Referendum booklet increased yes vote, says advertising expert

Joanna Jordan has brought proceedings aimed at overturning the result of the children's referendum. Picture: Courtpix
Joanna Jordan has brought proceedings aimed at overturning the result of the children's referendum. Picture: Courtpix

An advertising expert has told the High Court he believes the Government’s information campaign in the children’s referendum exerted a “significant emotional influence” on voter behaviour, encouraging people to think children were at risk and they should vote yes.

Robert Heath said the use on the government booklet’s cover of a silhouette image of three children, slogans such as “protecting children” and the title “children’s referendum” would have had an emotional impact on some recipients of the booklet encouraging a yes vote.

The use of the phrase “children’s referendum”, rather than “children referendum” as used by the Referendum Commission, implied the referendum was being run by children on their own behalf, he said.

The emotional impact was added to by the silhouette image of three children holding hands which suggested they were defenceless “lost waifs” in need of protection, he said. The use of phrases such as “protecting children” implied the referendum was necessary on behalf of children “to correct a deficit”.

He concluded that the booklet and a print advertisement showed a “strong bias” in favour of a yes vote, partly by mentioning little if anything about the status quo or what would happen if a yes vote was not passed. The department’s TV ad for the referendum, shown to the court, showed a “slight bias” in favour of a yes vote, he also concluded.

Mr Heath, of the University of Bath, gave evidence in the proceedings by Joanna Jordan, of St Kevin’s Villas, Gleangeary Rd Upper, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, aimed at overturning the referendum result. The amendment passed on Nov 10, 2012, by a margin of 58% to 41%.

The court yesterday heard details of a poll of 2,012 people carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes for the Referendum Commission in the weeks after the vote. The survey asked people about receiving the government booklet, distributed to about 2m homes.

In his report, Mr Heath conc-luded from the Behaviour & Attitudes poll figures that receiving the booklet increased the proportion of those voting yes while not receiving it increased the proportion of those voting no.

He also noted about 9% of those who did not receive the booklet refused to say how they voted. If all of those were embarrassed to admit they voted no, the proportion of the no vote among those not receiving the Government booklet would have been 49%, almost half the total vote, concluded Mr Heath.

The hearing continues next Tuesday.

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