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ESRC Data Archive Bulletin:
Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey
Text: Gillian Robinson ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Northern Ireland Social Attitudes
University of Ulster
The Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey
(NISAS) (Archive study number 33235) was first
run in 1989. The survey is an extension of the British Social
Attitudes (BSA) (Archive study number 33168) series run by Social
and Community Planning Research (SCPR) which began in 1983. In
Northern Ireland the agencies involved are SCPR who retain overall
responsibility for the study, Central Community
Relation Unit (CCRU) who are one of the funders, Policy Planning
Research Unit (PPRU) who have responsibility for sampling and
field work, and the Centre for Social Research
at The Queen's University of Belfast (formerly the Policy Research
Institute) who had responsibility for special analyses.
In 1989, the Nuffield Foundation and the Central
Community Relations Unit in Belfast agreed to fund three extensions
of the BSA survey to Northern Ireland. The survey has now been
conducted in three years 1989, 1990 and 1991.
The basic format of the NISA survey in the
three years that it has run has mirrored that of the British survey.
It has two components. The first a questionnaire administered
by interviewers and lasting, on average, an hour. The second component
is a self-completion supplement which is filled in by respondents
after the interview, and is either collected by interviewers or
returned by post.
Each year the questionnaire includes a number
of core questions covering areas such as defence, the economy
and labour-market participation as well as a range of background
and classificatory questions. Further sets of questions, or modules,
on attitudes to other issues such as health, the
environment or housing are included in the questionnaire less
frequently - on a two- or three-year cycle, or at longer intervals.
In addition, a special module on Northern Ireland issues such
as community relations has been developed for the Northern Ireland
questionnaire. Some of these questions are asked in Britain too.
Therefore the survey gives us a unique opportunity to compare
the attitudes of those living in Northern Ireland with the attitudes
of people in Britain.
The series also has an international component,
launched in 1985. The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP)
(Archive study number 33213) now has 19 self-funding members each
of whom conducts some sort of regular national survey of social
attitudes. These questions are included in the self-completion
section of both the BSA and NISA surveys. The possibilities for
comparison then go further than Northern Ireland and Britain and
include comparisons with for example, the Republic of Ireland
Both the Northern Irish and the British surveys
were designed to yield a representative sample of adults aged
18 years or over. In Northern Ireland the sample is drawn from
the rating/valuation list, while in Britain the electoral registers
provide the sampling frame.
The Northern Ireland survey is drawn as a
simple random sample of all households listed on the ratings list.
Approximately 1,400 addresses are drawn each year in the anticipation
of achieving 1,000 completed interviews. The ratings list provides
a good sampling frame of addresses, but contains no information
about the number of residents at an address. The interviewers
refer to a Kish grid to select one respondent from those eligible
for inclusion in the survey living in the household. Because the
selection of an individual respondent at each address cannot be
conducted with probability proportionate to household size, the
sample is weighted before analysis.
This is in contrast to the multi-stage sampling
employed with the British survey. This involves four separate
stages of selection. Firstly at parliamentary constituency level,
secondly at polling district level, thirdly at address level and
finally at individual level. A larger sample size in Britain around
4,500 addresses enables two versions of the questionnaire to be
run. Both versions contain common core questions but differing
modules. The absence of design effects in the Northern Ireland
survey, and therefore of the need to calculate complex standard
errors, means that the standard error and confidence intervals
for percentage estimates for the NISA survey are only slightly
greater than for the British survey, despite the smaller sample
size. It also means that standard statistical tests of significance
can be applied directly to the data.
The response rate to the survey varies each
year however the Northern Irish rate has improved over the three
year period to reach 70%.
Data from both series is lodged with the ESRC
Data Archive after publication of the first report on the years
data. Because of the fact that the NISAS is an extension of the
BSA there are no gaps between the British and Northern Irish data
apart from the larger sample size in Britain. Discussions are
currently under way with funders chiefly Government to enable
the Northern Irish series to continue. It is very much hoped that
this will be the case.
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