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If you’re shocked to learn that conspiracy theories are gaining traction, you’re in a bubble

Finding that a third of respondents believed it was definitely or probably true that a ‘small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major decisions in world politics’ should dent some general complacency

The decoding of the referendum results got a fresh rush of energy with the publication of the Electoral Commission’s exit survey.

If you believed the wording and purpose of the referendums were fudged, or that people with disabilities were patronised and voiceless or that the Government made a complete hames of it, well the old news is that most people thought so too. Much of the No vote was a rational reaction to all of the above (as you may have read here before).

But the continuing effort to suggest we should just move along and there’s nothing more to see here is striking.

Observe the remarkable gulf in the No vote between self-declared Sinn Féin/Independent voters and all the other parties. More than two-thirds of likely Sinn Féin voters said No to both referendums – and that was only exceeded by the percentage of Nos from Independents. For context, the next highest percentage of a party No was Fianna Fáil’s at 53 per cent.


If just 43 per cent of No voters said they were dissatisfied with the wording, vagueness or lack of information, where did the rest of the massive opposition from Sinn Féin and Independent supporters come from?

Was it a protest vote? Apparently not. That was no more than 7 per cent.

The fact that more than half of voters said they had a middling understanding of the issues involved could be interpreted as good or bad, until people were asked to answer true or false to the question, “the family amendment would mean different types of families would have the same Constitutional rights and protections”. More than 90 per cent of the Yes vote but just 59 per cent of the No vote answered true (correctly, according to the commission). That a true or false question would provoke a 30 per cent plus divergence surely deserves further scrutiny.

The number who saw “no need for change” or “don’t agree with [the proposals]” was also substantial. Seventeen per cent may be easy to dismiss in an avalanche but it ranked in the top three reasons for a No vote.

By contrast, the steam behind much of the campaign froth such as the nature of a “durable relationship” (see the throuple jokes) and the notion of erasing woman/mother from the Constitution seemed to trouble very few in the end.

Recall the expensive parade of posters funded by Senator Sharon Keogan with the messages, “Don’t Cancel Women” and “Don’t Force Mothers Out to Work”, which the Electoral Commission politely deemed a “factual misrepresentation” of the proposals.

We know the push from Keogan and company worked. That’s because a whopping third of No voters surveyed said they believed the (false) claim that any change would erase women from the Constitution. Yet just six in 100 No voters said their vote was “to protect the role of mother/women” and 5 per cent of Nos gave the vagueness about durable relationships as the reason. Can anyone reconcile those positions?

The commission drew a few of those threads together in other questions about women’s work and men’s domestic responsibilities.

More than a third of No voters felt “all in all, family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job”; that was 12–13 per cent more than Yes voters. Yet a stunning 90 per cent plus on both sides agreed that men should take as much responsibility as women for home and children. The Men for Mammies activists are surely on the case.

The commission’s open question about immigrants – are they good for Ireland’s economy? – had further encouraging intimations. Up to 58 per cent of the No side agreed, though they were still 20 per cent behind the Yes side on a question with a straight line to our chronically understaffed hospitals, care homes, retail and hospitality sectors.

And despite the signs that voters took their information from (mainly) creditable sources such as TV/radio (83 per cent), newspapers and news sites (69 per cent) as well as the commission itself (67 per cent), it also emerged that vast numbers relied for information from social media (50 per cent) and online video sites (41 per cent).

For anyone who spends even minimal time on the outer reaches of the last two, the attitudes to conspiracy theories would not have been astonishing. That a third of respondents believed it was definitely or probably true that a “small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major decisions in world politics” and another 20 per cent weren’t sure, should dent some general complacency. It suggests at least that the commission might use more trenchant means to deal with campaigning groups who disseminate blatant distortions or falsehoods.

The survey is a clear warning that Leinster House is only one of many bubbles. The evidence of a big “shy” No vote is in the survey. Though reassuringly large, the No vote was, by the commission’s own admission, underrepresented across all regions. The only explanation was that No voters were more likely to refuse to participate in the survey than the Yes side. The inevitable inference is that the No side – whatever it comprises – would have been an even higher proportion of the votes and attitudes cited above.

Add to all that the fact that two million of the 3.5 million electorate didn’t vote. There’s a lot more to see here. Pity the pollsters.