Irish politics needs to go negative.

There is a discussion held every now and then between Irish political hacks that goes like this:

“We should do an attack ad. A youtube piece, or a leaflet pointing out what so-and-so did on the council!”

“No. Irish voters wouldn’t like that. Polls in the US show that voters hate negative campaigning. Let’s do a leaflet almost exactly like our opponents, but with our name on it instead!”

Some years ago, a PD councillor told me of how he was accosted on a street by an FF councillor, for the crime of handing out a leaflet listing out how every councillor had voted on a certain issue. The FF man accused him of “blackening his name”. In last year’s local elections, I know of at least one reelected councillor who had been named and shamed at a tribunal. In one Dublin constituency, there’s an FF TD who regularly signs up to campaigns on issues he votes the exact opposite way in the Dail.

Why do their opponents let them away with it? In the US, your record is nailed to you by your opponent, and rightly so. Why do we not do it here?

The reasons given tend to be:

1. It’s not democratic. This is the most bizarre answer. Giving the voters ALL the information before they vote is undemocratic?

2. Voters don’t like it. There’s a hint of truth to this one, but not enough to heed it. Don’t forget: Voters say that election posters don’t effect how they vote either. Is there anyone actually involved in politics who believes that? If you put out a leaflet attack X, they’ll probably not feel too good about Y either, for being nasty. So why don’t parties have parallel swift boat campaigns targeting weak opposition candidates. Remember, the objective is not to get your vote up, but his vote down.

3. We’d rather spend our effort on getting our guy in. It’s not a winner take all race, after all. This is the most valid point, and it’s true. In US elections it’s mostly two candidates for one seat. But the next Irish election will be a two horse race, with FF versus the Rainbow. It has always amazed me the way FG/Labour candidates let FF candidates practically run as independents when the party is unpopular, hoovering up transfers. Now is their chance to wipe ’em out. Having said that, the same can be said for FF. They’ve nothing to lose. Why not attach tax rises and anti-private sector worker labels to individual Labour candidates?

3 thoughts on “Irish politics needs to go negative.

  1. All very true. The multi seat aspect does prevent it working in a US style. The problem is, it is also the reason why FF are continuously reelected. I think you’d be hard pressed to find another democracy where more voters vote for people wiith policies that those same voters would oppose if they knew it.

  2. The idea for Irish style Swift boats is somewhat hurt by the reduced opportunity to get a message out there. You can’t get on the telly, posters are only allowed for candidates. If you want to drop leaflets door to door they cost a good bit of cash (to print and distribute) and if a party has spare leaflet dropping capacity they will use it for door to door canvassing.

    The web, via clips on Youtube is interesting and something worth exploring but it would only work on a national level, I can’t see a few dozen clips on individual candidates getting much more than a few thousands views each and how many of those would be in their constituency and thus be voters you’d want to get the message to and how many of those would be politico anoraks who had their minds already made up that Ger was either a crook or fantastic man altogether.

    The other reason against parties going negative is transfers, you might attack Ger from KillCooley, but the people who vote for Ger from KillCooley might then not transfer to you even though you’re from KillCooley too! they could well transfer to Mike who is from near enough to KillCooley and not a bad sort. PR-STV has that sort of transfer to the least worst person thing going on which makes it increasing bad to be negative the more you depend on transfers. If you have 20% of the vote locked up in a 4 seat, you can be as negative as you like but there again you’ve gotten elected already so why bother.

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