Monday 26 August 2019

No evidence of effect of campaign on Children Referendum voters

Tim Healy

THERE is no evidence that the effect on voters of the Government's unlawful information booklet for the Children Referendum had a marked impact on the outcome, an expert on referendums has told the High Court.

Michael Marsh, Professor of Comparative Political Behaviour at Trinity College Dublin, said he considered evidence to the contrary given to the court by various experts for Co Dublin woman Joanna Jordan was based on a "flawed analysis" of a poll of voters carried out for the Referendum Commission after the referendum.

The Behaviour & Attitudes poll of 2,012 voters was carried out some days after the referendum was passed on November 10, 2012, by a majority of 52 to 48pc based on a 33.4pc turnout.

Two days earlier, the Supreme Court ruled the Government's spend of €1.1m public monies on a "one-sided" campaign including a booklet sent to more than two million homes, a website and advertising, was unlawful.

Prof Marsh gave evidence on behalf of the Government in the continuing hearing of the proceedings by Ms Jordan, Glenageary Road Upper, Dun Laoghaire, aimed at overturning the outcome of the referendum.

Ms Jordan claims the Government's information booklet had a material effect on the outcome. If the court rejects that argument, she contends the standard of material effect, required under the Referendum Act to be proven by any person seeking to overturn a referendum, is unconstitutional because it imposes too high a burden on such a challenger.

In a report provided to Mr Justice Paul McDermott, Prof Marsh was critical of Dr Michael Bruter's analysis of the findings of the B&A survey.

Under cross-examination, Prof Marsh said there was no information about how people themselves actually considered the Government booklet as they were not asked a direct question about that.

He agreed the booklet represented itself as neutral. His own view was the booklet was partial and he was sure some people would have read it as such but he had no idea how many.

The booklet does say it is a Government document, he added. He agreed with the judge quite a lot of people who saw the booklet had voted No. His analysis of the B&A poll indicated 44pc of those who only received the Government booklet had voted No and he would have expected that to be higher if the guide had had the effect alleged by Ms Jordan.

He agreed he was not an advertising expert and could not say what impact the Government's spend of €1.1m had on the outcome. He was unaware of any evidence suggesting the more money was spent on an advertising campaign, the more likely a desired outcome would be achieved.

He agreed the Government spend, relative to other elements of the Yes campaign, was significant but could not say it was central for voters or the result. It was possible for more information to make a person more undecided, he added.

The hearing continues.


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