Peace Polls

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Peace Building Problem.

In the 'information age' detailed analysis and access to reliable up to date facts about all aspects of public opinion on a conflict are essential if informed decisions are to be made. A failure to provide accurate and timely information can lead to decisions not being made and opportunities lost.

Northern Ireland Experience

Some large national political parties do have specialist research departments with experts at the ready to analyse, digest and write memoranda on piles of statistical computer print out. But most of the Northern Ireland parties did not have these facilities available to them so reports were designed and printed to provide them with the key statistics in a way that was unbiased, informative and accessible. This was done by using the questionnaire itself as the basis for the structure of the report. Firstly the results for Northern Ireland as a whole were reproduced in each question where the informant would usually write in their answer. This would be followed by a community and political break down: Protestant, Catholic, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Loyalist Parties (Ulster Democratic Party and/or Progressive Unionist Party), Alliance Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Féin. This order was deliberate flowing from politically more extreme Protestants and Unionists through the centre to politically more extreme Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans. Wherever possible all the results for a particular question were placed on a single page or, for more complex questions, the Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic results were placed on one page and the political party results on adjoining pages. The report, like the questionnaire, also contained a demographic section that gave a break down of the sample and party support in terms of gender, age and social class (coded from occupation). This section was particularly popular with party electoral strategists. But parties with less than about five per cent of the vote were not generally included in these reports, except for the 'which party do you support' question, as their samples were boarder line in terms of statistical significance without ‘booster’ or ‘over-samples’. Finally a 'full copy' of the story delivered to the Belfast Telegraph was also given to the parties as it nearly always contained a number of analytical tables the newspaper would not have space to publish. The culture of each of the Northern Ireland parties was surprisingly different and as a result the parties used the statistical reports in different ways and to varying degrees as a research tool for strategy development, negotiating device, public opinion/media resource or for grass roots constituency development and information. Very few compliments were received on the quality of these reports, however, if they were late and not delivered promptly on the day of publication of the Belfast Telegraph stories: then numerous complaints could be expected.

Public Opinion Poll Action

In addition to reports in the popular press provide detailed statistical reports to all the parties to the negotiations with breakdowns of all questions by both political affiliation and religious, ethnic, racial, linguistic and national group as is appropriate. Be as helpful as possible. For example, demographic analysis of party support is generally also very welcome in terms of age, gender and social class.

Israel and Palestine

Because the Iriwn/OneVoice poll in Israel and Palestine had to be completed on a very restricted budget it was not possible to break down the samples into their smallest constituent demographic parts. This was a very serious omission. Typically extremist groups holding radical views are very small and it is not only important to know what these groups are thinking it is also very important, from a public diplomacy perspective, for everyone else to know how unrepresentative they are. For example, the members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who did not want to decommission their weapons, was only about 1 per cent of the Northern Irish population. It is absolutely essential that politicians making difficult decisions are given as much detailed information as possible by their researchers, which in turn requires sufficiently large enough samples and no editing out of relevant issues and questions before the polls are run. The questions they ask must be answered.