Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Poll: What Northern Ireland public really thinks about the key issues

Startling conclusions of survey destined to spark soul-searching among our politicians

The Belfast Telegraph’s exclusive opinion poll, which has been running all this week, is the most ambitious to be attempted here in at least two years.

Most people are finding it a challenging portrayal of Northern Ireland in the second decade of the 21st century.

One indication of its reliability is its assessment of voting intentions. They match behaviour in last year’s elections fairly closely where most other recent polls, like the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, have exaggerated support of the SDLP and UUP at the expense of Sinn Fein and the DUP. There were warnings, though, that the UUP is losing some ground to Alliance, especially in the east of the province.

The biggest warning of all is to the political class as a whole, which scored a -40 approval rating, with just 9% of people thinking they have done a good job.

Most governments are suffering in the polls because of the economic downturn and since all parties are in Government together here they must share the pain.

Most people want them to keep the system — only 18% would go back to direct rule — but voters want to see the number of MLAs cut and they also want the Assembly, but to make it work better.

There was overwhelming support for more transparency in public services – only 14% thought that was a bad idea — and that is a clear message for our rulers. We also favour replacing failing public sector services and bringing in charities or businesses to replace them but quality mustn’t suffer.

Other messages are not so clear. We’d rather see cuts in services than pay more taxes — for instance water charges — but we won’t support cuts in order to reduce Corporation tax.

There is a free lunch mentality here and it is up to politicians to be straight with us about how the books can be balanced.

There is uneasiness about policing and the risks involved. Only a third of Protestants and a quarter of Catholics would encourage a close relative who wanted to join the PSNI, though young adults were considerably more likely to be supportive than their elders.

There was strong support for sharing in schools. There are tentative signs of a willingness to vote across the sectarian divide amongst a minority of people and less interest in Irish unity than is generally realised, though other polls have pointed in the same direction.

Less than half of Catholics and only 4% of Protestants wanted to remove the border, even in 20 years’ time, making change a remote possibility.

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