Peace Polls

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Peace Building Problem.

Those opposed to an agreement, even when it has been endorsed by the people in a referendum, continue to criticise it from their own constituency’s point of view as at least unworkable and more probably unfair. Slowly they try to erode support for the agreement in the hope that what they think was lost in the referendum can be reversed in future elections.

Northern Ireland Experience

All ten parties elected to participate in the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement were treated equally and had the same rights of access to the process of designing and running the public opinion polls as part of the Northern Ireland peace process. However, after the agreement was reached I was asked if I would like to help the pro-agreement 'YES Campaign', but the funders, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, advised me not to do so as such an action could be considered political and thus might prejudice the independence of future research. However, after the referendum of 22 May 1998, in which a majority voted for the agreement, this restriction was relaxed and I worked with the pro-Agreement parties as required although all final reports continued to be made available to both pro and anti-agreement parties. At this point in the peace process it would have been difficult to work with the anti-agreement parties in good faith as they would have wished to introduce questions with the intention of undermining support for the agreement. Tracking support for the Belfast Agreement also became an essential part of the three post referendum polls as others were running polls that showed Protestant support to be slipping. Although many people were disappointed with the rate of progress with implementation and had 'second thoughts' about voting for such an agreement again they did want it to work. Some results from the Mitchell Review poll are given in Table 1.(1)

Public Opinion Poll Action

Periodically run public opinion polls after an agreement is reached to demonstrate continued support for the agreement as both a deal that people would still vote for and more critically as a deal that they would like to see work.

Israel and Palestine

Since they were signed in 1993 support for the Oslo Accords has fallen away, year on year, in both Israel and Palestine, because they have not been fully implemented and because they have not delivered peace. For example by May 2004 only 26% of Israelis supported the Accords while only 18% believed they would deliver peace.(2) However, from a peace polls and public diplomacy perspective the critical question that should have also been asked is ‘do you want the Accords to work?’ In practice all these questions should be asked together in both communities on a regular basis to inform all the parties to such agreements exactly where their support is and where it is under threat in both social and political demographic detail.

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Guns, trust and the Agreement’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, October 26th, (1999).

2 The Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, War and Peace Index available at:

Table 1. Support for the Belfast Agreement during the Mitchell Review