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What is Snapshot? Introducing our new monthly poll designed to track public sentiment

Since data collection for Snapshot began in July last year we have seen stories come and go, concerns rise and fall. With Snapshot the only constant will be change

The attention economy has never been more competitive. Messages need to cut through the media clutter of news, information and entertainment to which consumers are exposed every day.

Politicians also need to compete in the attention economy so their ideas and actions get noticed. What citizens pay attention to has obvious implications for both policy development and political success.

This month The Irish Times and Ipsos B&A introduce Snapshot, our monthly attention poll designed to track which Government messages are cutting through. The question we ask is simple: What have you come across in what the Government has said or done recently that has made you think the country is going in the right or wrong direction?

This question is asked of 1,000 citizens each month. All those aged 15 years and upwards are eligible to participate. Interviewing is conducted by phone, using random digit dialling of both mobile and landline numbers, in order to achieve a nationally representative sample of the population. Corrective weights are applied at the analysis stage to fully align the sample with the known population profile of Irish adults aged 15 years and upwards. Fieldwork for the January wave of Snapshot was conducted between January 10th and January 18th.


Answer categories are not pre-defined, allowing for the issues that citizens are focused on to surface naturally. All responses are recorded verbatim and without prompting. The result is a highly dynamic dataset mirroring the ebb and flow of communications from and about Government. At the analysis stage responses are also allocated to answer categories to facilitate quantification and tracking of key themes.

What Snapshot does not measure is how important each issue is to citizens as the question asks citizens what they have noticed, not what matters most to them. We probably pay more attention to messaging on issues that matter to us but this is not always the case.

Snapshot does not record everything that gets our attention, only the first thing that comes to mind. It recognises that our attention has limits, like the amount of space on the front page of a newspaper or the length of time available to scroll through news items on our phones.

“Controlling the narrative” is a phrase we hear a lot. Snapshot tells us what the narrative is.

How Snapshot registered and tracked the November riots in Dublin is illustrative of the poll’s ability to map the attention profile of citizens in real time. From a very low base crime and the Garda exploded as an issue in December, only to fade quickly into the background as immigration moved front and centre.

Prior to Budget 2024 on October 10th, Snapshot tracked the rise of cost-of-living concerns, peaking at 17 per cent of mentions in September. The budget shifted the discussion towards spending, education and social policy, which all attracted above-average mentions during October and November, before reverting to more typical levels in December – budget announcements allow the Government to control the narrative, but for a limited time only.

Sentiment analysis is also performed on all comments, with each comment categorised as positive, neutral or negative. This sentiment analysis allows an assessment to be made on whether the Government is winning or losing on a particular issue.

Snapshot captures the issues that citizens are taking notice of. As the name suggests it is a highly dynamic measure, sensitive to changes in the public discourse. Since data collection for Snapshot began in July last year we have seen stories come and go, concerns rise and fall. With Snapshot the only constant will be change.

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