Belfast Telegraph

Being well known – An important factor for Northern Ireland's politicians

By Bill White

Familiarity, being well known, being what’s known as a big name, is a reputation that nearly all politicians aspire to.

But how important is this for politicians? Is it necessary to be a ‘big name’ to succeed in politics?

LucidTalk included a ‘familiarity’ question, as part of their last NI-Wide LucidTalk-Belfast Telegraph poll-project in November 2012.

Our question asked interviewees to name (if they could) five Northern Ireland Executive Ministers (apart from the First Minister and deputy First Minister).

All names mentioned by our poll participants were noted, even those names that weren’t actually current ministers in the Executive.

At the end of the poll-project, the final totals were calculated. The poll-project involved over 1,200 interviews and results for this specific ‘familiarity’ question, in terms of the number of ‘mentions’, were as follows:

As would be expected with a question of this sort there were other names mentioned, even though they weren’t Ministers in the NI Executive.

LucidTalk interviewers again also noted these names, and calculated the applicable scores in terms of number of ‘mentions’ as follows:

Not surprisingly, Sammy Wilson came top of our ‘familiarity’ poll. He has a good media presence, manages issues which attract media attention (as money issues always do), but crucially the familiarity poll shows that, to a certain extent, people must also enjoy watching, listening to, and meeting with him.

Arlene Foster also scores highly, again probably because of her media presence and the fact that she is Minster for Enterprise, Trade, and Investment, which naturally attracts a lot of media attention in terms of job creation and job losses, particularly in a recessionary environment.

We also see that John O’Dowd scored a high familiarity rating. This should be re-assuring to Sinn Fein, who in terms of opinion polls in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic, has shown a weakness in attracting female voters, which is a trend that has been showing for some time.

It should be noted that non-support from women for Sinn Fein in the Republic of Ireland is even more pronounced than in Northern Ireland. As such, getting their politicians better known and ‘liked’ will be a factor in improving Sinn Fein’s support among women.

David Ford and Caral Ni Chuilin also scored highly, which again shows that the key issues of justice and culture are still important within the political environment, perhaps because they periodically throw up contentious arguments which attract media analysis and attention.

Finally, to be fair to the two junior ministers in the OFMDFM department, they scored less than their other ministerial colleagues probably because they’re understandably overshadowed by the First Minister and deputy First Minister in terms of media presence.

Scoring well in a ‘familiarity’ poll, indicates that the politician has probably been prominent in the media, perhaps also on social media, and may also have been recently involved with issues that attract a lot of publicity and media attention.

Naomi Long may be a good example in terms of being prominent in the media, as the above polling was taken around the time the Belfast City Council ‘flags dispute’ was starting.

However, it’s not only media presence that counts, as ‘familiarity’ scores can also be built-up by contacting a lot of people individually face-to-face perhaps through constituency work, and perhaps being active in a lot of organisations related to politics such as voluntary organisations.

Sylvia Hermon may be a good example of this in terms of her on-the-ground work in her own North Down constituency, and this is probably the reason she features in the above list.

However, in terms of this personal face-to-face contact this has to be done over a long period of time as you have to become known to a very large number of people, before it affects a familiarity rating.

This type of research and analysis is similar to the ‘likeability’ polls that are carried out with already established brand names, both in business and politics.

Why is this type of analysis important in politics? It’s important because people tend to vote for someone they know, or like, and not just because of policies and issues.

Although this likeability and familiarity factor is important with all voters, it particularly applies to women who tend to have to like and ‘feel they know’ someone before voting for them.

A good example of this was last year’s US Presidential election with polls regularly comparing the ‘likeability’ of Romney vs Obama. Obama always had a substantial lead over Romney in 'likeability' polls, and this was probably one factor why Obama substantially outpolled Romney in terms of the female vote in the actual election.

Bill White is managing director of Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk, polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph.



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