Opinion: Starling On Negative Campaigning

November 1, 2014

[Opinion column written by Jonathan Starling]

So, we’re in election season. Well, a by-election at least.

Disappointingly, all the signs are that this by-election campaign will be an overwhelmingly negative one – one in which the OBA seems to be taking the lead on, in terms of negative campaigning that is.

This is all the more disappointing as the OBA championed, in 2012, that they were a positive campaign, one that promised to do politics differently.

Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to stop and explain what they meant by those platitudes.

Only later did we find out that apparently ‘doing politics differently’ meant breaking key election promises and engaging in a dirty campaign that, by the campaigns own admission, included paid bloggers funded through shady campaign donations…

Which brings to mind the urgent need for campaign finance regulation…

The PLP isn’t absolved of blame here either – I doubt there’s anyone in the electorate who doesn’t think the PLP hasn’t used negative campaigning either. It just so happens that right now, in this by-election, it’s the OBA that has initiated the mudslinging.

This by-election had the chance to help reset the dynamics and discourse of Bermuda’s politics.

I suppose it still has that potential, although the opening shots of negative campaigning from the OBA don’t exactly inspire optimism. Nor does the thought of return fire from the PLP.

Does negative campaigning work?

There’s mixed thoughts on that. That it seems all too prevalent a tactic indicates that at least campaign advisers think it must.

Those who deploy it first are usually doing it from a position of weakness – only a strong candidate and campaign believes [correctly] that they can win cleanly by discussing policies and a political vision.

There are some theories that negative campaigning doesn’t work by encouraging people to vote for you. Rather, the objective of negative campaigning is to:

  • A) Get people to not vote for the other candidate;
  • B) Throwing red meat to one’s core base – that would vote for you anyway – to ensure they actually bother to vote instead of figuring the other candidate will win anyway, so why bother;
  • C) Discourage swing voters [undecideds] from voting altogether, thus reducing the turn-out and hoping you’ve demoralised enough of the rivals core supporters while energising your own.

Not exactly a democratic strategy that, based on depressing the turn-out…

I think negative campaigning can work, but only to a degree.

If it comes out as too personal [be it in tone or what the campaign chooses to focus on about the rival – such as their appearance, health or personal relationships] then it can actually have the opposite effect and push swing voters to vote for your rival, simply out of disgust at the desperation of those using such negativity.

Whether the OBA’s gone too negative too soon, I’ll leave that up to the electorate to decide.

We need a reason to vote for, not to vote against

All too often, and our flawed democratic model inherited from colonialism actively encourages this, our politics is not about voting FOR something, but voting AGAINST something.

In Bermuda’s two-party system we all too often aren’t voting for the PLP or the OBA, but against either the PLP or the OBA.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the PLP and the OBA essentially exist only to oppose each other, and not out of any clear ideological opposition.

There’s not much progressive or labour about the PLP anymore and there’s certainly not much about a ‘one Bermuda’ in the OBA. They’re both essentially centre-right parties that agree on most things once you look past their rhetoric.
Sure, there are historic differences about their different racial and class support and membership, but ideologically, not so much beyond bluster.

It’s not so much a question of red or green but different shades of grey.

Both parties need to give us, the electorate, competing positive visions of what Bermuda could be. The candidates need to give us positive reasons about why they got into politics in the first place and why we should vote for them, rather than why we shouldn’t vote for the other.

Despite the negative campaigning that has marked the start of this by-election there’s still hope that this contest could truly help give the electorate the democracy we deserve, and not more of the same old mudslinging and tribalism of the past.

The electorate is tired of politics as usual. Right now neither party inspires optimism or confidence, only fear and division.

It’s time for change.

And if neither of the established political parties is able to be that change, if they insist on negative campaigning, political opportunism and a continued lack of political vision, then sooner or later they will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

We deserve better.

- Jonathan Starling

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Comments (55)

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  1. Vote for Me says:

    What do you see as ‘negative politics’ thus far.

    It seems that both campaigns have been relatively low key.

    • Evans Bay says:

      I think he is referring to the Toni Daniels, OBA Communications, piece published yesterday…

      • hmmm says:

        Marshall didn’t write that article. It was an opinion piece by Toni.

        Was Toni campaigning? or just getting the truth out there ?
        Should she have shut up, or protect the public by reminding them of who and what the PLP candidate is?

        I think she has a duty to protect the public.

        • Impressive says:

          A duty to protect the public…. hmmmm,, I got to sleep on that comment, ;-)

    • Watching says:

      Um did you not read Toni Daniels opinion column “vote for me”? That was extremely negative! If you haven’t, check it out.

      • Kangoocar says:

        @watching, how on earth can you call what Ms Daniels said as negative??? Everything she wrote is the total truth and the voters have a right to know all about who they are voting for!!! If Jahmal is voted in, then it will be sad future for all of us, because first off anyone that would for a person like that and actually put him in our house of assembly, needs their head examined??? And secondly it would prove that party comes before all of our futures!!! The plp actually had way better candidates to place up there without all the baggage, who is paying back who for his nomination???

        • “Birds of the same feather flock together” Just look at who is the Leader of the Progressive Labour Party :-(

      • Double Standards says:

        Extremely negative. But all true.

        • Toodle-oo says:

          The sun rises every day . The sky is blue . Rain falls from the sky .

          All true .

          So how can truths be negative ?

          Truths can only be unpleasant , sometimes , but not negative.

  2. on de fence says:

    I know it’s not much use saying “I agree with you, but …”

    However in this case, after his appalling twitter comments, the PLP have shown real disdain in selecting this candidate. How can you expect people not to comment on that?

  3. justin says:

    Funny how you have trotted out with opinion piece now. In case you haven’t noticed, Chris Famous practices negative campaigning every week in his weekly column. When are you going to follow Kim Swan to the PLP, Jonathan?

  4. Triangle Drifter says:

    Next Tuesday is election day in the US. Want to see real negative electioneering? Take a look & liisten to the campaigning going on there for the past few months.

    Sorry if the OBA is reminding voters of the far from flattering political record of your PLP. candidate. They have not stated anything that is not true.


    • Varied says:

      Forget that the opinion writer was previously associated with PLP. From an unaffiliated view, some people are tired of negative campaigning, regardless of if it’s a piggyback of US politics.

      It’s another reason why some people just don’t vote period. And a response of the “Get over it” variety doesn’t help anyone. You can call those voters naive or disillusioned or whatever, but if you don’t get those voters interested in the candidates, then doesn’t Bermuda lose as a whole?

  5. Huh ? says:

    So because someone gathered information that was already in the public domain and put it all one place as their opinion – that is mud slinging ? Nah – that is someone having a right to their opinion and the freedom of speech at work. Aint it wonderful ?

  6. Elaine says:

    @Vote for Me

    If this is NOT a rhetorical question, then Toni Daniels’ article on Jamahl Simmons’ standing in a by-election should send off alarm bells.

    Why? Because quite frankly where she had an opportunity to introduce, highlight and tell Bermuda who this OBA female candidate is (dah!), Toni chose to do a political hatchet job on Jamahl?

    If the voters want to know anything about Jamahl Simmons, it’s already in the public domain, so to reinforce it into the voters psyche makes her candidate (who is she?) look very lonely and desperate.

    I would never have placed Toni Daniels in the category of political hack and lightweight – but I do now! Desperate, deflective and negative exploitation of a weak political position to win a by-election.

    Who is the candidate that she backs? Where is she from? What are her connections to the constituency, for how long? What are the issues important to her candidate, and why? What voters have they spoken to? What issues rise above the surface?

    And most importantly, why are you supporting her? Simply doing what you are told or do you really admire and respect her? If the latter, then shouldn’t Toni be focusing on the latter?

    In other words, there is so much, in the positive sense of political campaigning, that engage the voters and bring them out to vote. But Toni, chooses to go very negative.

    Jamahl may be off the PLP website, but this candidate has no media face time to her voters and the larger electorate. Strategic and deliberate? You bet! Put her in the media firing line to speak for herself and see how well she fares.

    Toni Daniels, lowered the benchmark of political campaigning, but does anyone have her back when she is now known as a political hack? She may not have created this type of campaigning, but it takes integrity not to be blinded and/or seduced into relying upon it, and clearly Toni Daniels does rely upon it as a key weapon in her arsenal of political toxicity.

    My advice, don’t mess with Dr Brown’s…. boys, because you will set in motion a political soul train that the OBA cannot stop.

    • mixitup says:

      About sums it up…..

      • Double Standards says:

        And Toni Daniels’ article sums up jahmal…

        Do you honestly think he is a suitable candidate for a leadership position?

        • Allspice says:

          Two parties abandon the seat.
          We are ruled by fools on all sides!

  7. Are you saying .... says:

    Jonathan, Are you saying that Christopher Famous’ columns don’t constitute negative campaigning?

  8. Elaine says:

    @Are you saying…

    Please read with the intent of accurate re-interpretation.

    Jonathan’s opening paragraph sets out his premise, with the statement;

    “So, we’re in election season. Well, a by-election at least.”

    End of quote.

    He is speaking about this by-election campaign as it starts in earnest.

    • Double Standards says:

      So it’s ok when we do it…

    • Are you saying .... says:

      Elaine, sorry but Mr Famous has been running in full time negative campaign mode all along. The fact that he started before the campaign for this by-election is immaterial.

  9. Starling for PLP says:

    Ms. Daniels, please don’t let these PLP die hards get to you. You absolutely did the right thing and everyone is conveniently forgetting that your opinion was in response to Jamahl publically accusing the OBA shennanigans the previous day. Baically the PLP loves to dish out devisiveness and negativity on a daily basis but can’t take it when they are called on their continued lies. You absolutely did the right thing by letting everyone knows Jamahls dubious history and also personally wish you had also included excerpts of some of his Tweets. Jamahl is not the type of person any right thinking Bemudian wants to have as one of its politicians

  10. swing voter says:

    forget the ‘mud-slinging’ and stick to the historical facts

    (1) Marshall – publicly known as a savvy divorce lawyer.

    (2) Simmons – history doesn’t need to be detailed in this forum

    Which one will be of more service to Bermuda?

    • hmmm says:


      For her mediation and negotiating ability.


      For his juvenile outbursts of hate and ability to fail miserably and leave.

  11. James says:

    Mr. Starling, I am confused.

    You accuse the OBA of “negative campaigning.” This is true; perhaps some of the campaigning against Mr. Simmons has been negative. But has it not been truthful? Is Jamahl not a “flawed candidate?” Do the voters of Constituency 33 not have a right to know about his past? Is a politician’s character not important to know?

    As a vocal advocate for transparency, I find it strange that you would be so against what I see to simply be truth-telling. Is it negative? Again, yes. But the truth isn’t always pretty.

    • Creamy says:

      Exactly. The truth about Simmons is what it is. He can’t escape from his past, and the things he has done.
      And it is strange that Starling thinks the truth about Simmons should be suppressed. It’s what they would do in a communist regime, I guess.

    • You have to understand .... says:

      James, you have to understand Mr Starling’s background. As long as I’ve been following his posts he’s been a PLP apologist.

      In this case he’s upset because someone simply put Mr Simmons history together in one page. Don’t know why. After all, with such a “sterling” track record he should be a shoe-in come election time. LOL

  12. Yahoo says:

    Don’t pick on Starling’s buddy Jahmal. The truth about Jahmal makes Jonathan so sad.

  13. Chris Famous says:

    Interesting Views

    • Double Standards says:

      Do you find Jahmal’s views on bringing harm to his fellow countrymen and desire to watch society burn also interesting Mr. Famous?

  14. aceboy says:

    She told the truth. Mr. Simmons is a very flawed politician.

    The truth hurts sometimes.

    Take the pain.

  15. Just a matter of time says:

    @Elaine. Spot on.

  16. Think... says:

    The PLP put the worst candidate forward as they have got to have known his past…maybe this is political payback for the rhetoric.
    The PLP, in my humble opinion, decided that this is a political stronghold and decided to run a completely ‘flawed politician’ with total disregard for the common sense of the people of constituency 33. There can’t be any right thinking PLP supporter who thinks this was a good choice. Hopefully, it backfires on the PLP for the good of the country. If JS wins this by-election Bermuda is in a world of trouble indeed. I hope the PLP members of constituency 33 vote for the best person for them and not party only…please send the PLP a message to raise their game and not continue to take the black voting population for complete fools. Can you imagine the PLP winning the election with poor candidates like the one they have put forward…please PLP supporters let’s send them a message that they will understand…no more taking advantage of us because we are black and they clearly think we are ignorant too.

    • Triangle Drifter says:

      Iooks like the PLP hierarchy think that they can take a box of rocks, put the PLP logo on it, send it up to #33, & they will vote for it because it has PLP on it.

      Let’s hope that this time the voters use what is between their ears rather than what their eyes see when casting their votes.

  17. Unbelievable says:

    Hey OBA…..why don’t you tell the constituents of #33 why they should vote for Georgia Marshall. It’s fri**ing simple PR 101.


  18. aceboy says:

    The irony in this article is that Starling is doing his own negative campaigning by writing this article. Passive aggression.

  19. Prayerful says:

    Maybe that is the best that the PLP can do, at this time. I am sure there are other persons that could have been placed on the ballot, but cannot commit at this time.

    OBA let us have a script on Mrs. Marshall.

  20. notsurprised says:

    Haha. Chris (in)Famous has no better response than ‘interesting views’. This guy is a joke. Hypocrite. He and j.starling should just get a room.

  21. Elaine Faber says:

    I would like to address a couple of OBA pundits, Triangle Drifter, aceboy, Swing Voter, Creamy and Toni Daniels…

    Now let’s cut to the chase, shall we…

    Georgina Marshall:

    Foreigner (Canadian/expat); white, female, professional

    Dr Ewart Brown:

    Bermudian (once held US citizenship) black, male, professional

    Now why would Georgina fail to tell the voters of constituent #33 (C#33) that she is a born Canadian holding dual citizenship (TWO passport)?

    Was it not the UBP/OBA who insisted that Dr Brown give up his US passport in order to remain in the House of Parliament? And he did because he chose the love and service to country over the privilege of dual passports.

    Georgina, when were you going to tell your constituents that you are a born Canadian who came to live in Bermuda after you married your husband? After you were voted in by deception by omission?

    Are you ashamed of your Canadian birth-right? I sincerely doubt it. So why is it not on the OBA website? And why is your political bio so opaque that it tells us about your husband’s parents ties the community of Sandy’s parish?

    Mrs Marshall, your husband’s parents are NOT running for election in Sandy’s parish, YOU ARE. So, why attempt to deceive us by the glaring omission? And you think that your intentional omission demonstrates INTEGRITY? As you fail to be truthful?

    The PLP, to my knowledge, does not have a problem with foreigners in politics, Dr Gordon came from Trinidad and Tobago, and he was TRUTHFUL about his birth-place when he was embraced in the labour movement. So, why hide your birth-place, Georgina?

    But the most important issue that flows from this revelation is IF Georgina Marshall stills holds both passports (Canadian and Bermudian/British) why is she running under any political party? Because does she intend to relinquish her Canadian passport? WHEN?

    With the very bitter vitriolic confrontation the UBP/OBA pursued to get Dr Brown relinquish his US passport, I would expect that they will make the same DEMAND of Mrs Georgina Marshall, or she should step down.

    Oh pray, do tell us, Toni, do you not see a flaw in your candidate here? Or was it always intended to serve Jamahl up on a platter in order to deflect from Georgina omission to the voters C#33? Then laugh at the voters who had been tricked into thinking that she is a daughter of the soil?

    Mrs Marshall should step aside and do the right thing first before jumping into the political race.

    Well, let me ask her political pundits, Creamy, Triangle Drifter, Swing Voter, aceboy, etc, should she have suppressed the truth about her birthplace? And why are YOU ALL not demanding that she give up her Canadian passport, just like Dr Brown had to give up his US passport?

    But then she is a great negotiator, so let’s see her negotiate her way into keeping the privilege position of both Canadian and Bermudian passports as the OBA’s candidate for C#33.

    • Creamy says:

      So “Elaine”, I guess you’re ok with “negative campaigning”.

      Ms Marshall was born in Canada. I think we get the point. She has lived here for most of her adult life, and is Bermudian. (Not, as you alleged, an expat).

      Jamahl has done what he’s done over the years. If anyone feels like voting for him despite all that, more fool them. At least they should know the facts about him before the election.

    • 32n64w says:

      US law does not permit their citizens to serve a foreign Governemnt. This is why Dr. Brown had to relinquish his citizenship. It had nothing to do with Bermudian regulations or local politics.

      With that said the rest of your remarks complete fall away and serve only as a poor attempt at scaremongering and deflection. Further you purposely forgot to add “Bermudian” when listing Ms. Marshall’s credentials. Why?

      Facts and reality have an anti-PLP bias.

      • Please .... says:

        I believe that Dr Brown had to relinquish his US citizenship because Bermuda law does not allow a foreign national (even one with Bda Status) to serve in Parliament. Of course he didn’t choose to be expatriated by the US until he’d been in Parliament for several years (which means he was initially sitting in the house in violation of the law).

        On a related note, US law is somewhat strange on the topic of dual citizenship. While the Supreme Court has ruled that dual citizenship is a right, as a matter of law, if a foreigner becomes a US citizen they are required to renounce any other citizenship that they may hold. And, while there are a number of variants on the citizenship oath, every one of them requires the new citizen to renounce all loyalty to any other country. In short, when Dr Brown became a US citizen, as a matter of law he was required to give up his Bermuda “citizenship” and he forswore any allegiance to the Island. But somehow people still think that he’s Bermudian? Go figure>

  22. Alvin Williams says:

    As a supporter of the PLP I do not get upset over the OBA negative campaigning after all did’t they buy an election.
    They were able to get away with it that time and not to mention the telling of the big lie over and over again.
    But now the people of Bermuda know what they are all about; their anti-Bermudian agenda which is in full swing. They have nothing to counter what the impact of their policies has had on the Bermudian.
    The PLP don’t have to counter their negative campaigning; all they have to do is focus on the anti-Bermudian policies of this government. And in that regard I don’t even think that the Bermudian needs to be reminded; for the reality of this government’s policies is there for all to see.

    • Creamy says:

      Explain, Alvin, how the OBA “bought” an election.
      You, Alvin, are a liar. Plain and simple. A liar.

  23. Alvin Williams says:

    Well your political operator Steven Decosta admitted he received foreign money from a would be gaming investor in which he use to recruited paid black OBA political operators whose target was the black community. The OBA used paid bloggers spread their lies. We have heard stories of food stuffs and promises of jobs to individuals and that is in addition the what has turn out to be a great falsehood; the creation of two thousand jobs; Need I go on? I think we are wasting our time responding to Toni Daniels’s hatch job. How many other people who were former members of other political parties; who have now turn or return to the ranks of the PLP? But more importantly how many voters who have seen the light done the same.Toni Daniels attempt to discredit the PLP candidate running in 33; is nothing more than a smoke screen design take the real focus off the real issue in this by-election and that is a referendum on the anti-Bermudian agenda of her OBA government.

  24. we need some one doesn’t put us in rediculous debt……right?We are still paying back debt….this is my take on things…

  25. paid bloggers?…there were a lot of people upset back then….you didn’t realise that?…now …that’s interesting.

  26. aceboy says:

    Why does someone born in Canada frighten you? She been here a lot longer than Brown. And she didn’t relinquish her citizenship for tax reasons because she doesn’t need to do so. Canadians are taxed on their worldwide income in Canada if they are RESIDENT in Canada. If not they are not subject to Canadian tax. The US is a bit different, they don’t care where you are resident. You have to file returns and pay taxes owing no matter where you live, even in Bermuda.

  27. Elaine Faber says:

    Creamy, once you have a clear definition of ‘negative campaigning’, please do NOT move that goalpost.

    Mrs Marshall is a Canadian who is now a status Bermudian, as she moved to Bermuda after she completed law school and married her husband. Agreed? It should be stated on the OBA website.

    What is negative in my comments? Mrs Marshall has failed to reveal to the voters pertinent facts. She chose to highlight her husband’s connection to the community in Sandy’s, and OMIT that she is not a daughter of the soil. Agreed? Simply, concise and to the point. Read the comments on the OBA website, quite opaque.

    The late Louise Jackson never suppressed the fact that she was born in the US. And, the PLP never attempted to undermind her love for Bermuda and/or commitment in serving Bermuda. At no time has any PLP member asked whether Mrs Jackson had relinquished her US passport in order to serve in the House of Parliament.

    The faultline lies with your political party – OBA – which has one policy against BORN Bermudians and another for STATUS Bermudians. Inconsistently clear and toxic.

    But then you have NOT answered my question, should Georgina have suppressed the truth about her birthplace? Deflection seems to be the only consistent argument with you OBA pundits.

    And now 32n63w, REALLY, Dr Brown’s US citizenship had nothing to do with local politics? Then why did the UBP/OBA scream so hard? It was an issue for the US Consulate General on behalf of the US government, not the UBP/OBA.

    Moreover, my argument does not fall, any deception by omission is still a deception. And Georgina Marshall failed to reveal the truth.

    Why did I fail to add Bermudian when referring to Mrs Marshall? Because it is unclear if she has Bermudian status. Where on the OBA website does it state that she does? Why did she not make it clear, as a lawyer she a duty to state her case (in the court of public opinon)clearly.

    I would rather know who my candidate is, giving me an informed choice, then to have the facts hidden in the dark – omissions. If this is how Georgina starts out, then this is what we can expect from her, an MP with a hidden agenda.

    Well Georgina, will you retain both passports?

  28. Elaine Faber says:


    Why is her Canadian tax status an issue to you or this election?


    Once you have a clear definition of ‘negative campaigning’, please do NOT move that goalpost.

    And please re-phrase your question. Why isn’t the information that Georgina is a status Bermudian on the OBA website? Is this not the official website for all OBA candidates?

    So, when was Georgina Marshall going to tell the voters of Constituency #33 that she is not a daughter of the soil? Does it matter? It’s up to the voter to decide.

    • Creamy says:

      There is no such thing as a “status Bermudian”. We all have status, and we’re all Bermudians. Period.

      I thought you lot had stopped all this “real Bermudian” BS. But I guess not. Another lie from Bean, or is it just that he can’t control what the racist extremists say?

  29. Unbelievable says:

    My goodness…Elaine Faber….you have no idea what you are talking about.

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