General Election = General Confusion

Procrastination has become just another feature of my personality by now, but the only thing that has rivalled my college work this year in terms of just how much I have not been bothered to do it, is research on the upcoming General Elections. I had intended to watch the TV3 leaders debate to get an initial sense of things, but at the time it aired I actually happened to be speaking in another debate … about Harry Potter. My team won the debate, we all went to the student bar to celebrate by drinking pints on empty stomachs, and I forgot to set the leaders debate to record. Not the best start.

Not that watching a leaders debate is much help, as I discovered upon watching the one on RTÉ. I persevered through that shitshow for two irritating hours, only for them to totally ignore the issues of mental health, reproductive rights, public transport, the environment, animal welfare, the Irish language, apprenticeships, low-hour contracts, third-level fees and accommodation, among many others. Call me self-centered, but I was looking forward to hearing what the potential leaders of my country had to say about the issues that matter the most to me. This is obviously too much to ask – my bad.

And so I accepted reluctantly that it was time to do some independent research. I don’t know about other people my age, but this time last week I truly knew shit-all about party politics. A few weeks ago I thought I had to choose between every single candidate running for election in the country, not just the ones from my own constituency. I had general notions, of course, but I didn’t have much faith in these because I couldn’t back them up with my own findings. They were just general consensuses (that plural definitely seems wrong, but I’d have to be a huge knob to write ‘consensi’) that I had heard.

Thank fuck for SmartVote. This is a really, really helpful tool. You type in your constituency, answer 30 quick questions about your political views, and submit. The site then lists all the candidates from your constituency in order of ‘most compatible with your views’ to least. Not only does it do this, but if you expand an individual candidate’s profile, it will show their answer to each specific question and their reasoning for this answer.

Some problems I encountered with SmartVote:

  • Some candidates haven’t been interviewed. I had a score of 0 compatibility with a few independents, but this was just because their answers were left blank. Make sure you don’t write off anyone at the bottom of your list – look them up and find out what you can about their policies, they could easily end up being your favourite.
  • Also, candidates from parties haven’t been interviewed individually, but their party stances on each issue have been supplied instead. This is grand for most issues, but as I understand it, some parties have policies where they allow their members to vote independently on certain issues. I think this is Fine Gael’s approach to the abortion issue? Not 100% sure. In any case, SmartVote won’t be able to tell you the individual views of party members for issues like these.
  • Another problem: the coverage varies with each constituency. People from Dublin have seemed well impressed with the site, but friends from the West have told me that it provides barely any information on their independent candidates. It worked well for me, but may not for everyone.
  • Even if every candidate in your constituency has been interviewed, the results aren’t perfectly accurate. Please god don’t just look at your list and think ‘Grand, that’s the order I’m voting in then.’ Some of the questions are sticky and it’s difficult to know how to answer them. You might click ‘somewhat agree’ for one statement because you think the answer is variable or dependent on circumstance. A candidate with exactly the same view on the issue as you might answer with ‘somewhat disagree’ for the same reasons as you. This will come up in your results as a disagreement with the candidate. Expand their answer so you can see what they’re actually saying.

Despite the fact that I’ve just outlined a number of its flaws, SmartVote was a huge help to me for understanding all this stuff, and I highly recommend trying it out. I took that quiz a few nights ago and gathered as much information as I could. This made the whole thing seem way simpler and less confusing.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned so far that my constituency is Dublin South-West. My #1 candidate on SmartVote is Katherine Zappone (I got her both times I took the quiz). I’ve been familiar with Senator Zappone since early last year, from being involved with the Marriage Equality campaign. Of course, me being oblivious and ignorant to these things, I didn’t realise she was in my constituency until the election posters went up earlier this month. Apparently she’s been working in my area for 30 years and counting. Who knew?

Studying Senator Zappone’s policies made me really excited – we have such similar views! I should definitely give her my #1 vote! Right?

… Maybe not. There are the parties to consider too. From looking into all of this over the last few weeks, here’s where I stand:

  • AAA/PBP seem like they have pretty solid views, but also seem to spend most of their time and energy criticising the current government, rather than outlining their own intentions. Also, they just seem really… intense or something? They’re like, ‘Young people! Let’s start a political revolution! Fuck the system!’ It’s a bit Extra. Democratically voting in a slightly more progressive government doesn’t really seem like a political revolution to me. Also, don’t think I don’t see you clinging onto the water charges issue to get Tallaght votes, Paul Murphy. I see you. (Sure, it worked in the by-election, but maybe focus on some other issues now please.)
  • Fianna Fáil… actually I don’t know much about them, just that their leader looks like Voldemort and that John Lahart is pretty much an A-List celebrity in Rathfarnham. Also, my parents’ generation seem to think they single-handedly caused the Recession. Has everyone forgotten that it was a worldwide Recession and it was inevitable that we would be hit because, like, all of our trading partners were, too? I could definitely be wrong here – I think I was only 12 when the crash happened, I remember people in school asking my business teacher if the country was in a ‘Reception’ – and it’s definitely an over-simplistic view of things, but I would have thought the recovery was more important.
  • Ahh, Fine Gael and Labour. It makes me sad to have no faith in these parties, but I just… don’t. I don’t have much more to say on that, either.
  • Sinn Féin… actually do not seem that bad. Really. Sarah Holland is really impressive. But voting for Sinn Féin just before Easter in the centenary year of 1916 is just not something I’m going to do.
  • The Social Democrats seem really sound!… It’s a shame there are literally none of them running in my constituency. Oh well?
  • Who the fuck are Direct Democracy Ireland? Seriously. I have not heard them mentioned by one person I’ve talked to, or even in the media. Not at all. I think Stephen Sinclair and his beautiful moustache might be something I’ve hallucinated.
  • RENUA are the literal Antichrist.
  • Even though I’d pay Francis Duffy to let me take him to the barber, the Green Party have impressed me the most in my research. (Francis, if you’re reading this, I apologise, and thanks for following me back on Twitter, you seem like a sound bloke.) I quite happily sat and read their 60-page manifesto yesterday evening. I’ll be upfront: I don’t fully understand all the economic stuff. Doesn’t matter, my vote still counts the same as everyone else’s and I’m still allowed to be picky about which issues are red-line ones for me. Sorry adults! One or two things in the Green Party manifesto seem a bit dodgy – like the automatic assumption of organ donorship without prior consent? Come on now lads – but overall, reading it actually made me really excited. Their policies on health, education, the environment, society and culture seem really sound. They value women’s rights, the safety of LGBTQ+ kids, animal welfare and the Irish language. I like these lads, which is way more than I can say for any of the other parties I’m being asked to vote for.

I haven’t forgotten about the Independents. I think Katherine Zappone is fantastic. Deirde O’ Donovan is also very impressive. So is Joan Summerville Molloy, though I can’t find her stance on abortion anywhere. Peter Fitzpatrick is distractingly good-looking but there are a good few things on which we disagree. And I don’t know much at all about Kieran Adam-Quigley, Frank O’ Gorman, Declan Burke or Eamonn Maloney. They’re going to be my task for the next few days (because apparently I hate fun).

My main worry about voting for Independents is… what actually happens if they get seats? An Independent party seems contradictory to their entire thing, and I don’t see how it wouldn’t be driven into the ground by disagreements. And I wonder if Independent voices would get lost in a coalition. I haven’t been able to find these questions answered anywhere.

Additionally, I have no fucking clue how polling works. I know everyone is asking for my #1 vote, but does that mean I have to list a top 3, a top 10, or put every single candidate in my constituency in order of preference? I asked my parents – they can’t remember. I Googled it with like five different variations in my phrasing – couldn’t find anything. Helpful. Maybe it’s all supposed to be a big mystery, and that’s part of the fun?

This whole thing is so strange. My parents are even less informed than I am, and none of my college friends are in my constituency, so they are all facing different questions from me. With Marriage Equality, it was a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. A general election is infinitely more complicated, and research only makes me realise that I need to do more research.

So that’s what I’ll do. As much research as I can before next Friday. Hopefully I won’t end up regretting who I choose to vote for? I suppose we’ll see.