Published on 6th Nov, 2023
In the anniversary year of the Good Friday Agreement, SCI has been partnering with King’s College London to examine how values and attitudes in Northern Ireland have shifted over time and what issues people are concerned about in the ‘here and now’.
Using data from the World Values Survey (WVS) - the largest social survey of its kind, conducted in over 100 countries - we have produced our first report Values and Attitudes in Northern Ireland 25 Years After the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
The report asks:
- How our values have changed?
- What attitudes and issues are concerning us now?
- What are the implications of this for the future?
The findings indicate a shift in social attitudes and values among the population, and challenge some of our long-held perceptions:
- Social attitudes have changed considerably, with the Northern Ireland public - particularly younger generations - having become much more open on key social issues like abortion, divorce, homosexuality and euthanasia. Internationally, Northern Ireland now ranks among the most socially liberal nations.
- We have also become more comfortable with difference, with growing acceptance of people who would have been historically marginalised. For instance, levels of homophobia and xenophobia, assessed in terms of those we would be comfortable having as neighbours, have decreased.
- There is greater openness to workers from abroad, even when jobs are scarce, and support among many for more open immigration policies. Though a greater share of the Northern Ireland population supports stricter limits on immigration than in other UK nations.
- Despite our history of division, the survey finds limited evidence of strong affective polarisation (i.e., strong negative feelings about the ‘opposing’ political party or group).
- While the Northern Ireland public support democracy as a political system and are interested in politics, they are highly dissatisfied with the way politics is working in practice – much more so than in many western European countries including GB. Confidence in government institutions and the press are also at worryingly low levels in Northern Ireland. People have much higher levels of confidence in civil society organisations such as universities, women’s organisations, NGOs, trade unions and churches.
Looking to the future, although the WVS findings for Northern Ireland raise several concerns, they also suggest ways forward that build on our shared values:
- We need to create more space for values-based conversations that focus less on religion and identity politics and acknowledge the plurality of views that exists, for instance, the more socially liberal views of younger people compared with the more traditional views held by many older people and the religious.
- NI is not as polarised or divided a society as is often portrayed. The data suggests more common ground exists across and between groups around shared values, with less support for extreme positions. This presents further opportunities for dialogue and conversation.
- Despite being very dissatisfied with how politics is currently working, we have an interest in politics and belief in the democratic process that can be built upon. Civil society institutions, which enjoy much higher levels of public confidence, could take a more leading role in building inclusive civic engagement and encouraging more participative democracy. These civic conversations must involve young people who are more disillusioned with the functioning of a democratic society, presenting a challenge for future stability if left unattended.
Read the full report here.