Peace Polls

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Conflicts in Comparative Context

Public Opinion and the Politics of Peace Research: Northern Ireland, Balkans, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Muslim World and the 'War on Terror'

Summary - While stressing the political difficulties of reconciling third party interests and a truly independent applied social science Donald Campbell pointed to the solution to this problem through full disclosure and the participation of adversarial stakeholder[s] in both the design of experiments and interpretation of results. By applying these principles to public opinion research in Northern Ireland political parties from across the political spectrum were able to generate a program of pre-negotiation problem solving and public diplomacy that helped to secure the Belfast Agreement. These methods have been successfully reproduced in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia, and Cyprus. Comparisons are made between this body of work and polls run by the US State Department, OSCE, British Home Office and others in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Muslim World and in the UK with respect to the 'War on Terror'. The political and methodological difficulties predicted by Campbell are identified and analyzed in terms of failed negotiations and ineffective peace making. The global implications of these failures seem to require a global response that would include the setting and monitoring of standards for applied public opinion research undertaken in support of the analysis and resolution of conflicts that is independent of all state and other vested interests.

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PAX POPULI, PAX DEI - Ten Years of Peace Polls in Comparative Perspective

Summary - In the modern world of mass media, mass communications and globalization peace processes require the effective use of public diplomacy to achieve political legitimacy. Open, transparent, objective, public opinion research can help to unlock the full peace making potential of such diplomacy. But this requires truly independent peace research not bound to the interests of any of the conflict parties. Nine such surveys of public opinion were completed in support of the Northern Ireland peace process between April 1996 and February 2003. Critically the questions for eight of these polls were drafted and agreed with the co-operation of party negotiators to enhance the peace process by increasing party inclusiveness, developing issues and language, testing party policies, helping to set deadlines and increase the overall transparency of negotiations through the publication of technical analysis and media reports. After 30 years of failure the peace process in Northern Ireland has been a great success. If all peace processes followed the recent experience of Northern Ireland they too might produce the same positive results. But this is not the case. The interests of governments and political elites, both domestic and international, all too frequently can pervert the will of the people to deny them the peace that they seek. In hindsight the people of Northern Ireland were very fortunate. With elections to negotiations, independent research and an independent Chair the people were able to make their peace through the democratization of their peace process. This was the key to that success. The people owned the peace process and the people’s peace prevailed. This work is described in detail in my earlier WAPOR papers and, The People’s Peace Process in Northern Ireland (Irwin, 2002a, 2012a) written so that the central lessons, of what were then being called peace polls, could be extended to the resolution of other violent conflicts around the world. To this end the Centre for Democracy and Reconciliation in South East Europe (CDRSEE) commissioned me to undertake peace polls in Macedonia as a prelude to free and fair elections in 2002; in Bosnia and Herzegovina to analyse the state of their peace process in 2004; and in Kosovo and Serbia as a prelude to the negotiation of a ‘final status’ agreement for Kosovo in 2005. This was followed up with a poll of British Muslims in the context of what George Bush was calling the ‘War on Terror’ in 2006. With the Cvoter Foundation in Delhi a peace poll was completed in Kashmir in 2008 with follow ups in Pakistan, and that same year a three year programme of peace polling in Sri Lanka was initiated supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After Barack Obama was elected President and George Mitchell was appointed his Special Envoy to the Middle East I was asked to complete a peace poll in Israel and Palestine for OneVoice in 2009 and this was followed by a project in Darfur, Sudan funded by the US State Department. Finally I was able to visit Egypt during their revolution in early 2011 but no polling work was undertaken there due to legal restrictions. These polls are reviewed in detail in my recent book The People’s Peace (Irwin, 2012b/c) with highlights explored comparatively in this paper. Without exception the peace polls identified the problems that had to be resolved at the heart of each conflict and the solutions needed to end the conflict. When this was done and acted on peace was achieved but when this was not done the peace processes continued to fail. The polls also identified repetitive conflict themes: discrimination, bad policing, violent insurgencies, poor governance and corruption, failing economies, lack of democratic accountability and interference by third parties/states. The importance of these conflict elements changed with the cycle of the violence: pre-war, war, post-war. Critically the peace polls could help people achieve peace if the political elites and those responsible for peace used the work constructively to that end. Regrettably this was the exception rather than the rule. All too often the interests of spoilers coincide with the maintenance of the status quo of on-going war, occupation or violence directed against their own people. However, with the support of international institutions and standard setting, independent peacemakers can use peace polls and public diplomacy to challenge the spoilers, and help establish the people’s peace.

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