Saturday 10 October 2015

Michael Brennan: Low turnout shows getting the public's attention is harder than ever

Published 11/11/2012 | 12:55

THE Government can breathe a sign of relief that it has got a result from the children's referendum campaign.

But it is a far from complete victory, with the low turnout, the defeats in several constituencies and the Supreme Court judgement slamming its €1.1m information campaign as unfair and unbalanced.

It is a reminder that getting the attention of the public is harder than ever - and especially so when there are few compelling arguments to rouse their passions.

The key message of the Government's campaign was that the children's rights referendum would help to protect vulnerable children. But the low turnout figures show that this did not strike a chord with the public.

Many people seem to have decided that whatever about vulnerable children, their children were fine and therefore there was no need for them to turn out and vote. Put bluntly, there was nothing in it for them and they had shopping and other things to do on Saturday. If the referendum was about cutting child benefit, you could safely predict a much better turnout.

It should not kill off the move towards Saturday voting - in all likelihood, the turnout would have been just as bad if the referendum was held on a Thursday or a Friday. And Saturday voting saved €700,000 due to the two hour reduction in polling time and kept schools - which are used as polling stations - open during the week.

There may be an element of voter fatigue - in the past four years, voters have had to turn out for the two Lisbon Treaty referendums, the fiscal treaty referendum last May and the judicial pay and the inquiries referendums last November.

The strategy of the Government was to hold the children's referendum on its own so that voters were not overloaded with other issues. But now that it's out of the way, expect a double or triple header when the Government moves onto its next referendum. It could be another European referendum but it's just as likely to be the abolition of the Seanad, plus possibly some minor measures from the Constitutional Convention such as changing the length of the presidential term from seven to five years.

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