I’m on a flying visit to Dublin this weekend to attend the Magdalene Laundries symposium this Saturday at Liberty Hall — hopefully more on that in a forthcoming post.  If I’d managed to escape the Seanad referendum living in England (I haven’t), I was promptly reminded that a campaign is underway by the proliferation of posters when I arrived in the city centre this afternoon.

Political posters fascinate me, and I’ve always maintained that the pre-personality general election posters are far more interesting.  In some respects, posters for referenda remind me of that older style.  With a campaign centred on a theme rather than candidates, there is far more scope to be inventive.  Parties tend to spend less on advertising for referenda and there is certainly a heavy presence of simple ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no’ posters, but among them are also some creative offerings

My chapter in the anthology of 1920s Ireland that I’m co-editing looks at the election posters of that decade. The majority — some examples of which can be seen on the National Library’s Flickr Account here, here and here — featured cartoons and satire. While there are no official surveys of voter reaction to draw on, I’ve been reflecting on the possibility that such posters might have increased engagement with elections. Voter turnout was reasonably high during the first decade of independence.

Source: Ciara Meehan, 'The Cosgrave Party', p. 13.
Source: Ciara Meehan, ‘The Cosgrave Party’, p. 13.

Turnout during this period can be explained by a number of factors, including the novelty  of voting in an election for an Irish national parliament. But, arguably, posters of such a nature would at least have encouraged comment, if not discussion — this, of course, does not automatically translate into votes cast. On the other hand, though, given the high level of detail contained within them, this also begs the question of how many people would have actually taken the time to stop and inspect them.  Recent elections, of course, are inevitably followed by a discussion as to whether posters should be banned, with many people evidently caring very little for their presence (or the tie wraps often left behind when the poster has been taken down). Is this a modern phenomena, resulting from greater environmental awareness? I’ve clearly much to think about yet when dealing with the ‘viewing experience’ section of my chapter.

In the meantime, below are some of the posters from the Seanad referendum that I snapped around Dublin city centre today.  Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get one of the Sinn Féin posters, which potentially win the award for best slogan in the campaign — regardless to whether one agrees with the sentiment — ‘Equality, not Elitism’.

 

Fine Gael went for the populist line.
Fine Gael went for the populist line.
Fianna Fáil's poster fed into a wider debate about parliamentary reform -- although whether the Seanad should be reformed or not isn't the question on which the electorate will vote.
Fianna Fáil’s poster fed into a wider debate about parliamentary reform — although whether the Seanad should be reformed or not isn’t the question on which the electorate will vote.
Labour's poster gets to the heart of the issue.
Labour’s poster gets to the heart of the issue.
The Greens kept their message plain and simple.
The Greens kept their message plain and simple.

Some campaigning groups included graphics to illustrate their point:

IMG_2597
The message behind the Demoracy Matters’ posters is effectively the same as the Greens’, but presented through pictorial form instead.
The Socialists invoked Jim Larkin. The message, though offered in the context of the referendum, actually has little to do with the referendum.
The Socialists invoked Jim Larkin. The message, though offered in the context of the referendum, actually has little to do with the referendum.

 

In contrast to the above, the Socialists offered a stronger message through the use of statistics showing the elite nature of the Seanad electorate.
In contrast to the above, the Socialists offered a stronger message through the use of statistics showing the elite nature of the Seanad electorate.
IMG_2607
The Socialists link the Seanad campaign to a wider criticism of the government: a mix between the two posters above.

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