The Sustainable Future of Election Campaigns: Can we enter a post-poster era?

WRITTEN BY Kate Burke

June 5, 2024

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The Sustainable Future of Election Campaigns: Can we enter a post-poster era?

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Sustainability

Kate Burke

5 Jun, 2024

Election posters for the upcoming local and European elections on June 7th have decorated our telephone posts, bus stops and basically any poll from which something can be festooned for over two weeks now, triggering familiar complaints from the public regarding the use and the number of election posters we see every election cycle.

Primary among these complaints is the rising concerns around the environmental impact of these election posters, and their accompanying flyers on doorsteps. Election posters are subject to tight regulation from county councils, and candidates who haven’t removed their posters within seven days after the election are fined €150, so thankfully, detritus associated with election posters has decreased a lot. However, election posters are made of corrugated plastic which, if not recycled or reused, will not decompose for almost 400 years.

However, from a political participation perspective, is it unrealistic to eliminate these posters completely, as unsightly and seemingly relentless as they may be? These posters, for many, herald in election seasons, and without which many would remain ignorant of the upcoming election and their constituencies’ candidates. Their prolific use and presence on Irish roads and streets is quite unique to our democracy and it is deeply ingrained in the Irish political psyche. Increasingly, climate change is on the ballot, and poor turnouts won’t spur change in Irish and European society. Those who are opposed to outright bans of election posters have argued that this would create an incumbency bias and make it much harder for new candidates to gain traction.

Although, these days, most election posters simply consist of the candidate’s face and party membership, this is vital in bolstering trust between candidates and the electorate. A study conducted by Luke Field and published by RTÉ demonstrates that areas which banned or highly discouraged election posters in 2020 had a lower voter turnout. This study’s results show that perhaps faces on poles in fact do influence the polls. This raises the associated concern that those candidates with good green intentions are perhaps putting themselves at a disadvantage if they opt out of the use of election posters; if others are doing it, many candidates feel the playing field is rendered uneven. Therefore, if change is to happen, it needs to be rolled out across all constituencies in the Republic of Ireland.

So, what changes can be made to make elections greener, without compromising a vibrant democracy?

Instead of multiple flyers and leaflets being left at doorways, there should be one leaflet which displays a photo and important points of each candidate, designed and issued by local authorities or government. In this way, there is a reduction in unnecessary paper waste and the electorate remains informed, in particular members of the electorate who may not engage with social media. Considering members of the electorate who may not be literate, a radio bulletin can be used for each candidate to speak about their central values and aims.

Many people feel that the repetition of candidate’s posters on the roads and streets is unnecessary and leads to election fatigue, so the number of posters per candidate in each area should be tightly restricted. In fact, if we look at how many of our European counterparts conduct election campaigns, they don’t have posters hanging off poles all across the country. Instead, they designate certain central locations in each area for all candidates to display their poster on one large board.

These areas could also be developed to help increase political participation: civil servants could be on hand to help register people to vote and to give impartial information about the candidates on the ballot and what each party represents. This is particularly important for migrants in Ireland who may need additional resources to aid in understanding elections and what is on the ballot.

Climate change and the environment are rightfully core points in the upcoming local and European elections; our candidate’s campaigns should match their environmental pledges.

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