John Rainsford

Are Fine Gael profiling the electors?

This article was posted on Friday, 21st October 2011

The Irish presidential election is coming up soon, and as per usual, there are many candidates vying for the all important position of President. I can't really say that I particularly like any of them enough to sway my voting decision, but I'll worry about that closer to election day.

Fine Gael, an Irish political party, have a candidate for election, Mr. Gay Mitchell, and one thing that has been apparent since the party's successful 2011 election campaign, is the effort and extent to which they go in their election campaigns (seems to dwarf their actual work when elected). From a design perspective, there are a lot of similarities in their campaign with the Obama '08 campaign (not just Enda Kenny's aping of a certain speech).

During election campaigns, there are large posters erected all over the country for each candidate. My interest in Fine Gael's election campaign was piqued when I heard rumours that there were two varieties of the Fine Gael election poster: in the cities and large towns, Mr. Mitchell was sharply dressed in a suit and tie and in the rural areas, he was dressed in more casual clothing, stereotypical of members of the farming/rural community. I haven't seen this, so I didn't pay much heed to the rumours.

However, I was visiting my homeplace and I saw a slew of election pamplets, sent through the mail, for a few members of my family. The information, names and addresses, is obtained from the nationwide Register of Electors. I do not know what other information is available on it. Looking at the pamphlets, I noticed a variation and I saw an apparent correlation with the variations and the people who received them.

Mixed Messages

Shown below are the fronts of three pamphlets, the content on the other side changes per pamphlet, which I've noted below the images- I've only reproduced the piece that changes- the rest is the usual fluff.

Serious Gay

Blue pamphlet

Text on the back-

KNOWING WHO WE ARE - Gay Mitchell was born in Dublin, in 1951, the second youngest of 10 children. His father died when he was just five, leaving his 47 year old mother Eileen, a widow. Despite the hardship, Gay recalls a happy childhood. "We were taught that everything was possible, with hard work. Education is a priority. As a young man, I volunteered with the St. Vincent de Paul, and took great pride in helping my local community and my country. As president, I will work to reinvigorate the spirit of volunteerism that we have lost during the economic crisis and help to develop a deeper sense of community across the country."

This was sent to my father, a business owner and in his 50s. See how Mitchell is dressed in a nice suit of muted colours, cocky grin on his face. The background is a blurry street scene, think 'Brunch in Wall Street'. This man means business. The text on the back reinforces Mr. Mitchell's age and background, a tough one, but as he says, with hard work he will prevail. Some of the values that could be appreciated by the apparent profile, that my father fits in, are hard work, education and volunteerism.

Friendly Gay

Yellow pamphlet

Text on the back-

WHY GAY? - The next president will play a very important role in influencing the mood of the nation - restoring Ireland's economy as well as building a new foundation for our society.
"I have the experience, energy and a real plan for a new Presidency. There is more to a just society than simply economic stability, although that is very important. We need to rediscover the joy of being part of a community of people, where every citizen is valued and cherished. The President of Ireland must lead that change."

This was sent to my mother, the matriarchal figure of a household. See how he's now looking directly at the camera, his eyebrows saying 'vote for me, you can trust me'. He's wearing a nice red tie and blue shirt (Fine Gael love blue shirts). They bring out his rosy cheeks. Check out the background, he's in someone's garden, maybe yours. He's the guy staring at you through the kitchen window, while you're preparing the dinner at the sink.

The text is all about community, it does briefly mention the economy, but the focus of this pamphlet is not on money, it's reinforcing the fact that 'every citizen is valued and cherished'. I wonder what they are implying about the self-worth of the person they are targeting.

Man-of-the-people Gay

Green Pamphlet

Text on the back-

A RECORD OF HARD WORK - Ireland needs someone with experience to communicate our economic recovery abroad and expand our reputation. As a TD for 26 years and a member of the European Parliament for the past 7, Gay has experience making connections and being an ambassador for our country.
"As president, I will use my experience to help the Government bring foreign investment, especially from America and Asia, to get us out of the financial crisis and create more jobs. I will also do everything I can to foster and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of our people at home."

This was sent to my two sisters, ladies in their thirties. The clothing is more casual- he has kept the tie- the President is a serious job. He's wearing his raincoat because he doesn't mind braving the harsh times we face in the economy. The background is busy with people and a tractor. We live in a rural area, we obviously identify with tractors. This man will get down and rub shoulders with the people, especially 'you people'.

The text tells a similar story- all about hard work, not just in Ireland, but also abroad. I take that this pamphlet is targeted at a group of people prone to emigrate, people who are in their working prime of their twenties and thirties and maybe forties.

DISCLAIMER

I do not have any inside knowledge of the Fine Gael campaign. I could, very easily, be speculating on a coincidental situation. However, it's an unusual coincidence, if it is one.

I must also state that I am more fascinated, than anything else, with the idea that Fine Gael would try this. If they did, I'd love to know how they profiled people to send a specific version of their pamphlet. After a quick search, I found this Irish Times article, which notices the three variations (unique to Fine Gael in this campaign) and says
It is not clear if the leaflets are being targeted at different types of voters or if they are being sent at random. A campaign spokesman said a variation in literature was “common”.

I'm going to go a little bit deeper and see what information is available from the Register of Electors. I think a simple profiling system would only need age, gender and maybe occupation, to work.

If Fine Gael did attempt a targeted, profiling approach to campaigning, I do feel, in my humble opinion, that they have crossed the line. I hate the thought of being profiled, it does not inspire trust and I'd feel patronised- give me the same message as everyone else, I'm capable of making up my own mind.

If you have any knowledge of whether there was profiling done or noticed a similar situation in your household regarding the material you received, please let me know and I'll post some follow-up.

Article postscript on Tuesday, 25th October 2011

I wrote a follow up, check it out!

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