Message of Belfast Telegraph poll: Northern Ireland needs a change in politics
Week of results reveals cracks in the old moulds
Published 21/09/2013 | 15:41
Northern Ireland is slowly coming of age as a society.
Our survey confirms that old moulds are starting to crack apart, but the political system lags behind the change.
Religion is still the prime indicator of voting intention.
The poll shows that the DUP still gets 70% of its support from Protestants and only 1.5% from Catholics, but a considerable swathe comes from people who designate as other religions (16.4%) or none (11.9%).
We haven't given these figures before — they aren't the same as the percentage of people in a certain group who voted for a party.
The percentages here represent the proportion of a party's support.
In Sinn Fein's case, it relies on Protestants for 4.4% of its support at the polls, not much, but significant in some Assembly constituencies.
The bulk, 55.8%, comes from Catholics, with 15% coming from others and nearly a quarter (24.8%) from people who gave their religion as none.
We will publish the figures for other parties online, but these examples are enough to demonstrate that, although religion is still a huge factor in electoral support, it is not the only factor.
The number of people who don't choose one of the main Christian denominations is also rising, but other statistics show that regular church attendance is well below 50% and church marriages, or marriages of any kind, are in decline.
Sometimes it seems that gays and lesbians are most interested in getting married.
They aren't allowed to do so here, but there is growing support for change, particularly amongst the young.
There is still a 53% majority against same sex marriage. That is close to the poll's 3.6% margin of error and support is rising for change against the advice of most churches.
Things may yet swing back. Certainly, the mainstream churches recognise the problem and are trying to address it.
They are all looking for ways to become more relevant to young people and the unchurched.
Political parties also need to address the fall in support for their policies.
Our poll shows that nearly half of people don't intend voting, and not everyone who intends to vote actually makes it on election day.
The fall in electoral participation shouldn't come as a complete surprise. Voter numbers here have been in decline since 1983 —a Troubles year — when 73% voted in the General Election.
Part of the switch-off is down to disenchanted working class loyalists who feel that they have lost out in the peace process.
They need reassurance, but they aren't alone.
Less than a third (30.8%) of non-voters put themselves down as Protestants and only 26.5% are in the lowest earning DE social category.
Significant chunks of the voting age population are turned off by an orange/green style of politics which many regard as a cyncial game that no longer addresses their main concerns.
More than a fifth (21.7%) of the highest earning AB social category don't vote and many of these people told our pollsters that they are expecting economic decline.
Non-voters often tend to be more liberal, though not by a huge margin.
For instance, 56% of them, compared to 47% of all people who expressed an opinion, support same sex marriage.
Like the rest of the population they gave a shockingly low approval rating to the Assembly (60%).
How can the parties reconnect?
It could be argued that the DUP and Sinn Fein don't need to.
They are so far ahead of the other parties that the main challenge is to keep their voters coming out, though the DUP in particular needs to appeal to the young to avoid medium term decline. It is the other parties who are missing a trick.
In a poll we carried out at the end of last year about half of respondents wanted British or Irish parties to contest elections here.
This shows an appetite for something different, something that would probably be based primarily around the economic and social issues.
The challenge for new and smaller parties is not so much to beat the big two at their own game as offer an alternative which can draw more people into the political discourse.
There is a yawning gap in the market to be filled.
Against the backdrop of riots, violence and unrest the exclusive Northern Ireland-wide poll by the Belfast Telegraph revealed some surprising results on parading.
Our question on the issue showed that only a quarter of people here support parades which defy official ruling or objections from local residents.
Around 31% said that parades should only take place in areas where there is local agreement, with more Catholics agreeing with this than Protestants.
Only 6% of the 1,222 people who voted said that the Parades Commission can be ignored, irrespective of the law.
Just 1% of Catholic voters agreed with this compared to 8% of the Protestant vote.
Monday’s results also revealed that the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s performance has fallen to an all-time low of close to minus 60%.
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Dive deeper - visit our Data Centre
We revealed that the border is no longer an issue for most people in Northern Ireland.
Tuesday’s poll showed that just 3.8% of voters would want to see the border removed now. More Catholics voted no than those who voted yes for unity in 20 years. There was a degree of uncertainty as 32% of Protestants and 31% of Catholics opted for the ‘don’t know’ option.
A solid 60% of Protestants voted ‘no’ with a small 8% stating they would say yes for unity in 20 years.
Only 13% of Catholics said they would vote for unity as soon as possible. No Protestants agreed with this.
We also asked how they would vote if an Assembly election was held tomorrow. While 40% of Protestants say they wouldn’t vote, 32% said they would opt for the DUP. Around 37% of Catholics said they wouldn’t vote, with 32% voting for Sinn Féin.
Related articles for Tuesday
Dive deeper - visit our Data Centre
More Catholics thought the Queen is performing better as monarch than Martin McGuinness is as Deputy First Minister, as we asked voters to rate public figures on their performance.
Her Majesty pipped a host of leading figures to the post, as she was crowned the most effective performer in office.
Those taking part were asked to rate leaders’ performances on a scale from ‘excellent’ to ‘very bad’ and the Head of State was the only one to score a positive score of +2.8.
The results were close as Catholics scored the Queen +1.3 and Mr McGuinness +0.9.
But it wasn’t just the Deputy First Minister she overtook, as Queen Elizabeth also triumphed over PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
Queen Elizabeth received a positive score across all religious groups.
While the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins wasn’t far behind her with a rating of -1.8, he joined the other figures who all received a negative approval of their performance — with PSNI Chief Constable Mr Baggott trailing behind with a rating of -13.1. In a second question voters were asked to pick who they thought represented the best hope for Northern Ireland out of a list of leaders of the nine parties currently making uo the Assembly.
DUP leader Peter Robinson came top with 22.1%, Martin McGuinness came second with 20% and in third place was Mike Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party with 6.4%.
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Dive deeper - visit our Data CentreData Centre: Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk Poll 2013 - Day 3
Our question, should same sex marriage be legalised in Northern Ireland, showed that the issue remains one of the most vexed in Northern Ireland.
The opinion is still split as the younger generation appears to welcome the idea of extending the law of which is already implemented in Westminster.
But this week’s poll revealed that the view was not shared by those aged 45 and over. Forty-three per cent of those who voted in favour of the law were aged 18-24 — a stark contrast to the 12% of those who were aged over 65.
Thursday’s poll also revealed strong public support for parties to publish political donations.
When asked to describe the performance of the PSNI it seemed Northern Ireland has a mild satisfaction with the service. The PSNI is more popular with Protestants than Catholics and received a stronger rating from women.
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The future is not bright for Northern Ireland according to more than 60% of us, as we asked where respondents see the country in 10 years time.
In a shocking response, one in seven people expected the Troubles to have returned.
While men are more pessimistic about the future than women, the young in particular have little hope as 43.6% of 18-24-year-olds expect things to get worse both economically and politically.
In a second question asking which term best describes your cultural identity, the number of people calling themselves ‘Northern Irish’ is on the decline as 44% of Protestants called themselves British — only 13% of Protestants termed themselves Northern Irish compared with 16% of Catholics.
Among noticeable changes were that more that 25% of people who identified themselves as Catholic also termed themselves British.
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