Booklet had ‘emotional influence’ on voters, court told

People encouraged to think children were at risk and that they should vote Yes

Expert has told the High Court he believes the Government’s information campaign in the recent referendum exerted a “significant emotional influence” on voter behaviour.

Expert has told the High Court he believes the Government’s information campaign in the recent referendum exerted a “significant emotional influence” on voter behaviour.

Sat, Apr 20, 2013, 06:03

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

Dr Robert Heath said the use on the 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”.


‘Strong bias’
The “big ideas” behind the material used was that children are vulnerable, action needed to be taken to protect them and that action was to vote Yes, he said. He concluded 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 television advert for the referendum, shown to the court, showed a “slight bias” in favour of a Yes vote, he also concluded.

Dr Heath, of the University of Bath, gave evidence yesterday in the continuing proceedings by Joanna Jordan, St Kevin’s Villas, Glenageary Road Upper, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, aimed at overturning the referendum result.

The amendment was passed on November 10th, 2012, by a majority of 58 to 41 per cent based on a 33.49 per cent turnout.

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 referendum. The survey asked people about receiving the Government booklet, distributed to some two million homes. In his evidence, Dr Heath said he is an expert on how emotion in advertising influences behaviour, having worked in advertising for many years before moving into academia.

In his report, he concluded, from the Behaviour & Attitudes poll, 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 per cent 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 per cent, almost half the total vote, he concluded.