at the three universities (Huddersfield, Liverpool, Canterbury Christ Church).
Have other local parties conducted similar exercises on this scale?
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.