Tag Archives: General Election 2020

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald (thumbs aloft) with Pearse Doherty (to her right) on the first Day of the 33rd Dáil on February 2,2020

One year on.

How Sinn Féin’s social media strategy dominated the 2020 online general election campaign

Bethany Langham writes:

On Saturday, February 8, 2020, before COVID vaccinations and lockdowns were a primary concern of the nation, the Republic of Ireland held an historic general election.

This election led to the unprecedented coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party as well as the sudden upthrust of the Sinn Féin party.

Sinn Féin’s performance saw the party take home 535,573 votes in total which represented 24.5% of the Irish electorate. This was almost double the number of votes Sinn Féin received in the 2016 general election.

General Election results 2020

This surge was particularly surprising given Sinn Féin’s poor performance at the local and European elections in May 2019 which saw the party lose half of its council representation and two thirds of its European Parliamentary seats including MEP Lynn Boylan.

Political Scientist and Editor of ‘How Ireland Voted 2020’, Dr Theresa Reidy says the Sinn Féin party saw a trend among Irish voters and successfully appealed to the electorate:

“There was a kind of a general zeitgeist amongst the voters that they wanted to change, they wanted something different, but Sinn Fein tapped that more effectively than any of the other political parties.”

On Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show in May 2020, Sinn Féin TD and the party’s Director of Elections for 2020, Pearse Doherty claimed that Sinn Féin’s use of social media was a large contributing factor in their success with Irish voters.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook follower-increase Aug’19- Jan ‘20

“We use social media” he told the programme. “There was over half a million interactions with our posts […] we read the comments and we answer the comments”.

In the six months before the election, posts on Sinn Féin’s Facebook page received over 750,000 reactions, comments and shares and its Facebook followers increased by 17%.

Between August 2019 and election day, 97% of the reactions to Sinn Féin’s Facebook posts were positive showing an engaged and devoted social media following.

This higher level of engagement was also seen on Instagram and Twitter where Sinn Féin accounts were interacted with much more than their counterparts.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook follower-increase Aug’19- Jan ‘20

While Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael held their own in the opinion polls, this performance was not reflected online where they paled in comparison to Sinn Féin.

Of the 34,329 reactions to Fine Gael’s Facebook posts between August 2019 and February 2020, only 60% were positive. Fianna Fáil’s posts garnered 35,281 reaction-responses of which 68% were positive.

Positive reactions to Facebook posts Aug’19- Jan ‘20

Sinn Féin’s unexpected rise in popularity had a number of contributing factors such as the generational shift caused by new leadership in the Sinn Féin party and the disconnect between politicians in power and the Irish public.

But one arena Sinn Féin made sure to dominate was online and it used a number of tactics to do so.

One such tactic was how often Sinn Féin posted online.

Sinn Féin published a total of 2,342 posts on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts between 4 August 2019 and 8 February 2020. Fianna Fáil posted 1,159 and Fine Gael just 673.

On Facebook alone, the Sinn Féin account posted 328 videos totaling in 13.6 million views.

Facebook video views, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin Aug’19- Jan ‘20

Despite posting the least amount of videos overall, Fine Gael had the most views per video on Facebook. According to Facebook’s Ad Library, out of the three largest parties Fine Gael were the biggest spenders on their Facebook Ad campaign for the election.

The party’s account posted 49 videos in the six months prior to the election which amounted to a total of 2.4 million views. This is an average of 7,872 more views per video posted than that of the Sinn Féin party’s Facebook account.

Of the party leaders of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar had the most successful Instagram account. As well as having been on Instagram for longer, Varadkar posted over twice as often as Mary Lou McDonald and Micheál Martin.

Unlike Fine Gael’s official accounts Varadkar significantly outperformed his counterparts on Instagram. Between August 2019 and February 2020 his account received nearly 12 times more interactions than McDonald’s and over 33 times more than Martin’s account received.

Since Varadkar’s speech regarding COVID-19 on 12 March, his Instagram following has seen a surge in activity with the former Taoiseach’s following going from 26,177 followers on 12 March to 187,687 by 1 January 2021.

The party’s familiar faces became their online cheerleaders.

Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty were selling points for the party. Posts in which they were featured received a very positive reaction. In the lead up to the election, both of these politicians were tagged and posted about more and more frequently on the Sinn Féin Facebook page.

The account’s most popular posts in the six months before the election all featured videos of Doherty and/or McDonald.

The most popular of these posts was a 1.5 minute-long clip of McDonald at the leaders debate on the Claire Byrne Live Programme on 27 January 2020. The caption read “And that’s a knockout by Mary Lou” .


As well as posting more frequently, Sinn Féin accounts and party members engaged with the public online.

The Sinn Féin Facebook account regularly replied to comments on their posts, answering questions, correcting what they saw to be misinformation and posting links to petitions.

The party also frequently posted the link to the Sinn Féin website encouraging its followers to sign up to become members of the party.

Between August 2019 and February 2020, Pearse Doherty personally replied to a number of comments. One example on 12 January led Doherty to provide his office phone number to a disgruntled Facebook user to talk about her concerns with the party. He also provided her with a day and time that he would be available to talk.

The Sinn Féin party leader Mary Lou McDonald also engaged with the public online. McDonald too replied to Facebook comments on the Sinn Féin account. On 3 December 2019 in an Instagram post from the party’s account, McDonald asked the public to tell her of their personal experiences with the housing crisis by private message, comment or email at which point she provided her email address.

Sinn Féin’s social media accounts frequently asked to hear the experiences of its followers. When hosting a Facebook live video, Sinn Féin would ask its followers where they were watching from, promoting a type of inclusion and interactivity which was not visible on the pages of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

In the final weeks of the election campaign, Fianna Fáil hosted a Facebook live video event nearly every day. However, it did not actively interact with its followers or deviate from the seemingly prescribed format of two speakers on a podium.

Time For Change, Time For Sinn Féin

From the outset going into GE2020, Sinn Féin’s messaging was clear. Their campaign slogan, which was the title of the foreword of Sinn Féin’s manifesto, was “Time For Change, Time For Sinn Féin”.

In November 2019, this mantra of change started to crop up more frequently, no doubt ahead of the by-election held at the end of the month. It continued online throughout December and into the 2020 general election campaign, frequently seen in online posts of the party and echoed by members of Sinn Féin.

Towards the end of the campaign, Sinn Féin’s call for change was so ubiquitous it began to appear in the comments sections of other party’s pages.

On 3 February 2020, Fianna Fáil posted a video adopting this message of change and amalgamated it with its own manifesto slogan: “It’s time for change. Join us in building an Ireland for all”.

This was met with hostility with many users claiming Sinn Féin was the “real change”. The top comment of this post read: “call it a day you’ve passed your sell by date”.

Coming into the 2020 election, Sinn Féin had a larger online following than its opponents which may also have aided the party’s growth.

TD Matt Carthy and Sinn Féin’s Director of Elections in 2016, claims that during the 2020 election the party found that it was able to use “social media to direct the tenure of the campaign”.

According to Carthy, this was “a result of a number of years of really hard work on building up a social media presence, and using social media in a very clever way”.

Carthy says a new framework of messaging had been put in place shortly before the local and European elections of 2019.

“Clearly, we hadn’t done enough at that stage and we had suffered the bruising day at the polls back in May of 2019. But at the same time, I think we learned an awful lot of lessons from that campaign.”

Bethany Langham is a Galway-born, Dublin-based freelance video journalist


Sinn Féin President May Lou McDonald addressing the Dáil this afternoon

This afternoon

Via Irish Examiner:

Left-wing TDs have said they plan to vote for Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald for Taoiseach on the basis that she will not go into government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

The Dail vote for Taoiseach is set to take place this afternoon but is not expected to produce a conclusive result.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TDs told reporters today that they would back Ms McDonald for Taoiseach, a move which is expected to put her ahead of her rivals for the role.

But without the support of the 80 TDs needed for a government, no Taoiseach or government will be decided and the Dail is expected to be adjourned as parties continue to negotiate on forming a new coalition.

Watch live here

Left-wing TDs to vote for Mary Lou McDonald for Taoiseach (Irish Examiner)

Mary Lou McDonald with Sinn Féin supporters during the General Election 2016 count at the RDS, Dublin on February 27, 2016


In the Business Post.

Eoin O’Malley, associate professor of political science at Dublin City University and co-author of Resilient Reporting: Media coverage of Irish elections since 1969, wrote:

“We don’t yet have a systematic analysis of the Election 2020 coverage, but in an analysis of the years from 1969 to 2016, my colleagues in Dublin City University and I found that all party coverage during elections was negative, from all news outlets.

On average, the media didn’t speak about any party in positive terms.

During the Troubles, the Irish Times and Irish Independent coverage of Sinn Féin was more negative, but from 1989, it was treated the same as other parties, and moved in a more positive direction in 1997, perhaps reflecting the party’s involvement in the ongoing peace process.

In election 2016, however, both papers were much more negative in their coverage of Sinn Féin, separating it from the other parties.

“Our research found that the Irish Independent gave more coverage to Sinn Féin than any other paper or broadcaster, and that coverage was more negative than for any other party.

“But similarly, we also found coverage of Sinn Féin in 2016 was more negative for most media outlets.

So there is some evidence of bias against Sinn Féin in 2016, which may well have continued to 2020.”

Is the media really out to get Sinn Fein? (Eoin O’Malley, Business Post)

Previously: Will I Get The Coronavirus If I Vote Sinn Fein?


This morning.

Cormac writes:

The Greens are offering €5 per poster. If I had 50c for every cable tie I’d be going on a nice holiday. There’s 1000s left on poles in my area.

On a 15 minute walk from Clonskeagh [Dublin 14] to Ranelagh [Dublin 6] I picked these (above) up off the ground on just one side of the road

General election result predictions by Harry McGee of The Irish Times; Mr McGee

Further to spectacularly incorrect General Election predictions from the Irish Independent and RTÉ….

…on February 5, Political Correspondent for The Irish Times Harry McGee laid out his predictions for last week’s general election.

As of February 3, the election polls had shown that, following six national election polls, the combined Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael vote was less than 44%, while Sinn Féin was polling more than twice its local election vote in 2019.

Mr McGee predicted that Fianna Fáil would win 53 seats; Fine Gael, 38; Sinn Féin, 28; Labour, 8; Greens, 14; Social Democrats, 3; Solidarity-PBP, 2; Others, 14.

However, his predictions were less unequivocal than that of his peers.

Fianna Fáil would go on to lose 7 seats, Fine Gael would lose 12 and Sinn Féin would gain 15.

The final tally saw Fianna Fáil with 38 seats (one of which was automatic as Seán Ó Fearghaíl is the Ceann Comhairle); Sinn Féin, 37; Fine Gael, 35; Greens, 12; Social Democrats, 6; Labour, 6; Solidarity-People Before Profit, 5; Independents, 19; Aontú, 1; Other, 1.

Mr McGee’s approach to his predictions differed to that of RTÉ and the Irish Independent‘s Fionnan Sheahan, in that he predicted where Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin would potentially lose and win seats.

Sinn Féin

Mr McGee predicted that Sinn Féin would possibly gain seats in Donegal, Dublin West, Wexford, Cavan-Monaghan, Mayo, Longford-Westmeath.

He also predicted the party would possibly lose seats in Dublin Mid-West, Louth, Cork East.

However, confusingly, although perhaps because of the polls, while making his prediction of Sinn Féin’s losses, he also predicted Sinn Féin’s seats were safe in these constituencies which might explain his side note:

“I had another eight constituencies marked as potential losses for Sinn Féin. But that was a fortnight ago. And the world has changed since then.”

The results:

Sinn Féin gained 15 seats on top of the 22 it had at the start of the election, bringing their total to 37.

Donegal: Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Pádraig MacLochlainn won the top two seats.

Dublin West: Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly topped the poll and took the first seat after the first count.

Wexford: Sinn Féin’s Johnny Mythen topped the poll and took the first seat after the first count.

Cavan-Monaghan: Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy and Pauline Tully took the first and third seats.

Mayo: Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh took the second seat after securing 22.7% of the first-preference votes.

Longford-Westmeath: Sinn Féin’s Sorca Clarke took the first seat after the first count, after securing 21% of the first-preference votes.

Dublin Mid-West: Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin and Mark Ward took the top two seats after the first count.

Louth: Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster and Ruairí Murchú took the top two seats after the first count.

Cork East: Sinn Féin’s Pat Buckley topped the poll with 23.1% of the first-preference votes.

Fine Gael

Mr McGee predicted that Fine Gael would possibly gain seats in Dublin Mid-West, Cork North-Central, Tipperary, Cavan-Monaghan, Cork North-West, Cork East, Dublin-Rathdown, Kerry, Longford-Westmeath, Galway East, Louth, Limerick City.

He also predicted that the party would possibly lose seats in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin North-West, Galway West, Dublin Bay South, Wexford, Clare, Dublin South-Central and Meath East.

Continue reading →

Newly elected Green Party TD for Dublin Central Nessa Hourigan’s young daughter Rita responds to Prime Time journalist Richard Downes’ query about her performance in the election.

In fairness.

Watch Prime Time clip in full here


Social Democrat Jennifer Whitmore has taken the second seat in five seat Wicklow.

More as we get it.



Social Democrat Cian O’Callaghan wins the third and final seat in Dublin Bay North.



From top: Gary Gannon (Dublin North West), Holly Cairns (Cork South West), Róisín Shortall (Dublin North West) and Catherine Murphy (Kildare North) with Clem Ryan of KFM

This afternoon.

Social Democrat Gary Gannon has beaten off a challenge from Christy Burke to take the last seat in Dublin Central.

It gives the Social Democrats six seats with Mr Gannon joining Holly Cairns (Cork South West), Cian O’Callaghan (Dublin Bay North), Jennifer Whitmore (Wicklow) and co-leaders Catherine Murphy (Kidare North) and Roisin Shortall (Dublin North West).

Bigger than Labour?



From top: Chris Andrews, Jim O’Callaghan Eoghan Murphy and Kate O’Connell

This morning/afternoon

RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Scenes from the final tallies in the Dublin Bay South four-seater, where Fine Gael Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy joined Chris Andrews SF), Jim O’Callaghan (FF) and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan (elected yesterday) – at the expense of colleague Kate O’Connell

Eoghan Murphy Retains Seat At Cost Of Kate O’Connell (Newstalk)


This evening.

Phibblestown Community Centre, Dublin 15.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the Dublin West count centre where Sinn Fein’s  Paul Donnelly topped the poll ahead of the embattled Fine Gael leader, who said he would not enter talks with Sinn Féin to form a government.



This evening.

Phibblestown Community Centre, Dublin 15.

Paul Donnelly and his mother Bridie and Sinn Fein supporters celebrate his win.