The Referendum Commission’s report on the Seanad and Court of Appeal referendums was published just before Christmas (and can be read here). There is also an accompanying powerpoint file (here) that purports to be a research report carried out for the Commission by Behaviour & Attitudes. (Sorry: but in my book, a ‘research report’ needs to be a bit more than a series of powerpoint slides, and certainly more than the simplistic descriptive analysis presented here.)
The Commission is right to point out the limitations in its role due to its temporary nature (it ceases to exist once its report has been submitted). It is good to see that one of its recommendations (in the Foreword to the report) is that the government should consider replacing it with a permanent Electoral Commission – something that has been called for on numerous occasions on this Blog, and promised by the government in its Programme for Government. We can only wait and hope on this one!
In its report the Commission makes much of its efforts to communicate the main issues across a range of traditional and new media. Others may wish to comment on the effectiveness of this (e.g. having checked their twitter account I note a grand total of 58 tweets and less than 800 followers).
The main issue I want to note here is the lack of attention to proper research. The usual reliance on a post-hoc survey of voter attitudes simply doesn’t cut it (Noel Whelan does an excellent job in showing why here). What is needed is survey research done in ‘real time’ throughout the campaign. Otherwise the Commission is flying blind. It might like to think that it mounted an ‘effective’ media campaign; but we really can’t know for sure from a post-hoc voter recall survey.
It’s not as if the Commission lacked resources. It transpires that of the €3.3m budget allocated to them, they are returning €900,000 unspent. Their ‘value for money’ aims may seem laudable in the current climate, but at the cost of informing ourselves properly about the evident shortcomings in our referendum process?
For that matter, why was there no opportunity for outsiders to bid to carry out the little research that was done? Towards the end of the report, the Commission notes its procurement policy; but curiously nothing is said about the tendering process for the market research component.