Together for Yes – Lessons from the Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment

In 2018, the people of Ireland were asked to vote in a referendum campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment to the constitution, and to grant women access to abortion. For ODV Digital’s founder and Director Clare, it was the first campaign she ever worked (running the paid social for Together for Yes), and also a very personal campaign for women, mothers and Ireland as a whole.

As a new practitioner, and like many other volunteers with Together for Yes, Clare learned a huge amount from Repeal about how a political campaign is run, and many of those lessons have continued to apply through the five years since.

  1. The Right is exceptionally well-funded and organised internationally.

    The No campaign was primarily driven by the pro-life lobby, who received a lot of direction and financial support from international structures. Even though we were confident that support on the ground for extremist positions (such as no abortion access even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality) was small, we saw small villages in rural Ireland wake in the morning to find every lamp post had been covered with pro-life posters. Meanwhile the Yes camp were still trying to figure out how to fundraise. When the tech platforms banned non-Irish credit cards from running campaign ads, the No ads switched off entirely. The money came from overseas, and the playbook for logistical organising and messaging.
  2. You win the campaign from the ground and from the air.

    Together for Yes was a true multi-channel and ‘all voices have value’ campaign. We had lots of organising of volunteers in all different shapes, including canvassing and door-knocking, giving out badges at festivals, initiating conversations with friends and neighbours, etc. And we had lots and lots of digital, organic and paid, in every channel we could manage.

    As we gained momentum, we were ubiquitous, unavoidable. Every campaign department, every euro, every volunteer’s perspective had value. Though a campaign has to be well-structured, it should not be hierarchical. Field, Comms and Digital are not rivals, we all complement each other – every one success helps to lift all boats.
  3. Authenticity beats soundbites and high production values. Though the multiple images from the No side of beautiful babies and delicate foetuses were highly emotionally charged (some might say manipulative), it was the personal stories which really cut through to most voters. Being able to bring relevant messaging to personalised audiences, from people they can relate to, helped to break down some of the audience silos we feared. Grandparents for Yes, Farmers for Yes, Constituency groups for Yes – all of them allowed us to bring personalisation for cut-through and to persuade audiences through kinship that we all had shared values. 

But perhaps it was the organic storytelling on a Facebook page called “In Her Shoes” which I will remember most. First person narratives told of real women’s experiences of needing an abortion, from every possible background. Some stories were devastating. Some were uplifting. All were accompanied by a photo of the writer’s shoes. To this day, it is still one of the finest acts of digital campaign storytelling we have ever seen, by real people and their authentic voices, their true stories, their relatability, their humanity. 

On 25th May 2018, 66.4% of the people of Ireland said Yes, and voted to repeal the 8th amendment from the constitution. The win was greater than any of us in Together for Yes dared to believe; we were hopeful that we had a good chance of success, but the scale came as a beautiful surprise. Over 75% of people in Dublin voted Yes, while even in the more traditionally conservative and rural areas of Connaught / Ulster, the referendum was passed by more than 57%. For younger people aged 18-24, an incredible 87% voted Yes. In fact, the only demographic not to vote to Repeal was those over the age of 65 – a reflection perhaps of the huge social change which has taken place in Ireland within a generation.

Peter Tanham, Head of Digital for Together for Yes, shared:

“Clare was instrumental to helping us use paid social to win the national referendum. In a fast-paced, remote and diverse team her rare combination of both strategic leadership and the tactical implementation was key in such an important and successful campaign.”

Together for Yes was the foundation stone for ODV Digital. The origin story. And it often remains the inspiration. May every vote capture the hearts and minds of campaigners, voters and society as this campaign did.

Scroll to Top