The Programme for Government contains a number of commitments which are likely to require constitutional referendums to take place over the lifetime of the current Government including those that may arise under the aegis of the proposed constitutional convention.
In November 2011, following the outcome of the Referendum to provide stronger inquiry powers to the Oireachtas, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issued an invitation to tender for “research to obtain information and feedback from the electorate to assist in informing and advising planning for future constitutional referendums”.
The purpose of the research was to obtain both quantitative and qualitative information to cast light on the determinants of voter behaviour in the Referendum on Oireachtas inquiries with a view to learning lessons for future referendum campaigns to ensure that voters are appropriately informed and aware of the relevant issues.
In this context, it was considered important to examine:-
- the underlying factors which influenced the attitudes of the electorate to the proposal
- the specific issues and concerns raised in the course of public debate on the impact of the proposal which underpinned the loss in support evidenced for it
- the public’s perception and assessment of the quality and utility of the information available on the Referendum and views on how this might be enhanced in the future
The subsequent contract was awarded to a Research Team comprising the opinion poll company Red C and a number of political scientists from TCD and UCC. The research included a quantitative study which consisted of 1005 interviews with adults aged 18+ conducted between the 28th and 30th November 2011 and qualitative research which comprised of four focus groups conducted in Kilkenny and Dublin on 1st and 5th December 2011. The total cost of the project amounted to €41,043 (inclusive of VAT of €7,123).
The Minister, in commissioning this research, was mindful of the significant direct and indirect costs of running referendums and the need to ensure, from a Value-for-Money (VfM) perspective, that the information campaigns and engagement with voters are as effective as possible, and that voters have a reasonable opportunity to assess the issue(s) under consideration.
To this end the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform expects that results of this research will help inform and guide planning for future referendums, including the design of information and communication strategies and public awareness campaigns. Lessons drawn from this research on voter behaviour will assist in ensuring that in the future conduct of referendums resources are effectively managed, and referendum issues are assessed and communicated in the most effective way possible.
The results of the research have been published here on the Department’s website following their presentation by the research team to and discussion with the Oireachtas Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions 22 February 2012.