We conducted research last month, with Opinions.ie, to take the pulse of the nation about posters and the importance of political party affiliation, in advance of the local and European elections in Ireland.
We asked three key questions and got some surprising answers.
Does the communications value of election posters justify the visual disruption?
It was interesting to see that 51% of survey respondents felt that the communications value of election posters did not justify the visual disruption. Some said that they felt the posters had no positive impact at all. Some felt that they were a waste of money.
When you look at the reasons given, however, the response isn’t as clear cut as it first seems:
Some felt that one poster of a candidate per road was more than enough. Posters carry no messaging and ‘blend with the trees’ according to one respondent.
Some felt that a picture was irrelevant as you were not being elected to model. There was an overwhelming preference to find out something about where the candidates stand on issues.
Others thought that posters fulfil the democratic function of telling people there’s an election on and allowing new candidates to gain some recognition. Most agreed that posters provide a good opportunity for new candidates and new parties to make themselves known.
Too often the election poster doesn’t communicate anything other than a name. There is no context, no promise. Posters tell you nothing.
Policies are more important than looks.
People seem to dislike the sheer volume of posters and are unmoved by photographs of candidates.
However, there is an understanding that for new candidates, or new parties, the posters help to create an awareness. The big negative about posters, which recurs over and over during the responses, is that they tell you nothing about the candidate or what they stand for. Perhaps it’s time to look at using a slogan or a few words on posters in addition to the candidate’s name and party? I wonder if it would be better to see these posters, even political party posters, with the word ‘Environment’, ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Sports Centres’ to indicate the candidate’s area of key concern, or longer slogans like ‘Honesty in Politics’, ‘Gender Equality’, ‘Social Housing’ etc.
In an era of individualism, does party affiliation still matter?
There is still 49% support for the idea that being a member of a party is important, even in an era of individualism.
There is an almost reluctant acceptance that only parties can form governments and that people can achieve more
through a party affiliation.
People believe that decision-making would be more difficult if there were just individuals.
Voting decisions are easier as at least a core number of issues are agreed within a party.
There is a strong belief that individuals matter and, as voters, can affect change. In general, the support for the party system seems to arise from a general belief that it is much harder for elected individuals to get things done.
Also, party affiliation means that there is less to learn about the person. You know that they share some core beliefs common to other party members. Parties, generally, form governments so power rests with groups.
Overall, there is a belief that groups of people, operating together, whether in formalised party political Structures or not, represent the best opportunity to achieve change.
Name three things candidates should be doing to make themselves stand out from the crowd. (excluding posters and media debates)
Surprisingly, social media did not feature as prominently as we would have expected, and it came with a proviso – that candidates should not just post pictures of themselves canvassing but should actually engage in live Q&A. There is undoubtedly a hunger to find out what people actually stand for.
Local engagement, being visible in the community, meeting people before the election and offering honest opinion on topics scored well.
Participants also highlighted the need for candidates to meet with local groups (sports and elderly etc) and talk to them about doing real work. The reality piece surfaced quite a lot. Candidates should have realistic convictions in relation to public and social policy. They should speak frankly. They should be honest, authentic and consistent. More local engagement, hold local debates about local issues and distribute printed literature outlining policies and record. There was an overwhelming desire to get to the substance of the candidate and what they stood for.
So, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Certainly, there is a desire to elect strong opinionated candidates who will freely and openly take a position and stand over it. Substance is important. Physical appearance or knowing what your candidate looks like is much less important although there is an acceptance that posters help with name recognition. The addition of a key area of interest might be something that candidates could include on posters in the future. Allegiance to a political party was seen as simplifying the choice as all parties have core values that members subscribe to, but the real benefit of the party system appears to be the belief among voters that strong individuals, aligned in groups, have a greater chance of achieving change than strong individuals who stand alone. Some food for thought here for political parties before the next general election.