Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

The youth vote: Cynicism of the first post-Troubles generation of voters

Northern Ireland’s youngest adults have no memories of the worst of The Troubles. From September, new voters coming onto the electoral register will be people who were not even born when the first IRA ceasefire was declared.

Our 18-24-year-olds showed some surprising differences from the rest of the population in their views on politics and policy. How does our first cohort of truly post-conflict voters view Northern Ireland?

One area where young people differ little from the rest of the population is the big constitutional question. Overall support for maintaining the border is almost exactly the same, at 64%, among young adults as it is among the rest of the population.

It will surprise many that young adults are those most hostile to the use of Irish and Ulster-Scots. Half of them think government departments should use only English when dealing with the public, as opposed to a third of people overall.

Young adults seem to accept the current political settlement while remaining cynical about the performance of Northern Ireland politicians. The Assembly’s performance is rated as poorly by young adults as it is by the rest of the population, and they are more likely than others to want deep cuts to the number of MLAs. At the same time, only 15% of them want to abolish Stormont, and support for structural changes like creating an official opposition or having parties from GB and the Republic fight elections here is lower than among the rest of the population.

Indeed, a clear majority of under 25s believe elections here should be fought only by local parties.

Is this one of the first signs of the long heralded development of a distinctly Northern Irish identity?

Gerry Lynch is an analyst for our polling partners LucidTalk

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