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The main parties and independents are represented by well-known faces.
the Euros

Ireland has a new crop of 'celebrity candidates' - but what do people think of voting for them?

According to a new poll, most voters prefer candiates with political experience.

DESPITE THE APPROACHING European elections throwing up a fresh crop of so-called ‘celebrity candidates’, most voters would prefer to vote for a candidate with political experience.

That’s according to a new The Journal/Ireland Thinks poll which found that 55% would be more likely to vote for someone with political experience, compared to 28% saying they want someone from a different field and 16% saying they were not sure. 

Ireland has a history of electing well-known faces from outside the political fold to the European Parliament, with some of the major parties embracing the trend as a potential easy route to name recognition. 

In the past, former Eurovision winner and presidential candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon was elected as an Independent in 1999. Five years later, former RTÉ journalist and presenter Mairead McGuinness was elected to Europe, this time as a Fine Gael candidate. 

McGuinness has gone on to be re-elected on three occasions before being appointed to the European Commission in 2020. 

In many ways it’s unsurprising that the European Parliament elections attract candidates with an existing public profile.

The size of the constituencies involved, which stretches to 14 counties in the case of Midlands North-West, make canvassing in person a lot more difficult. 

This means that name recognition is crucial for candidates to secure the votes required to be elected. Depending on the constituency, a quota could be upwards of 100,000 votes. 

One shortcut to name recognition on a ballot paper is being known to the public already and this leads to a good chunk of well-known, non-political candidates putting themselves forward. 

This election is no different, with at least seven people who might broadly be categorised as ‘celebrity candidates’.

Perhaps chief among them is another former RTÉ convert in the former of Ciarán Mullooly, who’s running for Independent Ireland in Midlands North-West. 

Joining him from the celebrity ranks in the constituency is sitting MEP and former Rose of Tralee winner Maria Walsh, with Fine Gael seeking to repeat the trick with former jockey and TV personality Nina Carberry also on the ballot there.  

Fine Gael has been the most avid adopter of the celebrity candidate model, with former GAA president Seán Kelly running for a fourth stint in Brussels. 

Elsewhere, Fianna Fáil is trying to get in on the act with former RTÉ journalist and Eurovision host Cynthia Ní Mhurchú running in Ireland South.

In Dublin, broadcaster Niall Boylan is running for Independent Ireland, having had to leave his Classic Hits radio show as a result

How many of the new intake of celebrity politicians are actually elected remains to be seen, but the poll does point to certain voters and sections of society being more amenable to it. 

For example, younger people are more likely to be open to a candidate coming from outside the political sphere. Just over a third (34%) of 18-34 year-olds would be open to a candidate from outside of politics, this is compared to just 19% of people aged 65 or older. 

Regionally there is not much deviation, but the results for voters from different parties is interesting, especially considering how the celebrity candidate model has been used by some of the main parties. 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voters polled identitically in favouring political experience, with 80% of both saying that it mattered to them and only 11% saying they would vote for someone of a non-political background. 

This would seem inconsistent with the electoral success of some celebrity candidates mentioned, but perhaps there is an element among Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voters that a celebrity candidate is ‘legitimised’ when they receive party backing. 

Perhaps unsurprinsly, the cohort that is far and away most open to candidates from outside of politics was Independent voters. 

Twice the number of Independent voters polled said they would actually prefer a non-political candidate (58%) than someone with a political background (29%)

The party base with the most enthusiasm for candidates with political experience was the Labour party, with a huge 87% saying they wanted such a background, and only 3% saying they would consider someone without it. 

Sinn Féin voters were more evenly split but 46% favoured political experience in a candidate compared to 35% who favoured someone from a different field and 19% saying they were not sure.

***

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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