Election campaigns: when politicians put their faces in your face

What difference, if any, do election posters make?

Putting up posters “introduces the candidate to a lot of people, it starts the conversation about the election, and there’s no getting away from them, they’re in your face,” says Clare TD Timmy Dooley. Photograph: Domnick Walsh.

Putting up posters “introduces the candidate to a lot of people, it starts the conversation about the election, and there’s no getting away from them, they’re in your face,” says Clare TD Timmy Dooley. Photograph: Domnick Walsh.

 

Parties and candidates rushed to get their posters up this week, decorating lampposts with images that will look down on us for the next month or two.

Posters are one of the defining features of Irish elections, and visitors here during campaigns could be forgiven for being baffled by the sheer number of them.

Their value was called into question a few years ago, when Sean Gallagher made a virtue of not using roadside posters for the duration of his presidential campaign in 2011. Mr Gallagher called them a huge waste of taxpayer’s money, and said they littered the countryside and damaged the environment.

He also argued there were other ways of getting a candidate’s message across in the era of mass communication. “There are many outlets in which we can communicate our message without plastering unsightly posters on every telegraph pole in our cities, towns and rural areas,” he said at the time.

Ditching the posters – although there were some in windows and on bins – didn’t do Mr Gallagher any harm: he finished second after stuttering in the final stages of the campaign, especially in the now infamous Frontline debate on RTÉ. Michael D Higgins, the eventual winner, didn’t agree with Gallagher. Having fought many campaigns, Michael D said he knew the importance of posters.

As Mr Gallagher himself acknowledged, there are very few candidates in a presidential campaign, and all get huge exposure on national and local media platforms.

Unknown
It is different altogether for Dáil elections, and particularly local elections, when some candidates are completely unknown to people in their constituencies and local electoral areas.

How many of us know every candidate standing for the council in our areas? Yet the posters we’ll see over the next few weeks will, in many cases, act as an introductory handshake between candidate and voter.

“It introduces the candidate to a lot of people, it starts the conversation about the election, and there’s no getting away from them, they’re in your face,” says Clare TD Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fáil’s director of elections.

And while the rush to put up posters can be as much about a morale boost for activists, there is a logic in attempting to secure the best spots in cities and towns, at the busiest traffic lights and junctions.