10 Steps to Becoming a Better Conservative or Liberal Voter
An estimated 80 million viewers watched the first presidential debate between Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. But, one criticism levied at both candidates this election cycle is the lack of policy, positions and substance being presented.
This lack of substance is glaringly visible on social media where followers of both camps blurt out their 140-character Tweets or argue their position on Facebook. Often online debates deteriorate to personal attacks, misinformation and severed relationships. Adding to the debacle is a very noisy information age where getting barebones facts gets complicated.
Despite this, anyone can decipher which candidate is the best choice for them by applying these these 10 steps.
1.) Know Your Values
You have a core set of beliefs that matter to you. These beliefs should be the cornerstone of your decision-making process. One of my key values is I believe every American should have a fair shot at the American Dream. When I vet a candidate, if their policies tilt the game to favor this or that group, it can be a deal breaker.
Think about – or even list on paper – your handful of core values. Obviously, no candidate will ever completely align with all of your core values (if they did they would be you), but if you start with your value system, the campaign promises and policies that support or go against your values, will become apparent.
2.) Study Concepts, Not Facts
This seems counterintuitive for some, but memorizing facts about a Party is only valuable if you play a lot of political Trivial Pursuit. The reason is simple. Memorizing facts can lead to faulty logic. If I am debating as a liberal and throw out the fact that the GOP vehemently opposed legislation that outlawed child labor (in the 1920s), I could use that fact to ‘prove’ they are anti-children. I may then seek to find information (because of confirmation bias) to prove that the GOP is – and always has been – against children. Of course, the argument is ludicrous.
The GOP is not anti-children – and the platform of 1920 is not relevant in 2016, because the beliefs of all political parties shift and evolve. If you seek to understand the underlying concepts that guide a political party, you will be more educated on their overall focus.
3.) Find Multiple – And Opposing – News Sources.
In the age of social media and the Internet one increasingly troublesome problem is the rise of individuals who get all of their news from one source. Although using only one source of news has always been an ineffective method of understanding any subject, it is more troubling in the Internet age as information is often supplied to a person based on the browsing history, likes, shares or retweets.
This creates a Catch-22 – known as the echo chamber effect -- where all the information you read correlates with what you have already surmised to be true. The advantage of the Internet – and even social media – is, if you choose, you can be exposed to an ever-widening array of opinions and ideas.
- Know Your Values
- Study Concepts
- Multiple Sources
- Read Scholars
- Know Their Position
- Be Realistic
- Concentrate On You
- Study Political Structure
- It's a Marathon
- Let it Go
4.) Read Scholars
Regardless of your political bend, you can find a plethora of commentators in your camp. What is often missing, though, is substance. One ongoing complaint of presidential elections, in general, is the amount of misinformation spewed by candidates. Seek out scholars that present a more in-depth presentation about the issues. Surface noise is superficial. It is entertainment. Plenty of books, written by proponents of both major political parties, exist to explain current policies and positions. Teach yourself how to find raw data and bypass the salesman.
5.) Know A Candidate's Positions
Both presidential candidates have a website -- as do their political parties. Although this should be a basic first step, many voters do not read what their candidate has written – and often do not even know what the Party’s current platform (i.e. focus) is. Seek it out.
6.) Accept Reality
Both political parties have one goal: power. They want to be the ones writing society's rules. In a letter to the editor to my community newspaper, one writer admonished readers to not support former House Speaker John Boehner (in 2014) because he was campaigning for an openly gay GOP candidate. The writer had obviously not read the Party's Growth and Opportunity Project report or she would have known why Boehner was doing it. Values and mores shift over time – and the next bumper crop of voters – the millennials are the real target of both parties.
7.) Concentrate On You
If your only goal is to be right in an argument with a family member, co-worker or friend, your effort to become an educated voter will be thwarted. People vote for a candidate for a variety of reasons, and some may not truly decide until they are in the voting booth. You have no control over how they vote and, attempting to sway their opinion will often lead to wounded relationships. Educate yourself.
8.) Understand the Political Structure
Although not a news flash, the American political structure is flawed and has weaknesses that Parties exploit. Presidential elections almost always generate a larger voter turnout, but history has shown that the most important national elections are often the off-year elections that end in zero. And, national elections are only one aspect of the voting process -- learn how your local and state processes work.
9.) Quit Focusing On The Election
It’s in your best interest to treat politics like a marathon. The average voter will get to cast a vote for 50 or 60 years. You will either become more knowledgeable or more predictable. It is a personal choice. Knowledgeable voters consume books, articles, news and other sources of information. They will seek out opposing viewpoints and their loyalties may even shift over time. Voting is a long-term commitment.
10.) Let Go Of The Belief That A Political Party Cares About Your Religious Or Philosophical Position
From a political party point of view, you are a demographic. Politicians and their consultants pore over Census reports, polls and surveys to understand you – not as an individual but as a group. Much like a widget company studying its market to sell the most widgets, you are just a consumer to them. In our age of identity politics, messages are crafted and fine-tuned to bring you into their fold.
Enjoy The Process
If you take the time to follow some of these steps, you will land in the fold that most closely aligns with what matters to you.
Lastly, instead of arguing on social media or at the family picnic, enjoy each other’s company. Politics is just one element of life – and, although it is important – you probably are not going to have an epitaph that reads “He was the greatest Democrat/Republican to ever live.”
At least, for your sake, I hope not.