Sunday 6 June 2010

2009 Young Life and Times Survey

The results of the 2009 Young Life and Times Survey have recently been published on the ARK web site. The survey is based on questionnaires sent to a sample of 16 year olds and suffers from the unreliability of all such surveys and opinion polls.

Nonetheless, with that caveat, the results show up some interesting results.

For example, on identity, when asked “Which of these best describes the way you think of yourself?”, only 28% of the sample self-identified as ‘British’, while 36% self-identified as ‘Irish’. The second most popular description, beating British, was ‘Northern Irish’ on 30%. Thus 66% - two in three – young people seem to identify primarily with the island of Ireland, or their particular part of it.

Amongst boys the situation is more pronounced than among girls. Only 25% of the boys questioned saw themselves primarily as ‘British’. The ‘Irish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ groups accounted for 68% of the total.

Even amongst Protestants only a bare majority – 51% - saw themselves first and foremost as British. Almost as many (40%) saw themselves as ‘Northern Irish’), though the 6% who self-identified as ‘Ulster’ can almost definitely be added to the ‘British’ group.

Perhaps unionism can gain some reassurance from the 5% of Catholics who saw themselves as ‘British’ – only partly compensated by the 2% of Protestants who identify as ‘Irish’. However, 76% of Catholics saw themselves as ‘Irish’ – greatly outscoring the Protestant ‘British’ category.

The attachment of the two religious groups to their perceived ‘natural identity’ is visibly different – Protestants are less likely to have a primary ‘British’ identity than Catholics are to have a primarily Irish identity. Protestants seem to be moving more towards a ‘Northern Irish’ identity. The results of the wider NILT survey for 2009, due soon, will allow a comparison between the 16 year olds and their parents and grandparents.

A second question: “How important is your national identity to you?” adds an interesting twist to the results above.

35% of Catholics say that their national identity is ‘very important’ – the figure for Protestants is only 24%. In fact, 21% of Protestants say that their national identity is ‘not very important’ or ‘not at all important’ – the corresponding figure for Catholics is only 11%.

So it seems that amongst 16 year-olds the ‘Irish’ identity is not only more widespread than the ‘British’ identity, but it is also more strongly held. Young Protestants, on the other hand, seem to have a weaker attachment to their Britishness.

Remember, these young people, 16 years old in 2009, will be voting next year!


Seymour Major said...

I have yet to study the survey but I suspect that "Northern Irish" and "Irish" identities are distinct and separate and not easy to lump together in any analysis of what is actually going on in a young person's mind.

It could be that in terms of a changing society, the increasing strength of the Northern Irish Identity (up 8% since 2000) may be an indication that Northern Ireland is becoming less sectarian. If that is the case, then that is a positive indication for the future.

Horseman said...

Seymour Major,

I agree that 'Northern Irish' may not be anything like 'Irish' - it could include supporters of the NI football team, for instance! ;-)

But, at the very least, it shows a tendency to 're-patriate' identity - from a 'UK-wide' identity (British) to a specifically NI identity.

And, if you put this factor together with my other blog on the need for a genuinely inclusive, truly republican, party, you might see where I'm going. These young people are less 'British' in their outlook, and more '(Northern) Irish' - opening the possibility that they can be attracted towards a new politics that is (Northern) Irish, but includes them fully, in which they recognise themselves and their aspirations, and in which they feel comfortable. Most will not feel comfortable either in SF or the SDLP, but a party that values all of the cultures, and promotes the interests of all of the people, may just be of interest to all of those who call themselves Northern Irish.

The results of the survey show that possibilities exist - we simply need politicians capable (and big enough) to take the necessary steps.

Paddy Canuck said...

"...opening the possibility that they can be attracted towards a new politics that is (Northern) Irish, but includes them fully, in which they recognise themselves and their aspirations, and in which they feel comfortable. Most will not feel comfortable either in SF or the SDLP..."

To me, there's the rub. Two nationalist parties already exist but they don't appeal to Protestants and have become, by default, the parties of Catholics. But I think it's kind of backward. They didn't become what we might call "Catholic" parties because they appeal to catholicism's principles, but because they advocate Irish unity. Most Protestants don't seem to want that, so is it even possible to create a party that espouses it that would appeal to them? It strikes me a bit like having a restaurant with two tomato-based dishes and then wondering how to win the tomato-hating crowd over with yet another tomato-based dish, but one that would somehow appeal to them... I'm probably missing your point but it looks to me just like splitting the nationalist vote even finer for no real gain.

Horseman said...

Paddy Canuck,

I think the survey shows that they don't actually dislike tomato as much as we thought - they just don't like it raw in their salad (OK, a bit too much self-disclosure here ... ). But when they're offered a delicious pizza, in which the tomato is combined with mozzarella, peppers, garlic, and whatever else you like, then maybe they'll actually say 'yes please!'