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‘People only realise an election is on when the posters go up’: Senator argues

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Senator John McGahon with his posters for the 2020 General Election

Senator John McGahon with his posters for the 2020 General Election

Senator John McGahon with his posters for the 2020 General Election

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Election posters “have a role to play” particularly for first time candidates, according to a Dundalk Senator, who argued that social media doesn’t work for all.

Taking part in a Seanad debate on the ‘Regulation of Display of Electoral and Polling Posters and Other Advertisements Bill 2022’ Senator John McGahon explained the challenges of running in his first election at 22 years old.

"I found the ability to put up posters and get my face out there in a wide geographical area of Dundalk-Carlingford, encompassing 40% of Dundalk town and the entire Cooley Peninsula, was very beneficial to me. I found I was not recognised when I called to doors. Why on earth would anyone know a 22-year-old running for election? I had no track record and nobody knew me. I was fresh out of college. I found that the use of posters was a useful way for people to recognise me as John McGahon of Fine Gael, the young fella they saw on the poster. It was a good way for me to introduce myself. That was very useful as a young first-time candidate with no track record.”

He added: “Fast-forwarding to 2019, I thought it was a bit of a laugh that councillors throughout the country were putting forward motions to county councils to ban posters. The councillors in question were all poll toppers. I can name them. In my county and in other areas, they were poll toppers who were going to get elected anyway. Of course it suited them not to have posters.We can see it everywhere.”

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He welcomed that the debate was “not opportunistic and just before an election.”

"It is being debated at a proper stage within this Parliament. I think it is a good time to debate the issue. A pet hate of mine is seeing the tags from posters. Perhaps I notice them more when I am driving around because I am in politics. I hate it. When I am up a pole taking posters down, I try to take as many of them down as possible. Another thing that I have learned about posters is that in a general election campaign everybody is very keen to help put them up, but when you lose, you are taking them down on your own.”

He added: “Some might argue that we can advertise the modern way, by advertising on Facebook or using geo-targeting. We have to look at the demographics as well. The demographics of Facebook users have shifted significantly. The average age of Facebook users is 40 or 50+. Younger people are using TikTok. The concept of being able to put posters up right across a geographical area allows everybody, regardless of age, to be able to see who the candidates are. It is easy for those of us who live in a political bubble to think that everyone is interested in politics and knows what is going on. The vast majority of people do not care. They only realise an election is happening once they see the posters going up. That triggers them to realise that the election is happening and to look up their local candidates. People become tuned in and turned on to an election when posters go up.

“Posters are a fundamental part of our political discourse and campaigning. I believe that they serve a purpose.: Removing them gives an unfair advantage to incumbents who already have a substantially high name recognition."

He added: “It is an important debate to have. I think there could be a compromise somewhere along the line in the future. Perhaps the compromise could be the introduction of a cap on the number of posters, or restrictions on the areas in which posters can be put up.”


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