It goes by many names. Some know it as mudslinging. Others call it a smear campaign. Regardless of what you call it, it is basically negative campaigning. It is an effective marketing tool used in advertising. You’ve probably seen it in years gone by when Pepsi and Coke used to duke it out regularly in television ads. Any type of marketing program that pits one product against another in an effort to show the better of the two, which is initiated by the sponsor of the specific ad, is a form of negative marketing.
Negative Campaigning In Elections
Smear campaigns or mudslinging has a long history in elections. It is typically a tactic used to undermine an individual’s reputation, credibility, and character. These actions are intentional and premeditated. What makes mudslinging tactics so interesting is that they are almost always in the same format. They are built upon unverifiable rumours, half-truths, and the distortion of facts. Where they become most damaging is that the things said about another candidate in a smear campaign sound plausible.
How To Distingish Mudslinging From The Truth
This is simple. The next time you hear, read or see something online about a political candidate that sounds negative about that person, and comes from a source other than the person being targetted, ask these questions:
Can you verify the allegation(s) being made?
What is the original source of the allegation(s)?
There Are Disadvantages To Mudslinging
In elections, mudslinging can have a negative effect on voters. For example, many voters may become frustrated when a candidate puts more effort into attacking an opponent rather than in the promotion of their own election promises. The recent presidential election in South Korea (March 9, 2022) saw the two candidates take on each other with a string of verbal barbs. One voter described the situation on YouTube, as recorded by the media company Asian Boss, as “the candidates are not focused on the core issues and all they do is point out each other’s faults and scandals.” The attempt at mudslinging in this case backfired as both candidates ended up looking poorly in the eyes of the voters.
There Are Advantages To Mudslinging
For many politicians, mudslinging comes with the territory and forms an important element to an election campaign. Studies conducted on the topic have shown that negative campaigning does have positives. For example, if it is properly executed, candidates can draw the attention of undecided voters and reduce their feelings about the opponent. That appears to be the largest risk to mudslinging these days - the possibility of wooing new voters may be greater than having voters turned off by the tactic.
More Interesting Facts About Mudslinging
While this may make sense, the same study noted above found that candidates that are not leading opinion polls are more likely to launch a smear campaign. The reasoning behind this is that a trailing candidate has less to lose and everything to gain as mudslinging could increase support of that same candidate. Also, it appears that incumbents are not usually the ones who engage in mudslinging activities. Finally, research shows that female candidates don’t normally use negative campaigning as a tactic.
Candidates who resort to negative campaigning, a smear campaign, or mudslinging, are taking a big risk. Sure, they may win some extra supporters, but if they are already trailing in opinion polls, it may not be enough to make any difference. Plus, if the mudslinging goes sideways for any reason, both candidates can end up losing support. I much prefer to run a clean campaign free of any kind of game, mud or accusation. If that resonates with you, please remember to vote for me, George Elliott, on October 15, 2022.
Studies conducted on mudslinging and the effect of it in politics include:
Martin Wattenberg and Craig Brains, of the University of California, Irvine
Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar Study (1995)
Rick Farmer, PhD, University of Arkon assistant professor of political science
University of Georgia Study
Plunking is very interesting and a topic that tends to circulate only at election time. In simple terms, plunking is where a voter marks their ballot for less than the total number of candidates requiring votes. Using the upcoming October 15, 2022, Municipal Election as an example, you have a total of six candidates running to fill four seats as Councillors. If you vote for just one, two, or three, you are plunking.
Do Locals Plunk Vote?
I can tell you first-hand that this is a tactic that is alive and well in the Similkameen Valley. Plunking, also known as bullet voting, I learned about after sitting in on many of the local election counts in my days as a reporter for the local media. There were many single votes cast along with ballots that received two or three votes. However, I would say that the majority of local voters did cast votes for all four Councillor candidates running in the elections I witnessed.
Is It The Right Thing To Do?
Well, listen carefully on election day when you are handed your ballot for Town Councillors. You should be told that you can vote for “up to four candidates” on that ballot. That should tip you off that bullet (or plunk) voting is acceptable. Not marking your ballot at all, however, or marking more than four when a maximum of four votes are required, will spoil your ballot and none of your votes will count. That will defeat any strategy you may have had in mind.
Are You Not Wasting Votes?
I’ve contemplated this question off and on as each local election approaches. Yes, I’ve plunked in the past. I don’t feel as if I wasted or tossed away a vote when I don’t use one. But I do think that with four votes to use to elect Town Councillors, it gives me access to create an interesting combination of candidates. I’d rather use three or four of my votes than just one or two. I hope that makes sense. I feel that voting for more than two candidates is more effective in my goal of forming a good group of individuals to represent me at the local government level. Typically, I look at the four votes as a tool to put towards building a team of voices around the council table.
The Advantage of Plunking
Okay, let’s look at plunking in action. Let’s say that I and 20 of my closest friends have decided we are all going to plunk. Amongst us, we have chosen Candidate A as our first choice and Candidate B as our second choice. As the vote count proceeds, Candidate A is just 13 votes behind Candidate B for the fourth and final seat on Town Council. Then our 21 votes are counted. If all of us bullet-voted for Candidate A, that person will win the fourth seat by a narrow margin of 8 votes. Our first choice is elected to the final seat on Town Council and our bullet votes made the difference. This scenario is based on ballots that we have plunked with a single vote for one candidate only.
The Disadvantage of Plunking
Alright. So, let’s look at Candidate C. This is someone that I and my 20 closest friends don’t want to see elected. As the election count is underway, Candidate C has a 13-vote lead over Candidate D for the fourth seat on Town Council. Our 21 votes for Candidate A, who is leading the race at this point, are then counted. They make no difference to the race for the fourth seat as Candidate C, the person we don’t want to be elected wins that position. However, if we split our bullet votes between Candidates A and D, Candidate D will slide up to take the fourth seat from Candidate C with a narrow win of 8 votes. Remember, this example is based on plunking with a single vote for one candidate only per ballot.
Is Plunking The Right Tactic In Princeton’s Municipal Election?
That depends on several factors. I think if not all four incumbents were running, plunking may be an effective move. Or, if one or two of the incumbents were not as popular as the other incumbents, then plunking may be useful. But just by looking at the math in the upcoming October 15, 2022, Municipal Election, just six candidates are seeking four available seats. Plunking does not make sense to me in this equation. If there were many more candidates, maybe. Regardless, voters are going to do what they are going to do. So, if you bullet vote or not, don’t forget to leave your mark next to my name, George Elliott, when you cast your vote(s) in next month’s local election. Thank you.
With a Local Government Election coming up on Saturday, October 15, 2022, it’s a good idea to brush up on how to mark your ballot so your vote counts. As it turns out, according to Elections BC (Section 123 of the Election Act), there are quite honestly more ways to “skin a cat” than the traditional method. That is to say, you don’t have to use an “X” to indicate who you are voting for.
Before I break down what is and isn’t acceptable, I have a little story for you. Growing up in Kelowna in the 1970s, election time was an interesting period. I remember seeing huge lawn signs in and around my neighbourhood with checkmarks in the circle next to a candidate’s name to entice you to remember to mimic the same action when you went to vote.
I used to laugh at those signs thinking that anyone who used a checkmark instead of an “X” was making a huge mistake. It made me wonder why candidates were confusing voters with such tactics. Of course, at the time, I had no idea that you could use an “X” or a checkmark and your vote would still count.
But that’s not all.
You can mark your ballot in one of several ways and the vote will count. That’s because Elections BC has a clear definition of what fits and what doesn’t. If the marking you left behind in the circle behind a candidate’s name clearly shows intent, then it counts as a legal, correct vote. That sort of opens the landscape a bit, doesn’t it? Well, let’s go through some scenarios, shall we?
Valid Markings That Will Be Accepted
Okay, here’s a short list of what you can do to mark your ballot on October 15th and still get your vote counted:
An “X” - this is the classic. We all started probably with using an “X” because we think about the old saying that “X marks the spot.” I still use an “X” partly because I’m a bit of an old-school voter, and partly because if I use something else, I’ll worry that my ballot won’t be accepted. It just doesn't feel right to me to not use an "X."
A checkmark - this is the runner-up to the classic “X” and is as valid as the “X” in voting.
Writing the word ‘YES’ in the voting space - It shows intent. So it counts.
A circle inside the circle that makes the voting space - again, voter intention is clear.
A star/asterisk - Remember, if voter intention is obvious, the marking is accepted.
A partial checkmark - voter intention is still clear.
Here’s A Couple Of Wildcards
Alright. So, what if you go into the voting booth and you mark one voting space with an “X” and then realize that the person you wanted to vote for was someone else, and you stroke out your first “X” and leave a second? If the voter intent is clear, it would be accepted.
How about if you use either an “X” or a checkmark, but only part of it is visible in the white voting circle on the ballot? It would still demonstrate voter intent.
Rejected Markings That Will Get Your Ballot Tossed Aside
Now the fun part. Believe it or not, there are voters out there who will take advantage of the secret ballot process and mark their ballots in some unusual ways. All of the ones listed below will spoil your ballot which is a nice way of saying your vote doesn’t count.
More checkmarks or “X”s than required, or none at all - voter intent unclear so it is rejected.
One “X” that is stroked out, but not replaced with another one next to a different candidate’s name - this will be rejected.
A mixture of “X”s and other marks - voter intention is not clear.
Dots and question marks filling each voting space - again, voter intention is not obvious.
Your initials in the voting area - although the voter intention may be clear here, the issue now is that the voter may be identifiable from their initials. That removes the secret ballot component so this vote will be rejected.
You sign your name in the voting area - see “Your initials in the voting area.”
So, to wrap this up, “X” does not always mark the spot. The determining factor, according to Section 123 of the Election Act as enforced by Elections BC is voter intent. If you mark your ballot with a happy face, as long as it appears next to a voter's name and you haven’t given a smiley face to all names on the ballot, you should be golden.
On Saturday, October 15, 2022, please remember to vote for your local Town Council. It doesn’t matter if you use an “X”, checkmark, or asterisk, just try to remember to put one of those markings in the voter space behind my name, George Elliott. Thank you.
My name is George Elliott. I have been in the Media Industry since 1978. I spent 23 years in Broadcasting and worked in a total of six different radio stations located in southern British Columbia Canada during my career. In 2000 I switched gears and moved into the Print Media Industry at a small town, local weekly community newspaper. In 2004 I bought the paper and operated it with my wife, Brenda until July 2016 when we closed it. I launched a freelance web content and article writing business from my home in January 2014.