This work utilizes quantitative research methods to analyze twenty seven opinion polls dealing with the issue of constitutional change in Ireland. It provides a framework for anyone interested in understanding the intricate relationships between media, public opinion and constitutional ballot issues in an Irish/European context. This book applies the theories of public opinion and agenda setting in understanding the role that newspaper coverage plays in the formation of public opinion in the specific case of constitutional change on the issue of divorce in Ireland. The 1937 Irish Constitution banned divorce. In 1986, the first divorce referendum in Ireland was held in an attempt to change the constitution and was defeated. In 1995, the second referendum was held and was passed by a very narrow majority. The mass media in general, and newspapers in particular, were major players in the public debate.
The book reports a lack of difference between content in the media campaigns of 1986 and 1995, high negative correlation between media support for divorce and public opinion against divorce, evidence of media content being highly correlated with specific poll outcomes, and a definite pattern of media influence on poll outcomes. The analyses suggest that the media influence the public agenda, and that the public influence the media agenda. The data also suggest that there are other social/institutional forces at work in the process of public opinion formation which are deserving of further research. Media content plays a greater role in those constitutional ballot questions in which the support and opposition sides are close in size, and little influence where there is a great deal of difference in size between the opposing groups. Of special interest in this analysis is the don't know/no opinion grouping, given that the second referendum was deeded by a majority of only 50.03 per cent.
Given the centrality of constitutional referenda in Ireland in relation to European Union participation, this work details the connection between three constitutive elements of such ballots: the formation of public opinion, the content of media reports and the specificity of the constitutional change proposed. It provides an important framework for anyone interested in understanding the intricate relationships between media, public opinion and constitutional ballot issue in an Irish/European context.
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd