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'An Introduction to The Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey' by Gillian Robinson

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Text: Gillian Robinson ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey 1989-1996

Gillian Robinson
University of Ulster

The Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey (NISAS) was first run in 1989. The survey was an extension of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) series run by Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR) which began in 1983. In Northern Ireland the agencies involved were SCPR who retain overall responsibility for the study, Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) who were one of the funders, Central Survey Unit of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency who had responsibility for sampling and field work, the Centre for Social Research at The Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster who had responsibility for special analyses and the production of the annual reports.

The series began life with funding from the Nuffield Foundation and the Central Community Relations Unit (1989-1991) with subsequent funding (1993-1996) being provided by Government Departments in Northern Ireland. The survey was conducted in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996. There was no survey in 1992 as there was a general election and SCPR did not, at that time, run BSA in a general election year. The survey series ended in 1996 as Government was no longer willing to bear the full costs of the survey and efforts to secure other funding were only partially successful.

The basic format of the NISA survey in the years that it ran mirrored that of the British survey. It had two components. The first a questionnaire administered by interviewers and lasting, on average, an hour. The second component a self-completion supplement which was filled in by respondents after the interview, and was either collected by interviewers or returned by post.

Each year the questionnaire included 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 were 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 was developed for the Northern Ireland questionnaire. Some of these questions were asked in Britain too. Therefore the survey provided a unique opportunity to compare the attitudes of those living in Northern Ireland with the attitudes of people in Britain.

The series also had an international component, launched in 1985. The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) now has 27 members each of whom conducts some sort of regular national survey of social attitudes. These questions were included in the self-completion section of the NISA surveys. The possibilities for comparison then went further than Northern Ireland and Britain and included comparisons with for example, the Republic of Ireland and Germany. Full details on the content of each years survey is included in the annual reports.

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 was drawn from the rating/valuation list. The Northern Ireland survey was drawn as a simple random sample of all households listed on the ratings list. Approximately 1,400 addresses were drawn each year in the anticipation of achieving 1,000 completed interviews. (In 1994 and 1995 a larger sample of 2,000 was drawn.) The ratings list provides a good sampling frame of addresses, but contains no information about the number of residents at an address. The interviewers referred 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 could not be conducted with probability proportionate to household size, the sample was weighted before analysis. The response rate to the survey varied each year but averaged around 68%. Full details on the technical details for each year are available in the annual reports.

To date six annual reports have been published with the seventh due to be published in Summer 1998. Data from the series is lodged with the ESRC Data Archive and is available for further analysis.(NISA Archive study number 33235. ISSP Archive study number 33213).

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