Opinion: Election posters are completely unnecessary for a 21st century election
30th Jan 2020
2020 sees the first general election of the decade — why are we still using (and abusing) election posters?
As we move into the final week before #GE2020, momentum has built and parties are throwing their efforts into securing last-minute votes. Between TV debates, news cycle gaffes, and sound-bite-friendly one-liners, there is plenty of material to inform the common voter’s decision — but one thing that isn’t swaying any votes is the posters on the streetlamp outside.
The Irish election poster is a funny art form. An awkwardly smiling candidate, a five-word (maximum) tagline that’s supposed to inspire you, and a logo of a political party that you may or may not know the policies of. The formula for success, it seems, that has been tried and tested — an election poster has not exactly acted as a blank canvas for creativity over the years.
You would imagine that this tired format that attacks voters’ eye line at every turn would have long been retired by now, in favour of online efforts to catch our attention. But while online political strides have been made, with less-than-perfect outcomes (cough, Cambridge Analytica, cough), the humble election poster still shows no signs of throwing in the towel.
Why do parties print thousands upon thousands of these plastic eyesores? One can only assume that their popularity is tied to the old cliché of ‘a face you can trust’, and that suspicious voters like to look their candidates in the cardboard eye before making a decision. But the question must be asked — has anyone in their entire life been unsure of who to vote for, saw a face on an election poster and said “yep, that’s the one for me” without a second thought?
I refuse to believe that these boring rectangles have any actual sway when it comes to general elections. Which leads me to ask — why are they still around?
In 2020, one would think that climate change would be a red line issue for every political party in a general election. In Ireland, we have consistently performed poorly on the carbon emissions front, and our position as the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita in the EU means that the next government will have to make some serious changes to our climate plans.
But in reality, climate change has disappointingly taken a back seat as we move towards GE2020. Public concerns about housing, the healthcare system, Brexit and the economy have taken precedence over the environment, and Ireland’s Green Party, who should have had a stellar year if we go by global attitudes to climate change, is still hovering at the 8% mark ahead of voting.
This lack of concern about the environment at a top-line level is no more apparent than in the sea of election posters across city streets. Most posters are made out of corrugated plastic, which, if improperly handled and not recycled, will stick around for at least 400 years. Factor in the cable ties, the emissions of transport to put them up, and the impact of creating them in the first place, and we’ve got an entirely unnecessary blight on the environment.
The information super-highway
While social media echo chambers and the dumpster fire that is Twitter political discourse are not your friends during election time, there is no denying the potential for good that the internet has in making a voting decision. We take for granted that we have access to all the information we could ever need about any subject.
A party’s complete manifesto, its history in the Dáíl, a candidate’s voting history and even quizzes to match you to a candidate to vote for is all a couple of clicks away. Surely, this wealth of information trumps a “we can do it” tagline on a tired poster on the street corner?
On a purely superficial level, election posters that show only a smiling face of a candidate, are, well, superficial. They show nothing of substance about this person who wants your vote — they seem to think that a curly blow-dry or a fresh shave will be enough to sway our minds.
Are we so shallow that we would rather a candidate that is easy on the eye than one who genuinely cares about politics? I would say no, but the obsession with posters says otherwise. With election posters being such a focus for parties’ efforts, I can only imagine the pressure put on candidates to look their best to shoot them.
How to look friendly, yet tough? Approachable, but able to get the job done? Can have the craic, but never on company time? And the conversation about how this election-ready look puts disproportionate pressure on women (more make-up, bigger blow-drys) is one that deserves an entirely separate piece.
So, in 2020, are we sure that election posters are money well spent? I’d argue that that money, if spent instead on community outreach, public meetings and tangible political work, would be worth its weight in election posters.
Read more: ‘I’ve officially been squeezed out of the Dublin rent rat race. I’m moving an hour and a half away’
Read more: 9 questions you should ask candidates ahead of the General Election
Read more: Go green in 2020: easy ways to cut back on plastic waste this year
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