Why won’t whites vote for the PLP?

  • OBA MP Dr Grant Gibbons

    OBA MP Dr Grant Gibbons

  • Dr Eva Hdgson

    Dr Eva Hdgson

Racism is the driving force behind the white community’s tendency to vote overwhelmingly for one political party, according to historian and activist Dr Eva Hodgson.

It’s just not that simple, says Grant Gibbons, a former United Bermuda Party leader. While race plays a part in politics, voting preferences are a complex matter.

Dr Gibbons, who managed the UBP’s election campaign in 1993, says it is not necessarily the case that white voters always vote the same way, and one should beware of oversimplification.

“People vote for a party because they either trust it, that it will improve their situations or they are happy with what it has accomplished or promised to do.”

But for historian and race activist Dr Eva Hodgson, lingering racism within the white community is the key factor.

The pair were asked their views as to why the overwhelming majority of voters in the white community voted for only one party.

The 1998 election saw a “significant” amount of white voters who probably voted PLP for the first time, Dr Gibbons pointed out.

“There was a shift in the white voting pattern, a general sense that it was important to have a change in government.”

Fifty four percent of the national vote went to the Progressive Labour Party in the 1998 election.

While Dame Jennifer Smith, the party’s leader at the time, put it down to the youth vote being more active than ever before, the UBP’s leader, Dame Pamela Gordon said it was race and emotion that drove them out of power namely that the black community wanted a “fully black run government”.

Kim Young, a UBP MP at the time echoed the theme, saying “When the country grows up politically will be when people vote for the philosophies of parties rather than race.

“There are many people who are black who should vote UBP and many white people who should vote PLP.”

But as far as Grant Gibbons was concerned, white folks did vote PLP in 1998.

“There was a shift against the UBP in 1998 and as I recall at the time, there was a shift in the white vote. I’m not saying it was a huge shift but it was significant at the time,” he said.

By 2003, Dr Gibbons noted, the national vote was split 48 percent for the UBP and 51 percent for the PLP.

The latest political opinion poll, conducted by MindMaps for The Royal Gazette revealed that 88 percent of white voters would vote for the One Bermuda Alliance in the General Elections, suggesting that the OBA has inherited the white vote.

The same survey found that just 52 percent of black voters would vote for the PLP, with 15 percent opting for the OBA and 30 percent saying they don’t know or refused to state their preference.

“The real issue (today) is the PLP haven’t made the white voter welcome. They haven’t offered something that would give the white voter comfort,” said Dr Gibbons.

Kim Swan, one of two remaining UBP MPs kicked off a debate on the issue when he decried racial bloc voting and noted that the white community had consistently voted for one party since the 1980s, while the black community was “more objective”.

He believes the practice retards social progress and is calling for a concerted effort in the community to end racial polarisation in Bermuda.

“I think Kim is trying to get attention. But I would certainly agree with him that race is a significant component of a lot of things that happen in Bermuda,” Dr Gibbons continued.

But he insisted: “What you’re looking at now is people looking for a change in Government” with the management of the economy and unprecedented levels of debt being major concerns.

Mr Swan is also concerned that the effect of racial bloc voting is that a handful of marginals get to decide General Elections with most districts a foregone conclusion.

But Dr Gibbons points out that in most other democratic countries one can identify “established voting blocks”.

In Bermuda they may be along race lines but economic interests also may be a factor, he said.

“Marginal black voters are a larger proportion than marginal white voters and therefore more important.”

Formed in 1963 when Bermuda was run by a racist oligarchy, the PLP was Bermuda’s first political party.

Its primary mission then was to bring about social and economic justice a mission which included replacing a system which gave land owners voting rights with voter parity, ending widespread and open racial discrimination and improving conditions experienced by working class people.

The formation of the United Bermuda Party was led by existing legislators in reaction to the founding of the PLP to protect the interests of the ruling classes at the time, and white supporters of the PLP were frequently ostracised by the white community.

For Dr Hodgson how the communities vote is of little importance.

“The voting doesn’t matter as long as there is a vast difference between the communities. And the real issue is to have black affirmative action to begin to narrow the differences,” she told The Royal Gazette.

Asked why white voters tend to vote one way, she said: “Because racism is still very prevalent in the white community. It’s the white community who said we must have segregation so that black people could be demeaned and kept out of opportunities. They haven’t changed that much.

“The same attitude prevails today when they all vote the same way. It was never the black community that wanted to introduce segregation.”

Dr Hodgson said it was important to take a historical perspective in discussing issues of race.

“The origin and history is important. People think it all started with Ewart Brown and Rolfe Commissiong. It didn’t.”

Mr Swan is not the first to publicly discuss voting along racial lines. Rolfe Commissiong, a PLP supporter and former consultant to the Premier, frequently addressed the issue.

“Bermuda’s white community should examine its age old habits of voting for one party and one party only; that party being the UBP,” Mr Commissiong said in a 2009 Bermuda Sun editorial.

“If we are to move past the era of racial polarisation in politics, this must change. After all, you cannot have 21st Century politics with one group still mired in the 1950s with respect to its voting behaviour.

“White Bermudians should follow the example of Bermuda’s black community and strive to be more diverse in their political choices; their Anglo led tribalism must end for the sake of our still young democracy.”

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Published Jan 4, 2012 at 9:28 am (Updated Jan 4, 2012 at 9:28 am)

Why won’t whites vote for the PLP?

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