My thoughts on how @yesequality2015 won #MarRef so convincingly

These are early thoughts only. They are some crude (and at times rambling) musings penned on the morning after the night before, but it is based on reviewing some notes put together back in late February for the Yes Equality campaign.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are four key elements which I see as essential to the success of the Yes Equality ground and air campaigns. My analysis, though that is an over glorified to describe this, is confined to the campaign tactics and machinery. I am primarily looking at this as a campaign, but that is not to dismiss the importance of the arguments and the justice of the cause.

This was an appeal to the basic fairness of Irish voters

This, I believe, was the key campaign narrative. The campaign was underpinned by the belief that Irish people are fair minded. Ireland and her people are welcoming and confident.  This vote was simply about making the laws reflect that reality. By voting yes people were just voting to give gay people what everyone one else already had – to do otherwise would be fundamentally unfair. This was at the core of message powerfully delivered by former President Mary McAleese and former Commissioner Marie Geoghegan-Quinn.

The battleground in this campaign were the soft Yes voters, identified in the polls. The goal was to have a campaign which appealed to these voters that was polite; but not a timid. These were the people who feel good telling pollsters that they are ready to vote YES. The Yes side needed to re-assure them that their instinct was right and that they are right to vote YES. The main effort, via ground campaign and air campaign in the months of March, April and May was to stop these well-disposed voters from straying.

This was not a battle between liberalism and conservatism.leaders

To keep the soft Yes voters and to emphasise the basic fairness argument the campaign could not and must not be about “dragging Ireland into the 21st century”. Neither could it be portrayed as just another element in some constitutional crusade.

This was a stand alone campaign for marriage equality. As such it was campaigning for marriage. The Yes side wanted to see marriage remain as a fundamental institution in our national life, it recognised that society benefits from having more strong marriages – these are quintessentially conservative values. Though I was loathe to quote David Cameron in any of the briefing material I produced, his observation:

         “I support gay marriage not despite the fact that I am conservative, but because I am conservative”

was a powerful message

The purpose of the campaign was to get 50% +1 of those who turn out in May to vote Yes. It was NOT about being proven right or correcting the political wrongs of the past: it was about informing a decision what was as much emotional as it was rational. The aim was to make it feel good to Vote Yes. For that reason the core Yes campaign avoided criticizing members of the ‘No’ camp for their deeply held views on morality, but it was firm in identifying where the No side was raising baseless fears to deliberately mislead and confuse voters.

Making the Yes campaign a popular, mass campaign

One of the first rules I learned on getting involved in politics was:  “a vote worth getting is worth asking for”

The Yes campaign showed how true that adage is today, even in an age of social media and communications technology. The Yes campaign was determined to make sure it stretched into every community and town land across the country, and boy did they make that happen. While the emergence and organisation of Yes Equality campaign teams across the country was facilitated through the use of a range of platforms: Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc. those teams practised traditional campaigning methods like door to door canvassing and leafleting. DBS

This ensured that the naysayers could not dismiss the Yes campaign as just the efforts of a Dublin 4/meeja elite – well, it actually didn’t stop them from trying to do that, it just exposed how stupid they looked when they tried.

The Yes campaign mobilised and energised soft yes voters with a dynamic, youthful (though not exclusively) and enthusiastic ground campaign which was manned by people in their own communities who were part of that community and who looked and sounded like their own communities.

One final and personal observation on this point. Back in 2013 (I think) Marriage Equality produced an an extremely powerful pre-campaign online advert which showed a guy going door to door to ask permission to marry the person he loved. It pointed out just how unfair and unjust it was that a small section of our society needed to get the permission of the majority to exercise a simple and basic right. In my opinion the real effectiveness of the Yes equality ground campaign was that so many 1000s of other people: mothers/brothers, gay straight, young/old joined with him on that difficult canvas which perhaps is why it had such resonance across the county

Not allowing the vote to be used to kick the Government.

Back in 2012 Minister Leo Varadkar opined that he did not think referendums were “very democratic”. He was not all that wrong. Many referendums on complex and what the Americans might call “beltway” issues have been turned into votes on how the Government is performing at the time, particularly when there are low turnouts.

It was vital for the Yes Equality campaign that the referendum not be hijacked and turned into a test of the Government’s popularity – especially when the Government parties were not exactly at the peak of their popularity. Yes Equality was very effective in getting across the message that the issue was far too important and personal. They did this via the three points above, but the active involvement of the opposition parties was also essential. Yes Equality’s political director Tiernan Brady was pivotal to this.

Though the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the party’s Justice Spokesperson Niall Collins were both very strong and convincing Yes campaigners, it was the active campaigning by parties and groups such as Sinn Féin, PBP and AAA and independents like Catherine Murphy that helped stop the vote turning into a public judgement on the Irish water/Siteserv debacle.

They could campaign on the basis that people vote for equality this year and defer their anger on austerity etc until the next general election. Though I would not claim the AAA poster pictured left was a “game-changer”, it does makes the point well and demonstrates the thinking and strategy behind the AAA’s Marriage Equality campaign. I do wonder what was going through the mind of the person who designed the AAA’s other Yes poster though.

…and there you have it….

The list above it not intended as a definitive analysis.

I haven’t touched on the effectiveness and scope of the Yes Equality Social Media campaign or its superb marketing and branding campaign (look at the number of YES and TÁ badges to be found on the lapels of people in the run up to the vote.

Nor have I gone into detail on Yes Equality mobilising non typical influencers across the campaign. While the No campaign was populated for the most part by people who you expected to be No, the Yes campaign looked to reach beyond its immediate cohort (and beyond Dublin) and attracted a range of important interventions by people such as former President Mary McAleese, former Commissioner Marie Geoghegan-Quinn, Donegal Gaelic footballer Eamon McGee, Daniel O’Donnell, Robbie Keane, Brian O’Driscoll.

Neither have I looked at the strategic flaws and failed narrative of the No campaign…. mmmh… come to think of I might go off, make a pot of tea and start work on that piece.

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  • Jag

    The €10m-odd that Altantic Philanthropies (the foundation created by Irish billionaire Chuck Feeney who made his money in duty free operations), donated in the past decade to Irish-based groups who feature marriage equality in their aims, probably didn’t do any harm either. It contrasts with the threadbare funding of the “No” campaign – the Phoenix recently made claims about Iona’s funding and if it’s correct, it’s laughable that the main moneyman has been experiencing difficulties with his loans for much of the past 12 months.

    It would be cynical to say it was funding wot won it, but funding is relevant in all other votes, so why not this one?

  • Dan

    The same crowd who have bought off the politicians at Stormont………

  • chrisjones2

    It started in America!!! Thats a new excuse for the Church

  • NMS

    Broadly I agree with the points you are making, but the “No” side were on a hiding to nothing. Little coverage was available in the national papers, and only RTÉ split its time equally, though its coverage of celebrity endorsements as “news” items seemed strange. The funding differential in the two campaigns was also incredible.

    There was also a very clear involvement in the campaign by the US multi-nationals, which while not new, was much more widespread. I wonder whether this will be so welcome at the next General Election?

    I am not so sure about the role of the fringe left Trotskyite groups. The main success of the “Yes” campaign was to separate the issue from politics. This I think was far more important in obtaining votes outside of urban areas.

    Jag has referred to the activities of Mr Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies and you can easily understand why many Governments object to foreign “philanthropic” groups behaviour in their countries.

    Despite these points, I still think it would have passed, but would have been much closer. The key was the turn out for me.

  • notimetoshine

    I’d be interested to know the proportion of yes votes in each age group. Was this result carried by younger voters or was there a broad consensus among the different age groupings?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Those on the Yes side North of the Border will have to learn this, certainly not winning the argument attacking politicians and losing track of the positives of equal marriage in the process.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Yip some of that money is to pay off parties that either won’t pass equal marriage,and/or won’t legislate to get rid of designations and petitions of concern to make passing such a law easier.

  • John Toland

    The main strategic flaw of the No campaign was to present an idealised version of the family (mother, father, kids) as the only truly valid form of family. There are hundreds of thousands of families in Ireland that don’t conform to this vision and I think that many of them felt deeply insulted that their families were effectively downgraded by the No campaign.

  • PMC

    As the global drive for ‘gay rights’ advances, in order to satisfy the gay agenda, there’s a subtle aspect few have spotted, …
    if the traditional family unit is dismantled or weakened in any way then society as a whole will be much easier to control and manipulate. Call me a conspiracy nut if you wish, but there is such a thing as an Elite ruling entity in this world, that deeply resent any form of power being held by the common majority. The traditional family unit enables that power, in a natural and reliable way.

  • Granni Trixie

    In addition, the idealised version was on shaky foundations anyway as we now know more about domestic violence and sexual abuse within families.

  • Granni Trixie

    Resources can make a difference, yes, but note that all the money AA threw at groups in NI to promote a BOR hasn’t brought about the desired effect (Eye watering amounts – millions!).

    “Resources” ofcourse is not just of the money kind for in the south we saw people use their ‘social capital’ in the cause to effect. Mary McAleeses story is a good example of a symbol of the establishment who brought home to others the reality of a family situation. I’m sure people like her swayed the undecided to vote yes.

  • Jag

    If that theory were valid, then wouldn’t the elite ruling party clamp down on social media, which was responsible for the unlikely overthrow of regimes in north Africa. Seems the last decade, the elite ruling party has allowed the flourishing of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and blogging which form an unprecedented threat to their stature.

    There’s a alternative theory that some jurisdictions – Malaysia, Russia, some African countries – use anti-gay laws to control their supporters and suppress the opposition. The case of Anwar Ibrahim springs to mind, but Putin’s rhetoric against untraditional relationships also serves to stem any reform.

  • Jag

    I agree with you, and would say the personal stories of Ursula Halligan (54), Mary McAleese talking about her son, Tom Curran talking about his son and Pat Carey (65) and (and to a lesser extent, Leo Varadkar) did sway many.

    Too often, politicians speak in nebulous generalisms that sound great but are instantly forgettable and don’t make any serious impacts. The personal stories did, and I would say that they were pivotal to the “yes”.

    But still, the funding of any campaign is relevant, and it seems the “yes ” side had the lions-share of it.

  • damon

    The Yes campaign was made like an offer you can’t refuse. It was pitched so that you were either with the beautiful people, or with the bigots. Quite underhand really, but totally to be expected, as that’s how politics is done these days.
    I know one of my uncles in Ireland (who’s a bit old fashioned) didn’t vote and probably thought ”bah humbug” about the whole issue. What proportion of the 40% who didn’t vote were like that? Probably quit a lot.
    But it doesn’t matter greatly. There are plenty of businesses like the Belfast bakers, who still need to be smoked out and exposed though I’m sure. The campaign goes on. How about forcing all Orange Halls to allow gay weddings in them?
    Or making all the flute band members go on diversity courses? It would be the logical next step, because I fear many of those band members must be ”knuckle dragging dinosaurs” in their thinking.
    I thought that the idea of multiculturalism was that there were different cultures that didn’t necessarily understand each other but were free to do their own thing in peace.
    It seems like that’s not the case any more.

    It seems like LBGT activists will not stop complaining until no one can crack a joke about another culture they don’t really understand (or don’t respect greatly).
    A culture like the bath house gay subculture for example.

  • Gaygael

    Conspiracy theorist.
    Have you got a handy version of the gay agenda. I lost mine in the struggle for lot liberation.

  • Carl Mark

    that is truly frightening! got any proof.
    the problem is that if we look back at history, them many (most) of the society’s that were controlled and manipulated, Stalin, Adolf, most (if not all) racist and totalitarian regimes claimed to be standing for the “traditional family unit” does this include extended families or just nuclear families.
    The reason I ask is that the nuclear family is a fairly new (last 150 years or so) western development.

  • Carl Mark

    oh and by the way, you are a conspiracy nut!