'Class, Community Polarisation and Politics' by Mary Duffy, and Geoffrey Evans (1997), in, Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Sixth Report
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The following chapter has been contributed by the authors Mary Duffy and Geoffrey Evans with the permission of the publishers, Appletree Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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The Sixth Report, 1996-1997
Class, Community Polarisation and Politics
In his chapter from the first volume of this Social Attitudes series, O'Dowd (1991) points to how, against the intensity of the ethno-national division that lies at the heart of the conflict in Northern Ireland, social class has been considered a relatively minor factor in shaping politically salient attitudes and identities (see also Curtice and Gallagher, 1990). This, he suggests, has been in stark contrast to its perceived role in Britain where, despite debate as to whether its significance has recently begun to decline, class position remains the key source of social cleavage and a central predictor of political attitudes and allegiances (for example, Marshall et al., 1988; Evans, 1993).
Since then, much and little has changed. Much, in so far as class has been given a more central role in research into the changing intra-group dynamics in Northern Ireland. So, on the Catholic side, O Connor (1993) devotes a whole chapter to the class issue, which, indeed, emerges as one of the central themes throughout. The focus is on the much-heralded expansion of the Catholic middle class and the increasing occupational diversity of Catholics (Cormack and Osborne, 1994; Knox et al., 1995), and on the effect such hanges are having on attitudes and traditional political aspirations. O Connor's interviewees paint this newly emerging group as middle-of-the-road, fence-sitting moderates whose success has 'taken the edge off the grievance', and who have been depoliticised and lured away from their traditional group loyalties by the material benefits of direct rule. This growth is, it is argued, redefining mainstream Catholic nationalism, creating fissures and new tensions within a previously coherent group. Catholics are no longer seen as a tight community with a unified sense of political identity:- 'There was a sense of togetherness among Catholics - that's been lost ... there's a painful and angry division now between those educated, mobile, skilled and in work, and those who are not ... this causes all the resentment of unequal fortunes - but in this case, heightened by a sense of political betrayal' (O Connor, 1993: 19, 17).
Conversely, looking at Protestants, the focus has been squarely on the working class: on the nature of loyalism, on the strains along class lines that continue to define party competition among unionists, and on the 'explosion of resentment' that increasingly marks working-class Protestant reactions, not only towards Catholics, but also towards their own middle class (Bruce, 1994; McAuley, 1994). McAuley emphasises the salience of class as a factor in unionist politics, echoing many of the ideas in Nelson's (1984) earlier work. So, just as Nelson pointed to the 'social grievances of people left out of the new affluence, squeezed on one side by the middle class, on the other by Catholics' (Nelson, 1984: 53), so Bruce (1994: 61) sees the same divisions, if anything exacerbated by the apparent relative success of the Catholic community: '... a zero-sum game; if we are losing, it must be because Catholics are gaining'. Most recently, the fringe loyalist parties newly entering the political process (the Progressive Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party) are regarded by many as having grown to give a voice to a frustrated working class who were being inadequately served by the two main unionist parties, and that such growth is indicative of a greater class consciousness among the Protestant working class (Price, 1995).
But in other respects, little has changed, in that much of the discussion about the role of class still relies heavily on anecdotal evidence which, while important and suggestive, may not paint a generally representative picture, and does not easily allow for the consideration of how class position relates to other factors which might influence attitudes. There are exceptions, but the area remains under-explored. Even Rose (1971), in his seminal work based on his 1968 survey, did not fully explore the class within religion angle, despite the fact that his own results showed 39 per cent of Catholic respondents and 39 per cent of Protestant respondents felt they had more in common with someone of the same class than of the same religion.
In this chapter, we use data from the 1995 Northern Ireland Social Attitudes (NISA) survey to examine systematically the significance of class for perceptions and attitudes in Northern Ireland. For a number of reasons, we are not able to look at change over time: problems of comparability are created by differences of measurement, some of which are related to the huge changes which have taken place in Northern Ireland over the last three decades (not least, the party options and political system), and others which pertain to changes in survey methods (different measures of social class are used in the two main long-term comparison points (Rose, 1971; Moxon-Browne, 1983)). However, we do not necessarily need to look beyond the contemporary data to address at least some of the questions raised above - if the latter reflect real processes taking place in the Catholic and Protestant communities, then we would expect this to be evident in clear class differences, across a range of measures, within each religious group. Perhaps the Catholic middle class have, in diverging from other Catholics, become more like Protestants -this can be examined here. And for Protestants, we can adopt a similar perspective: looking at the contemporary data, to what extent do the working class differ in their economic and political views from their middle-class co-religionists? We should thus be able to assess the extent to which social class challenges religious affiliation in defining a range of attitudes - to repeat the question Rose (1971) posed in looking at economic factors in his 1968 survey: are the working class and the middle class more alike across religious groups than Protestants and Catholics across the classes?
This chapter also introduces an additional factor into the picture: men and women often do not have identical views on the issues facing Northern Ireland. But, if class differences have received relatively little attention from survey analysts, this is even more true of differences between men and women. There has been some coverage of women's issues in earlier volumes of this series, but the issues with which sex is seen to matter are rarely explicitly political: instead authors tend to examine areas such as women and work, and women's changing role in a modernising society.
And, even where sex does emerge as a significant differentiating factor in core political attitudes (for example, Breen, 1996), this is rarely picked up or further explored. This may be partly due to the same reason O'Dowd saw for the lack of research into class: compared to the overwhelming significance of ethnicity, other sources of group difference come a pale second. Yet, although it is true that women in Northern Ireland have not, until very recently, had much direct involvement in the political process, in terms of community and political action women have been distinctive in being often involved in cross-community initiatives and efforts aimed at religious conciliation (the Peace Movement, in the mid-seventies, for example). Thus, given that women are now becoming more involved in mainstream politics - many of the parties actively trawling for women to enter their ranks (Rooney, 1994) - if they also hold different attitudes to men, this may have important effects on the political dynamic. Recent examples of women's greater involvement in politics with an explicitly cross-community slant (not least, the performance of the Women's Coalition in the 1995 Northern Ireland election) also serve as a warning that, on questions of politics and community relations, it would be unwise to assume that working-class women are just like working-class men, or that the growing band of female professionals and semi-professional workers simply reflect the views of 'the middle class'. Of course, such assumptions do hold sometimes, but, on other occasions, consideration of differences between men and women might change the picture of class and religious divisions that would otherwise be portrayed.
The chapter is structured in several parts. We begin with a look
at current class profiles, noting unemployment levels and sex
differences within the religious groups. We then examine the extent
to which, for both Protestants and Catholics, class position is
reflected in differing economic experiences and in differing levels
of class consciousness. Following this, we look at aspects of
community relations, in particular at perceptions of discrimination
and attitudes to religious integration in various contexts. The
final section moves onto the most explicitly politicised issues:
partisanship, national identity, constitutional preferences, trust
in governments. In all of these areas, we examine class and religion
as sources of differences in perceptions and attitudes; where
pertinent we also describe differences between men and women and
how these might affect divisions between classes and religious
We start with a description of the demographic distribution of
classes by religion and sex. Figure 1 shows class profiles by
religion for 1995. Our measure of class is that developed by Goldthorpe
and his colleagues (see Erikson and Goldthorpe, 1992). Unlike
the standard Registrar General's classification this index of
social class has received careful checks on its validity and also
captures some of the important social divisions blurred by the
traditional manual/non-manual distinction (Marshall et al., 1988;
Distributions of class by religion (%)
In assigning class, married respondents (of either sex) who cannot be classified according to their own positions are given the class of their spouses. For this general picture of the sizes of the demographic divisions in Northern Ireland we use an elaborated version of the classification which identifies, as a distinct group, those in sales and personal service jobs, who are usually included with routine office workers to form the routine non-manual class. Farmers are also given their own category, rather than including them with the petty bourgeoisie, as is typically done for Britain; and there remains a small residual group of those who cannot be classified - mainly because they have never had a job (mainly the young and women). The first thing to note is that, whatever the evidence of shifting class profiles and an expanding Catholic middle class, the 1995 data show relative profiles that are still marked by the familiar disparities. Thus, while Catholics and Protestants are both more concentrated in the working class than in any other group, Catholics have a larger working class and Protestants remain more likely to be in the salariat, within which they also tend more to the higher professional occupations than do Catholics. Distribution by religion is fairly even across the intermediate classes (although, for example, within the petty bourgeoisie, Catholics are less likely than Protestants to have employees). The picture of relative Catholic disadvantage is continued in more subjective measures of economic standing. Analyses show that, on a range of indicators tapping evaluations of current and expected economic situations, Catholics of all classes consistently report greater economic difficulty than Protestants. This is true even when we take account of differences in household size (Catholic households being larger on average), and it fits with official statistics which indicate that, for a given social class, Protestants are likely to have higher incomes than Catholics (PPRU Monitor, 1993).
However, as Table 1 illustrates, the differences in class distribution
between Catholics and Protestants are not the same for men and
women. Catholic and Protestant women hardly differ at all in their
class profiles, have a similar proportion of working class as
have Protestant men, and both have around seven percent less of
their groups in the salariat. The smaller intermediate classes
are strongly sex biased, sales and personal being almost entirely
a female group, foremen and technicians typically mostly men.
Catholic men, however, are quite another matter: 42 per cent are
working class, compared with 29 per cent of Protestant men. Conversely,
there are only 15 per cent of Catholic males in the professional
and managerial classes, compared with almost twice that proportion
from the Protestant male group. This pattern of relatively better
off Catholic females compared with Catholic males is supported
by official statistics which show a larger female professional
and managerial class: in the 1991 Census, 27 per cent of Catholic
females were in the professional and managerial classes, compared
with 24 per cent and 28 per cent of Protestant men and women respectively,
and only 22 per cent of Catholic men (Gallagher et al., 1994).
Class distributions, by religion and gender (%)
* in all tables, less than 1%
Note: percentages for current unemployed are calculated separately.
In the main table, the unemployed are assigned a class according
to their last job.
The general impression of Catholic disadvantage being concentrated among the men is also indicated by the information on current levels of unemployment. While levels vary from three per cent to six per cent for the other three groups, for Catholic men it is no less than 18 per cent. These figures, it should be noted, ought to be interpreted with care, as the ratio of Catholic male to Protestant male unemployment is somewhat exaggerated compared with recent results from more reliable data (see Gudgin and Breen, 1996: 1) and since the NISA data show considerable fluctuation in the percentage profiles over the years 1989-1995, especially for Catholic men and women. Nevertheless, the relative patterns of unemployment displayed here are in keeping with the findings from a series of studies (for example, Aunger, 1975; Osborne and Cormack, 1986; Gudgin and Breen, 1996) on employment and unemployment differentials which show that, despite a changing economic environment, Catholic men (the young and the working class especially) are consistently more likely to be unemployed than their Protestant equivalents, even when differences in their distributions by occupation are held constant. Moreover, differences in educational achievement are likely to become an increasingly important factor in the future of shifting class profiles, perhaps even more within than across religious groups. Research has established a pattern of increasing educational attainment among Catholic women in particular, especially at the university level (Osborne et al., 1988, p. 291-3). This sex differential among Catholics is clear in the 1995 data: Catholic men are doing much less well than the other three groups and the differentials remain when we look only at those under thirty-five years old (see Appendix, Tables Al and A2).
These findings give some indication that any interpretation of the potential effects of a changing class profile might require sex differences to be taken into account. The growth of a female Catholic middle class, and the continued concentration of Catholic men in the working class and amongst the unemployed, points to the possibility of a starker contrast between Protestant and Catholic men than would be revealed by a 'non-gendered' analysis. Clearly, even though the main thrust of this chapter is about class, it is important to consider sex differences also where they condition the extent of division between classes. Unfortunately, however, there is a cost to incorporating this extra complexity into the analysis, in that the size of the 1995 NISA survey is not such as to allow us to fully explore the full range of class divisions and their relations to both religion and sex. Even without distinguishing men and women the size of the intermediate classes is undesirably small. Our intention, therefore, is to concentrate on the largest and traditionally most significant classes - the 'salariat' of professional and managerial occupations, and the 'working class' composed of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled manual employees. Also, as preliminary analyses showed that those in sales and personal work take a similar position to those in the working class on many issues - they are also, objectively, in jobs that are badly paid and low status - we follow the lead of other researchers and combine this group with the working class. The intermediate classes we shall consider in subsequent analyses using larger data sets.
The method of analysis and presentation we adopt is to test statistically
for the effects of class, religion and sex (and the interactions
between these characteristics) on each of the perceptions and
attitudes we examine. Where significant differences between men
and women are found they are presented, otherwise we focus on
the differences between Protestants and Catholics, the middle
class and the working class.
Although it is the ethnic divide that dominates social and political relations at the general level, class consciousness and an awareness of class conflict may also be important factors, especially at the intra-group level. Nelson (1984: 128), for example, is not alone in talking of how the stirring of 'a new class consciousness' created tensions and divisions within the Protestant community in the aftermath of direct rule and remains evident today, while both Bruce's (1994) work on loyalist identity and O Connor's (1993) study of Catholics paint a working class very aware of their position, not only compared to that of the other religious group, but also relative to their own middle class.
Table 2 shows how the two classes split in terms of middle/working-class
identity for each religious group. (Since class identity was not
measured in 1995, we use combined data from the 1989, 1990 and
1994 NISA surveys instead. Combining the years increases the sample
size and makes for more robust estimates: there were no significant
over time variations). Respondents were asked: Most people
see themselves as belonging to a particular social class. Please
tell me which social class you would say you belong to.
Class identity, by religion, class and sex (%)
In general, Catholics of both classes are more likely to define themselves as working class than are Protestants. The Catholic salariat are somewhat more likely to see themselves as working class, while a quarter of the Protestant working class feel middle class. This is contrary to Rose's (1971: 286) conclusion that that 'Catholics are not particularly likely to think of themselves as lower class, nor are Protestants likely to upgrade themselves'; and it is not surprising, if we take into account the evidence that Catholics of any class feel worse off than do Protestants. In addition, we have already indicated that Catholics are more likely to be in the lower ranks of the professional and managerial classes, which might in part account for the slightly greater tendency for the Catholic middle class to assign themselves to the working class. The more pronounced difference among the working classes may be partly due to Protestants 'upgrading' themselves, but is more likely explained by the proportion of currently unemployed in the Catholic group: 11 per cent of the Catholic working class are not currently employed, compared with one per cent of the Catholic middle class and five per cent of the Protestant working class. This reasoning is also supported by the sex differences within class. In fact, it is only Catholic women in the salariat who differ from Protestants
in class identity: 37 per cent feel middle class, compared with more than half of those in each of the other three groups. And, in the working class, it is the Catholic men who are most likely to assign themselves to the working class (81 per cent, against 70 per cent of the Catholic female working class). Catholic men are clearly more class polarised on identity than are Catholic women.
But measuring class consciousness requires more than looking at patterns of self-assigned class. In Britain, class consciousness is also associated with the adoption of certain class-typical positions on a range of economic issues concerned with welfare provision, income redistribution, public ownership and the like (Marshall et al., 1988; Evans, 1993). These have long been considered the 'bread and butter' of British politics and can be seen as tapping the 'left-right' dimension around which politics have traditionally been organised (Evans, Heath and Lalljee, 1996). Together with, and linked to, social class, left-right ideology has been seen as a central factor in defining who votes for what party in Britain (Heath et al., 1991). However, in Northern Ireland, politics have been conducted primarily around a religious, rather than an economic, divide; and, although class politics are alive and well within the ethnic blocs (Evans and Duffy, 1997), the potential for cross-religious class politics has been seen as limited, evidenced by the demise of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the modest electoral fortunes of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (see also Duffy and Evans, 1996). It is therefore interesting to examine, first, the extent to which Northern Irish respondents are like the British in their views on economic issues, and, second, whether it is religion or class that best defines differing positions.
Figure 2 shows mean left-right ideology scores for Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and for the British working class and salariat generally. The ideology scale is comprised of five items and has been widely applied and validated in Britain (Evans, Heath and Lalljee, 1996). Lower scores indicate support for government intervention and redistribution of income, while higher scores indicate a more pro-market, less egalitarian orientation.
scores indicate a more right-wing position)
Catholics, in general, are more left wing than are Protestants, the Catholic middle class having the same mean score as the Protestant working class. Mean scores and degree of polarisation are almost identical for Northern Irish Protestants and British respondents. It is the Catholic position that is unusual, because, although there is a significant difference between the mean scores of the salariat and the working class, these scores are much closer together than for Protestants, and, in fact, the mean score of the Catholic salariat is the same as that of the Protestant working class. Again, the more left-wing general position of Catholics may in part reflect higher welfare dependency and unemployment, though this has limited explanatory power in the salariat. What it clearly provides, however, is evidence against the thesis advanced by several of O Connor's interviewees that the Catholic middle class are abandoning the values of their group on their 'upwards spiral that leads to selfishness' (O Connor, 1993: 29).
Left-right ideology, by religion, class and sex
(higher scores indicate a more right-wing position)
As Figure 3 shows, within the two classes, for both Protestant
and Catholic, there are also sex differences. Among Protestants,
although salariat females score slightly higher than salariat
males, this is not statistically significant, and the main difference
is by class rather than sex. However, among Catholics it is clear
that the class difference seen in Figure 2 was due to a sex difference
within the salariat group: while Catholic salariat men are just
as left wing as working-class men, Catholic women share a similar
position to Protestant salariat men (with a significantly lower
mean score than Protestant salariat women). This means that, unlike
the pattern for Britain, where in the 1995 British Social
Attitudes survey (BSA) no differences are found between women
and men on these issues, women in Northern Ireland generally,
and among Catholics especially, are more right wing than men.
Prejudice and discrimination
Alternatively, any growth in the Catholic middle class, especially in areas traditionally reserved for Protestants - the changing religious composition of the student body in the Law department at The Queen's University of Belfast, and the implications of this for the religious make-up of the legal profession, is a good example - might be creating greater competition at the top end of the market. This, in addition to Fair Employment legalisation, which is often seen as hitting the middle class most, might create stronger feelings of anti-Protestant discrimination among the salariat. In general, it may also be the case that, on job allocation, perceptions of discrimination among the salariat are greater than among the working class because members of the latter are more likely to work in jobs and areas where the religious composition of the workforce is more homogeneous and, therefore, less open to direct competition with members of the other religion.
To test some of these ideas, we look at perceptions of prejudice
and discrimination across a range of situations. The question
format was: Thinking of [Protestants/Catholics] - do
you think there is a lot of prejudice against them in Northern
Ireland nowadays? We begin, in Table 3, with perceptions of
Perceptions of prejudice against Protestants, by religion and class (%)
Responses by class are very similar within each religious group. Although Protestants are a little more likely to say there is 'a lot' of prejudice against their group, Catholics too perceive significant levels of anti-Protestant prejudice. Among Protestants, there is no evidence to suggest that the working class are more likely to perceive their religious group as victims of discrimination than are the salariat. When we compare these figures with the equivalent for anti-Catholic prejudice (see Table 4), the pattern by religion changes, while class differences are similarly trivial. Protestants feel that there is much less general prejudice against Catholics-less, in fact, than they see against Protestants. The Catholic salariat and working class are as likely to perceive prejudice against Catholics, as are the Protestant salariat and working class. There are no significant sex differences in these patterns among either Protestants or Catholics.
Perceptions of prejudice against Catholics, by religion and class (%)
Next, in Table 5, we consider a set of items which refer
to more specific aspects of treatment by the authorities. Respondents
were asked to say whether they thought that Catholics were treated
better, Protestants better, or both groups equally, in relation
to a number of different areas, including in the allocation of
District Council jobs, by the Fair Employment Commission (FEC),
and by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Class differences
are found, but mainly for Protestants.
Protestant opinions about which group is treated better, by class (%)
Among Protestants, the most pronounced effect of class is on the Fair Employment question, where more than a third of the Protestant salariat think that Catholics are better treated, compared with only 17 per cent in the working class. It is possible that the higher proportion of 'don't know' responses in the latter group is in part because some respondents did not know what the FEC does, but it is also likely that the working class are less directly affected by fair employment legislation. Clearly, fair employment is the sensitive issue, one where Protestants feel they get a bad deal; and it is the Protestant middle class who seem to feel this most strongly. It is possible that Bruce is correct in his claim that: 'The main cause of Protestant hostility to fair employment legislation is that they do not believe that a fair liberal democracy is possible in the Irish context ... they see (it) as a device to further nationalist interests under the guise of equitable social policy: another stick to beat the Prods' (Bruce, 1994: 55, 59).
Regarding the RUC, few Protestants say that Catholics get better
treatment, and there is no significant tendency for the salariat
(from among whom many RUC officers come) to feel this more than
members of the working class. There is no evidence here of any
of the supposed Protestant resentment of the RUC (especially among
the working class), which Bruce (1994) has suggested has been
evident in responses to a series of politically volatile situations,
beginning with the policing of demonstrations against the Anglo-Irish
Agreement. It is possible that such resentment has been occurring,
but is more a temporary 'blip' during certain periods of trouble
and does not filter through to long term attitudes.
Catholic opinions about which group is treated better, by class (%)
Catholic responses to the same set of issues (Table 6) show much
less variation. There is a slightly greater tendency for the Catholic
working class to see the RUC as treating Protestants better, but
elsewhere the salariat and working class have similar views. Overall,
Catholics in general feel that they are less fairly treated than
Protestants feel their group is. Note, however, that fair employment
is the area in which Catholics feel there is most fair treatment
- 86 per cent of all Catholics feel treatment of the religious
groups is fairly equal (the figure is 59 per cent among Protestants).
It is no surprise that, where Catholics feel they are being dealt
a reasonably fair hand, Protestants feel that they are getting
a raw deal.
Any differences between the two religious groups in their openness to increased integration is, of course, important. However, given that a distinction has often been made between a more liberal, more moderate middle class and more narrow-minded working class (Lipset, 1981; Heath and Evans, 1988), it is also interesting to go beyond religion and see if the middle class are indeed more positive about, and supportive of, integration.
It is well-known that religious segregation - residential, but
also across a range of other areas - is an important feature of
Northern Irish society. It -is also known that segregation is
highest in working-class areas. We begin, therefore, by showing
levels of reported integration across three areas: among friends,
in the neighbourhood, and among relatives.
Levels of reported integration, by religion and class
(higher scores indicate greater integration)
From Figure 4, we can see that classes within the religious groups differ in the expected ways (greater working-class segregation), with respect to integration by residential area and friendship, but not for relatives. The more consistent pattern for relatives is not surprising, since endogamy is still the norm across all classes. It can also be seen that the Catholic salariat report living in more integrated areas than do the Protestant salariat - this disparity may well result from the differential size of the religious groups.
Next, we look at some indicators of individual support for integration and at support for government intervention to encourage integration in various situations. These should be seen in the context of very strong agreement across the board that better inter-group relations would be facilitated by more mixing: well over 90 per cent of both Protestants and Catholics agree that this is the case (Catholics showing slightly greater endorsement).
On more specific attitudes, first, consider the degree to which
people themselves are supportive of mixing with members of the
other community. Respondents were asked if they were in favour
of more mixing or more separation in several important areas of
their lives. To each issue, responses were coded along a five
point scale from 'much more separation' to 'much more mixing'.
In Figure 5, we present the mean score on a combination
of four items for which individual scores were highly correlated:
secondary/grammar schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, leisure
activities. Higher scores indicate a more pro-integration stance.
Overall, Catholics are more pro-integration than are Protestants
and, within religious groups, the salariat are more supportive
of mixing. There are no significant sex differences, though there
is a tendency for Catholic women in both classes to be more integrationist
than their male counterparts. On a range of other measures, including
attitudes to mixed marriages and mixed primary schools, this general
pattern holds, though the levels of support vary: for example,
all groups give somewhat lower levels of endorsement to mixed
marriages than to most of the other, less controversial, issues.
Support for integration, by religion, class and sex
(higher scores indicate stronger support)
Previous research on the link between class and party support
has looked mainly at the parties people say they would vote for.
Here, before looking at actual patterns of support, we examine
whether people are partisans of a particular party or not.
Respondents were asked: Generally speaking, do you think ofyourself
as a supporter of any one political party?
Percentage saying they are supporters of a particular party, by religion, class and sex
Table 7 shows how Protestants are far more likely to consider themselves supporters of a specific party. The lower levels of partisanship among Catholics have been noted before (Evans and Duffy, 1997) and may not necessarily be indicative of political apathy. Indeed, some evidence that apathy is not the explanation is provided by responses to the question: How much interest do you generally have in what is going on in politics?
The problem of what 'politics' might be taken to mean notwithstanding, interest scores were very similar for the two religious groups. Thus, the lack of defined party affiliation among Catholics may be more a consequence of the limited party options available to them (for example, where do the considerable group of Catholic non-nationalists (see Breen, 1996) 'go' politically?) than symptomatic of more general lack of political awareness or involvement.
There is a marked class difference among Protestants, with the salariat, regardless of sex, being far more likely to have a party identification. Looking at Catholics overall, we find no significant class difference (26 per cent of the salariat state a party, versus 22 per cent of the working class). Among women, however, the pattern is the same as for Protestants generally: higher levels of partisanship in the salariat.
If we next look at expressions of support for particular parties, we see the familiar (see Evans and Duffy, 1997; Duffy and Evans, 1996) patterns of class allegiance within religious groups. Party identification was measured as a composite of responses to three questions. Respondents were first asked the question above on whether they were supporters of a particular party. If they said no, they were asked: Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to others? And if they still answered no, they were asked: If there was a general election tomorrow, which political party do you think you would be most likely to support?
Table 8 shows that there are strong class effects for both Protestants
and Catholics, but that these are more marked in the former group.
The single most salient feature of party support is the almost
total lack of crossreligious appeal of the four main (confessional)
parties, indicating that religious affiliation remains, unsurprisingly,
the main predictor of party support. Neither do any of
the findings on class show anything new: the working-class nature
of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) support, and the cross-class
appeal of the Ulster Unionists are well-known. So, too, is the
almost total lack of middle-class support for Sinn Fein and the
slight middle-class bias in the following of the Social Democratic
and Labour Party (SDLP). The Alliance Party (APNI) remains clearly
a middle-class party, though the split in levels of salariat/working-class
support is sharper among Protestants. Beyond this, note that the
SDLP gains a larger relative slice of salariat support among Catholics
than does the UUP among Protestants, and that Catholics in general,
and the working class in particular, are far more likely than
Protestants to express no party affiliation, even when pressed.
This relates back to the above discussion of Table 7, and the
same possible explanations apply. Rather more surprising is the
absence of sex differences in either religious group. What might
be termed the more 'extreme' parties on either side are not more
likely to be supported by men, and there is no evidence that women
are choosing more moderate or neutral parties.
Party identification, by religion and class (%)
Looking at patterns of national identity (see Table 9), we find
that the salariat of both religious groups, but especially Catholics,
are more likely to adopt a Northern Irish identity than are the
working class. This suggests that there is some mileage in claims
that Northern Irish has emerged as the preferred identity for
the middle classes. The assumption is that this is the compromise
choice for moderates who do not want to be drawn into, or identified
with, one or other side in the conflict.
National identity, by religion class and sex (%)
However, there are several problems with the suggestion that Northern Irish is a middle-class label of moderation. First, there is a large portion of the Catholic working class who also adopt a Northern Irish identity (as large as among the Protestant salariat, in fact): feeling Northern Irish is not, therefore, the reserve of the well off. But, second, over half of the Catholic salariat (indeed, of both class groups), and around two thirds of salariat Protestants, prefer their traditional label of identity. Without over time data, it is impossible to say if this figure is declining as more of the younger people grow up with the Northern Irish label. However, although neither Rose (1971) nor Moxon-Browne (1983) had Northern Irish as an option on their identity questions (this, in itself, is significant), they did have the traditional labels: looking at Rose, there is a very significant shift towards Britishness for Protestants, only 39 per cent of whom felt British in 1968, while, among Catholics in general, Irish identification is down slightly (76 per cent in 1968). Among Catholics as a whole, however, it is true that, in 1995, feeling Northern Irish, as opposed to Irish, is associated with a significantly less nationalist position (on a seven point scale of unionism (1) to nationalism (7), those who feel Northern Irish score 4.5, compared with 5.1 for Irish identifiers), and this, again, gives support to the 'Northern Irish for neutrality' argument. Among Protestants, feeling Northern Irish, rather than British or 'Ulster', is also associated with a less strongly unionist position (3.1 versus 2.7 and 2.4 respectively).
Overall, class differences among Catholics are trivial, though the working class is somewhat less likely to choose a British identity than the middle class, and the middle class feel a little less Irish than the working class in general. However, when we look at the pattern by sex, we find that this is due to a marked difference among the men only (otherwise, for both religious groups, sex is not an important source of differentiation). It is not the working class in general who look less towards Britain than the salariat; it is the Catholic male working class who are significantly more Irish and less British than any other group. Higher unemployment rates among Catholic men mean they are likely to be quite welfare dependent, but this does not as a group make them more likely to identify with Britain. Since it is well-known that working-class men are more directly involved in the conflict (and therefore may have had more negative experiences of the security forces), it is not surprising that they are the least likely to assign themselves a British identity.
In the Protestant group, unsurprisingly, the profile is very different. A trivial number of Protestants feel Irish in each class. It is interesting how much this has shifted since Rose's survey, where 20 per cent of Protestants considered themselves Irish. The shift probably reflects the changing meaning attached to the Irish label, which, since the Troubles, has become more associated with a political, 'nationalist' position.
The final thing to note about Protestant profiles is the use of
the Ulster identity. Much research points to how this is more
a label for the working class than for the middle class, again
perhaps because of the extremist (paramilitary) undertones the
label may carry, and this is supported by these findings. Few
in the salariat adopt the Ulster label as their badge of identity,
a significant move away from pre-Troubles patterns found by Rose
(1971). And, in fact, the decline in numbers calling themselves
Ulster people has been general across the classes: 32 per cent
of all Protestants chose the 'Ulster' label in 1968. Of course,
this is also, in part, explained by the choice of a Northern Irish
option in the 1995 survey, which makes absolute comparisons with
past results very difficult.
The profiles for Catholics do not differ significantly by class, in general, though the working class are more likely to express no preference. The majority of both the working class and the salariat would like a united Ireland in the long-term, compared with roughly half that proportion who want to stay part of the UK. Thus, on these data, and looking back to the
previous section on identity, only the first part of what one
of O Connor's interviewees has to say survives this superficial
analysis: 'They (the Catholic middle class) have a desire for
their Irishness (but they) haven't got the same desire for a united
Ireland' (O Connor, 1993: 32-3).
Long-term constitutional preference, by religion, class and sex (%)
However, this does not mean that class has no effect on constitutional preferences: it could be that there are effects in two directions here, some of the working class wanting to stay with the better welfare provisions of the United Kingdom, others wanting to try their fortunes in a united Ireland. Clearly, however, middle-class Catholics have not abandoned the traditional position any more than their working-class counterparts. Here is another major issue, then, on which we can find no evidence that the middle class hold attitudes which are very different from those held by the working class.
For Protestants, there is no preference split of the kind seen among Catholics. Protestants remain steadfastly opposed to changing the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, and their support for the Union with Britain is the same irrespective of class. This result stands even when they are presented with a much wider range of alternatives in another question on constitutional preferences (see Evans, 1996). There is also a small sex difference within the Protestant working class, with men almost unanimously endorsing the Union and slightly more of a spread across other response options among the other three Protestant groups. This fits with the idea that unionism and loyalism are strongest among working-class Protestant men.
In the Catholic group, there is a more complicated, and perhaps
more significant, pattern by class and sex. Among the salariat,
male and female preferences are similar, but differ considerably
among the working class, where men show the lowest and women the
highest levels of support for the UK link. Such a pattern may
be linked to the greater levels of direct involvement in the conflict
among working-class men, while women may be more politically conservative
and somewhat more likely to prefer the status quo to some radical
overhaul, especially one that might involve violence. This fits
uncomfortably, however, with evidence that working-class men are
not more likely than women to support Sinn Fein, though it is
possible that support for Sm Fein has a different meaning for
men than for women. It also does not explain why it is only working-class
women who show the more pro-UK preference. And, indeed, if it
is true that growth in a Catholic middle class may be more a female
than a male phenomenon in the future, and if the constitutional
preferences seen here are a reasonable reflection of group attitudes,
then simple shifts in proportions should mean that the Catholic
middle class will become more, rather than less, in favour
of a united Ireland. This, of course, is directly against the
popular view of such growth signalling a move away from the traditional
Catholic nationalist position.
Trust in Government
In Table 11, we examine attitudes relating to trust in the British
government, and in Table 12 to trust in the Irish government.
Respondents were asked: Under direct rule from Britain, as
now, how much do you generally trust British governments of any
party to act in the best interests of Northern Ire land? And if
there was a united Ireland, how much do you think you would generally
trust an Irish government to act in the best interests of Northern
Percentage saying they would mostly/always or never trust a British
government, by religion and class
The first thing to note is the striking similarity across religious
groups in the proportions who trust the British government 'mostly'
or 'almost always'. There is a slight tendency for the Protestant
salariat to trust less than working-class Protestants, and for
the Catholic salariat to be more trusting than the Catholic working
class, but these differences are small. At the other extreme,
levels of most distrust are also similar, and relatively low,
across religion. But it is the comparisons with the distributions
in Table 12 that are most striking. These show that trust in the
Irish government is similarly high across classes in the Catholic
group, almost half of whom say they would trust a Dublin government
most of the time.
Percentage saying they would mostly/always or never trust an Irish government,
by religion and class
However, Protestants are much more sceptical. Although more than
one-fifth of the Protestant salariat would have a lot of trust
in an Irish government (a similar figure to Catholic levels of
trust in Britain), this is matched by almost a quarter of the
same class group who would never trust Dublin. This is evidence
of striking polarisation on this issue within the middle-class
Protestant group. There is polarisation, too, among the Protestant
working class, but it shows a much stronger lean towards absolute
mistrust of an Irish government: where the split between most
and least trust is almost even among members of the salariat,
in the working class the proportion is three times greater than
that expressing high levels of trust. More than one third of working-class
Protestants would have no trust at all, fitting with the view
that the most intense threat is felt among the economically disadvantaged.
Not surprisingly, Catholic levels of total mistrust in an Irish
government are low in both classes. There is no evidence of significant
sex differences in attitudes on these issues.
The complex patterns of evidence presented in the previous pages clearly bear quite significantly upon the issues raised in the introduction. The general picture we have observed has mainly concerned the importance of religion and class - in that order - as influences on perceptions and attitudes in Northern Ireland. Sex differences are to be found, and in places they do challenge certain stereotypes about men, women and class in the province, but they have a less pronounced presence in their consequences for social and political attitudes. Most of the relevant findings concern the presence - or otherwise - of divisions within religious groups along lines of social class.
Consider, first, that the widely held view of the working class on both sides of the sectarian divide being more polarised than their respective middle classes is given only partial support. Class differences of an expected sort surface in the context of attitudes towards integration (a finding that also survives multivariate tests - see Evans, 1996): Catholic and Protestant middle-class respondents report being both more integrated in reality and more pro-integration in their attitudes. Nevertheless, when we examine prejudice and politics this picture becomes more complex. In terms of views on prejudice and discrimination, both in general, and by specific authorities, the notion of a Protestant 'siege mentality' being particularly pronounced among the working class, does not receive much support. Indeed, levels of 'resentment' at the FEC and at the possibility of positive discrimination in favour of Catholics appear to be higher in the Protestant middle class. Where the Protestant working class are less compromising, however, is in their political views: they are slightly more unionist in their long-term aspirations, somewhat less trusting of an Irish government, more likely to identify with 'Ulster', and, of course, more likely to support the DUP (although this in itself does not appear to derive very strongly from the DUP position on the Union, but from the DUP's role in articulating the economic interests of the Protestant working class (Evans and Duffy, 1997).
As for the Catholic middle class, we find little evidence that they have defected from nationalist political goals, thus creating class divisions on the national question. On the constitution, trust in the Irish government, and national identity, they display similar levels of pro-nationalist views as do the working class. It is unsurprising, then, that in the wake of the disturbances at Drumcree during the 1996 Protestant marching season, we are now hearing talk (Douds, 1996: 18) of a reawakening of the 'hitherto silent Catholic middle class' about whom O Connor comments. The fact that the Catholic middle class are more compromising on questions concerning communal integration and tend to support parties that are less hard-line on the nationalist question does not indicate a rejection of the goals of nationalism.
It is important to note, moreover, that these views tend to apply to both men and women, so the continued growth of a feminised Catholic middle class would not, in and of itself, suggest that levels of Catholic nationalism will decline. Thus, the indications that Catholic girls are doing better than boys at school, that girls are less likely to be unemployed, and that they make up a disproportionate number of the newly emerging Catholic middle class, does not appear to open up the way for a long-term reduction in support within the Catholic community for changes to the constitution. The general point seems to be that, even if middle-class Catholics -especially women - are more right-wing on economic issues, this does not translate into lack of commitment to nationalism. The political and economic questions are separate.
Interestingly, both middle-class and working-class Protestants share ambivalence towards the British government with Catholics of both classes. This is also the only issue that we have examined on which religion has little or no effect, and it is noticeable in that it focuses on the role of the British government - a body that is clearly distinct from the political groupings in the province itself, and whose long-term reliability and motives regarding the national question remain unclear (or perhaps too clear...) to people on both sides of the debate.
The evidence suggests, then, that class differences are different for Protestants and Catholics. Despite the high levels of Protestant commitment to the Union with Britain, the Protestant middle and working classes appear to be more divided on political attitudes and voting preferences than do these classes among Catholics. Moreover, the relatively low-key nature of differences between men and women, and their diverse nature, do little to support the notion that it is working-class men who are the most polarised section of the two religious communities. This is despite the evidence that Catholic men tend to be particularly disadvantaged. Thus, even though in Northern Ireland some women have been involved in certain cross-communal initiatives, we can find little evidence that women are more moderate or compromising in their views. They are just as likely to be nationalist if Catholic, or unionist if Protestant, while on economic issues, women are distinctive for being more right-wing than men of the same class or religion. This suggests that, even if sex roles are changing, and if, as a consequence, women take a more direct and directive role in community relations and politics, the implication is that they are unlikely to introduce a distinctive viewpoint into the long-established agenda of constitutional disputes.
For our final point, we return to the issue on which we opened
the chapter: that of class differences. The key observation on
which we shall end is a simple one: despite the cynicism expressed
by the Catholics interviewed by O Connor on issues concerning
the national question, in general middle-class Catholics share
many of the political views of working-class Catholics; while,
among Protestants, there is at least some evidence that, to a
greater degree than their middle-class co-religionists, the working-class
display some of the insecurities and hard-line views that writers
such as Bruce have suggested are redolent of a 'siege mentality'.
This asymmetry is an important feature of the relationship between
social structure and politics in Northern Ireland and provides
a basis for further understanding of the intra-sectarian political
dynamics on which any long-term resolutions of the current conflicts
may well depend.
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