There is a deep disillusionment among young Protestants in Northern Ireland – significantly moreso than their Catholic counterparts.
The perception of growing disaffection among Protestants aged 16-24 was today underscored by the latest results from a Belfast Telegraph poll looking at the thoughts and opinions of our young people.
Questions posed in the LucidTalk poll for the survey underpin fears of increasing dissatisfaction at the younger end of the Protestant population.
Their ratings of politicians was much harsher than among Catholics – reflecting the alienation of Protestants/unionists and their perception that Catholics/nationalists had fared better under the peace process.
And even though they recognised the province was a better place to live, and that community relations had improved, the poll reveals a more worrying picture than that among young Catholics.
Today's findings come less than a week after a new report by the Community Relations Council confirmed that in terms of educational achievement at GCSE level, Protestant boys were falling behind.
And its author, Dr Paul Nolan, said that for the first time young Protestants were more likely to be unemployed than young Catholics – a rate of 24% against 17%.
The most recent Peace Monitoring Report also underlined the grim prediction by the chair of the collapsed multi-party talks on flags, parading and the past, Dr Richard Haass, that unless progress on the key political issues was made "violence could re-emerge as a characteristic of daily life".
The major poll conducted by LucidTalk shows young Protestants in Northern Ireland had a lower opinion of politicians than their Catholic counterparts.
Proportionately more Protestants than Catholics gave the local politicians the lower scores, descending to "very bad/ totally useless". And the young people participating who identified themselves as neither Protestant nor Catholic – but 'other' – had an even more scathing opinion of local elected representatives.
The statistics emerged in the third day of a poll carried out for this newspaper as part of our series on 'The Young'.
The poll asked a sample of 550 young people from the rising generation how they rated Northern Ireland politicians. Perhaps surprisingly, just over a quarter (25.8%) of the sample gave the politicians the highest mark – for "excellent to very good".
But a further 21.6 % rated them as "very bad", and the largest single total of 28.7% scored politicians as "totally useless".
The remaining 23.8 % gave our elected representatives ratings in between the highest and lowest scores. A further drill down into the figures, however, revealed that 62.9% of the Protestants gave politicians the lowest ratings compared to 37.1% of Catholics.
And 42.9 % of Protestants gave MPs, MLAs and councillors the top two ratings compared to 57.1% of Catholics.
Commentator Alex Kane said: "It shows there is a huge disconnect, disregard and even disrespect among most young unionists. And if it comes to it, the question you have to ask is if those who gave the politicians the lowest mark will even bother to turn up at the ballot box.
"In essence, the poll reflects what is happening on the older end of the scale with unionists feeling they are being let down, left behind and that nationalism or republicanism, call it what you want, has somehow got the better deal," the former Director of Communications for the Ulster Unionist Party added.
Last week's Community Relations Council report argued that the moral basis for the Good Friday Agreement had all but evaporated and the lack of political progress was due to an absence of trust.
It also warned that last year's flag protests were followed by a marked increase in sectarian tensions.
Methodology: How our survey pollsters arrived at the findings
Polling was carried out by Belfast-based polling and market research company LucidTalk.
The project involved interviewing more than 1,000 respondents within the 16-24 year-old age-group in Northern Ireland until a random sample of 550 full responses were obtained within the targeted age-group.
The survey project was carried out by telephone ( 70%), by direct liaison with youth organisations (20%), and face-to-face interview (10%), with the polling taking place from March 18 to April 1.
The project used 15 poll questions agreed with the Belfast Telegraph and all questions were agreed to professional market research standards to ensure balance.
All the collated opinions were analysed demographically to ensure the results represented an accurate view of current Northern Ireland opinion, in the targeted age-group. All reported margins of sampling error will include the computed design effects for weighting. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-4.1%, at 95% confidence.
LucidTalk is a member of all applicable professional polling/market research industry organisations including the British Polling Council.