Obama strategist gives tips to women candidates on communications skills

Seminar hears some male candidates not targeting women voters at all

 Fom left:  Niamh Gallagher, co-founder of Women for Election,  Obama  strategist Jen O’Malley-Dillon and Michelle O’Donnell Keating, co-founder of Women for Election. Photograph:  Conor McCabe Photography

Fom left: Niamh Gallagher, co-founder of Women for Election, Obama strategist Jen O’Malley-Dillon and Michelle O’Donnell Keating, co-founder of Women for Election. Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

 


Women running in next month’s local elections have had the opportunity to get advice from Jen O’Malley-Dillon, a senior strategist in President Barack Obama’s 2012 election campaign. On a visit to Dublin yesterday, Ms O’Malley-Dillon spoke about the need to use social media, organise campaign teams, “go after the undecided voter” and communicate with them “as individuals”.

There are 409 women nominated to run in the local elections and 1,283 men.Women make up 24 per cent of candidates, up from 17 per cent in the last local elections. This is a significant improvement, according to Women For Election, the organisation hosting yesterday’s event.

Part of the Obama campaign’s winning formula, she added, was that it used disparate data banks on people, such as their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the things they had said to pollsters, to learn more about individual people’s concerns. “We were able to integrate campaign data to create a full profile of our voters,” she said. “By 2012 we were able to decide how to communicate with different individual people.”

Rose Conway-Walsh, a Sinn Féin candidate in Mayo, said some women would be happy to be communicated with at all by some candidates. She had called to one house last week where the woman who answered the door told her a male candidate from another party had canvassed the evening before. “She told me this man, without saying hello, just asked her: ‘Is himself in?’ And then when he saw her husband working up the field, he turned and said: ‘Oh, it’s okay. I see him now’ and walked off without even engaging her in conversation.”

Deirdre Donnelly, an independent local election candidate in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, described how “really shocked” she had been at the reaction of some friends and family when she told them she was running. “They asked, ‘What does your husband think?’ and ‘but what about your little boy? Who’ll look after him’?” Ms Donnelly, a married mother of a nine-year old, added: “I really don’t think a man would be asked those questions.”

Saoire O’Brien, for Direct Democracy Ireland in Carlow, said she felt “pre-judged” by others in politics for being “too young”. She is 35 and believes young women candidates have to prove the substance of their views and opinions in a far more rigorous way than young male candidates.