Peace Polls

register | login

Blog RSS logo

Peace Building Problem.

Secret negotiations can leave the public 'in the dark' leading to mischievous speculation about the nature of the agreement or lack of progress in the talks. When an agreement is finally reached it contains quite a few surprises leading to more disinformation and the electorate are unprepared for a referendum when it comes.

Northern Ireland Experience

Throughout 1996 I published a series of articles on peace building in the Belfast Telegraph,(1) which were the results of a public opinion survey undertaken by a team of researchers at Queen's University.(2) But in the spring of 1997 the Belfast Telegraph ran a rather disastrous phone in poll in which members of the Orange Order made sure the phone in vote was 'Yes' for their most controversial march of the year. As a consequence the editor of the Belfast Telegraph came in for much criticism from moderate politicians and he asked me if I could do a more scientific poll. This was done on the condition that the feature story could not be changed although they would retain editorial control of the front page. All the subsequent polls were published on this basis. The Belfast Telegraph had the largest circulation in the province and although it was considered to be a Unionist paper it was widely read in both communities and its editorial policy was pro-agreement. Several attempts were made to work with the broadcast media and other newspapers through a variety of deals and press releases. But all these attempts failed. The press releases were 'cherry picked', the broadcast media only wanted adversarial debates and newspapers from outside the province could not give detailed coverage to complex political issues that only those living in Northern Ireland could properly appreciate. The stories for the Belfast Telegraph were delivered a day or two before publication to give the graphic artist time to produce the artwork for the tables of statistics and for the political editors to write their front-page story and occasional leader. The parties looked forward to the publication very much. They felt it helped to keep the grass roots of their constituencies informed and involved in the peace process. On the street, through their letterbox, in the Maze prison and at Parliament Buildings everyone got the story at the same time.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Publish poll results and analysis in the popular press with a view to informing the public on the stage the negotiations have reached, the issues being discussed and the decisions that have to be made. When an agreement is finally reached the public will be ready to vote without the need for any unnecessary delay.

Israel and Palestine

Political analysts in both Israel and Palestine are well aware that the failure to prepare their respective publics for the compromises needed for a peace agreement was a major contributing factor to the breakdown of negotiations sponsored by the Clinton and subsequent US Administrations.(3) So why hasn’t this problem been corrected? One possible answer to this question is that the parties to the conflict actually prefer the status quo to a peace agreement and its implementation but a more subtle and persuasive explanation in my view is that the bureaucracies running the peace process in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah are stuck in the political culture of all negotiations being undertaken ‘behind closed doors’. But peace polls managed in collaboration with the negotiating parties can provide just the right balance of both confidentiality and public diplomacy as required. Negotiations between Israel and Palestine, it would seem, have fallen victim to the bureaucratic imperative of ‘safety of secrecy’.

1 C. J. Irwin, ‘Ulster People Could Decide Way Forward’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, December 3rd, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘The FEC.... Fair To Meddling?’ Belfast Telegraph, Wednesday, November 20th, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘Hitting A Brick Wall’, Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, October 22nd, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘Ulster Amnesty Rejected’, Belfast Telegraph, Monday, September 30th, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘The Battle For The Middle Ground’, Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, September 12th, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘Changing The Force Of Habit’, Belfast Telegraph, Friday, August 2nd, (1996). C. J. Irwin, ‘The Parade Question’, Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, July 4th, (1996).

2 T. Hadden, C. Irwin and F. Boal, ‘Separation or sharing? the people’s choice’, Supplement with Fortnight 356, Belfast, December (1996).

3 Klein, M., (2002) Bar-Ilan University, Israel, Failed Israeli and Palestinian Interactions, Royal Irish Academy, Friday, 22 November. Irwin, C. J., (2006) Public Opinion and the Politics of Peace Research: Northern Ireland, Balkans, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Muslim World and the ‘War on Terror’, Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace joint conference: Public Opinion, Democracy and Peace Making, Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, Jerusalem, May 22-23. Shamir, J. and Shikaki, K., (2010) Palestinian and Israeli Public Opinion: The Public Imperative in the Second Intifada, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.