On Friday 25th May there is a referendum in Ireland on whether to repeal a constitutional amendment which states that a foetus has an equal right to life as its mother.
The ‘No’ campaign are pro-life and seek to preserve the 8th Amendment, the Yes campaign are pro-choice and are hoping to repeal it.
The polls and the bookies have favoured the Yes campaign since the day the referendum was announced, but there’s 5 reasons why the result is not a foregone conclusion.
1/ Some key demographic factors favour No
The younger, more affluent, more educated and urban the voter, the more likely he or she is to vote Yes.
The older, more rural, more religious, less educated and less well-off are more likely to vote No.
In the 2016 Irish census 78.3% of the population identified as Catholic.
Ireland’s population is one of most rural in the EU; rural dwellers account for 42% of the population (compared to an average of 27% in EU and 12% in Britain).
And whilst the Irish population is young (average age 37) one recent poll found that 22% of those aged 18-29 were not registered to vote.
2/ The chances of polling errors are high
YouGov have found that those who don’t feel comfortable talking about abortion in public are also more likely to oppose changing the law; that means there’s a high chance the undecideds will break for ‘No’.
On top of this, the media bubble is heavily pro-choice and so there is also a possibility of groupthink affecting pollsters’ calculations.
3/ The trend line is with No
One thing pollsters do tend to accurately pick up, even when they call the final result wrong, is the overall trend.
The trend shows that the No campaign is in the ascendancy. One poll this week showed Yes down 3 points in the last 3 weeks and No up 4 points.
There hasn’t been one poll in recent weeks showing Yes increasing their share.
It’s also worth noting that in the 10 days leading up to the marriage referendum in Ireland in 2015, the Yes vote dropped by eight points. There’s still 5 days to go until polling day.
4/ The Yes campaign is clever and polished, the No campaign is emotional and rugged
The two main broadcast advertising executions that the Yes campaign have run are strategically interesting and cleverly copywritten.
The first advert doesn’t try to change your mind about whether abortion is ever morally justified; it strategically side steps the difficult emotional argument and instead reframes the debate.
The headline makes the case that deciding whether or not to have an abortion is a deeply private choice and – because of the very personal nature of it – the government shouldn’t be making it on behalf of its citizens.
The copy is very elegant, the art direction is simple and evokes a sense of optimism. In short, it’s everything that the urban, educated, liberal audience want in an advert.
The second execution focuses on voters who are unlikely to ever have to decide on whether or not to have an abortion; for example more elderly women and all men.
Again, this is strategically smart.
People less likely to be directly impacted by the issue are less likely to vote; if the Yes campaign can get those who are likely to support them – but less likely to bother voting – off the sofa on polling day they can expect to do well.
The pithy creative execution asks such voters to vote on behalf of someone who may want or have to make the difficult choice to one day have an abortion.
The No campaign have meanwhile been running deeply emotional adverts.
A series of executions defend the human rights of unborn disabled babies.
Others speak to man’s desire to be seen as a protector.
Many evoke a sense of nationalism by reminding voters that the British have legalised abortion.
The copy is less nuanced and the art direction is often botched, but one could argue that this “untouched by the hands of slick marketeers” feel makes them more likely to resonate culturally with the majority of voters.
And when there’s a battle between a raw, emotional campaign and a well-argued rational one, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest which one will win.
5/ Soft Yes voters are an easy target for the No campaign
The Irish government have said that if Yes win the referendum they will try and legislate to allow abortions up to 12 weeks.
One poll showed that 47% of those who wanted to change the law felt this “goes too far”.
The No campaign can therefore appeal to not only those who oppose abortion, but also to those that are pro-choice but who would opt for a shorter time limit.
The time-limit detail might also allow those who culturally identify with Yes voters on most issues – but who are on the fence on abortion – to justify to themselves either not voting or voting No.