The Long Dull Election: Who Cares?

The 2016 Irish General Election campaign is less important in Irish people’s lives than the protests surrounding Irish Water, the campaign for marriage equality and the 2016 budget.

This campaign, the longest and shortest in our nation’s history has not captured the hearts or minds of Irish citizens. Every month, Ignite Research measures the news stories which resonate with people. Over 200 stories have been tracked since January 2015, and while this General Election is in the top half of the stories which impact on people's lives – it may not be as important as the media coverage would suggest.

We asked 1,000 Irish people about four areas of the election campaign:

  • The General Election Leaders Debate on TV
  • Discussion about a new Government
  • Proposals on abolishing USC/tax
  • Proposals on improving public services (e.g. Health, Gardai)

Most people (85%) were aware of the leader’s debate on TV. With up to 411,000 watching TV3’s debate and 573,130 watching RTE’s Claire Byrne’s Live debate (source: TAM/Nielsen), more people were aware it had happened than actually tuned in. Of those who were aware of the debates, 38% said it was not important to them personally.

In comparison, 74% of those who have heard about discussions about a new Government said this topic was important in their life. This was still less important for people than the flooding around the River Shannon or waiting times in Irish hospitals in January .

It has been clear that after three weeks of a campaign, which started with the bickering over "fiscal space," followed by the distraction of shocking Gangland crimes and ending with personal jibes and the calling out of Whingers, that this campaign has been less about the real issues which matter to people. As our state of the nation study has shown a majority of people believe the recovery has not reached them, so there is no great surprise that tax talk and investment resonated with people more than the general election gossip.

Up to 78% of people have heard about proposals about abolishing the Universal Social Charge, the same amount of people who have heard about proposals to invest in improving public services (e.g. Health, Gardaí). What is more interesting about these numbers is that more people (91%) claim investment is important to them personally compared to 85% of people who say abolishing USC is important to them.

Fine Gael’s mantra of keeping the recovery going by abolishing tax, while also trying to invest in public services may not be resonating as well as it could. Following on from our People’s Budget in 2015, which told us Irish people are more inclined to invest in services at the expense of cutting taxes, is counter to almost every political party’s perception that every Irish person wants taxes cut.

With an overall Ignite score of 65.7, this General Election may not have been as exciting as some may have wished for the year we commemorate 1916. For context, in April last year, the UK General Election scored 55.6, the Irish rugby team playing the the Six Nations scored 61.8 and more people were aware that Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds last December than were aware of any of the General Election debates.

Will this be a low turnout and will a new election be called within a year? The next election (possibly in the short-term) will need to address and debate the real issues people care about.