How to Choose Between Political Candidates
How many times have you or someone you know been angry about a candidate elected to public office? How often have you voted for someone recommended by a friend, only to discover that the candidate had lied about themselves during their campaign?
Every country needs government officials who they can trust, who have interests and experience related to the well being of humankind as a whole, who will encourage and uphold laws that can be equally applied to all and, in the long run, will benefit the majority of its citizens. Although the specifics of this article are about preparing to vote in the United States, its concepts and practices can be applied to any country.
Why Spend the Time to Vote With Integrity?
If you're going to take the time to vote, you might as well prepare for it. It's hard to make good choices when you're rushed, and you don't want to just guess at the last minute. Here is why:
- Choosing the future: When you vote, you're helping to choose the direction of our country and future. Researching the candidates and issues and then voting for what makes sense for your life helps leaders and the media know what kind of country you want to live in.
- Voter responsibility: It's our responsibility to elect our leaders and let them know with our votes that we have their backs, just as they promise to have ours. If we don't vote, we leave them without that assurance, whereas with that assurance people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can speak up boldly about the public's needs. (She has the solid backing of voters in her district.)
- Curiosity: Who are the candidates? Are they really who they say they are? Researching candidates can be one of the most rewarding, interesting projects you take on as a voter. It's like following a mystery trail. You learn a lot about the candidates and you learn a lot about the government. Researching gives you the confidence to vote for the best person, irrespective of party.
Your power of choice in voting is what most politicians (and the media) are afraid of. It's why they work so hard to influence you. It's why they lie, talk trash about their opponents, and mock people who point out their self-weaknesses. It's why politicians with integrity, like Bernie Sanders, travel all over the country talking about issues and finding out what's important to voters. It's why it's important for you to know what you're looking for.
In order to vote, you must be registered with your county ahead of time. Here is an article that shows how to register and what the voting process is like. If you've already registered and are preparing to vote, read on.
It's Our Job to Elect Officials We Can Trust
Choosing How to Vote
More than 700 presidential candidates have already registered with the Federal Election Commission, according to Ballotpedia, so there's going to be a lot of weeding out to do before the primaries. Many will weed themselves out as time goes on and they run out of money, or the media ignores them, or nobody attends their public rallies.
A few will make it through the rough campaign process, partly because they already have name recognition––either they're already elected officials or they're well known for some other reason. These are the ones for you to pay attention to.
There are three ways people typically choose which candidates and legislation to vote for, whether in the primaries or the general election:
- By party line
- By what others say
- By doing their own research
Each method has its own benefits and problems. Whereas the last method carries the greatest integrity, it also takes longer (but is interesting). How do you currently choose candidates to vote for?
What is your primary method of choosing?
1. Voting by Party Line
This is the simplest way to vote in the general elections––it's the way most people vote, but that's thankfully changing. The two top parties shift their values all the time, so people don't know what they stand for anymore. Nevertheless, those who vote straight party line:
- always vote for their party's candidate.
- always vote for the incumbent, unless the incumbent really screwed up.
- reject an incumbent they're unhappy with by voting for the opponent, no matter who the opponent is.
2. Voting by the Choices of Others
If you don't have the time (or interest) in a particular candidate or issue to do your own research, you can often depend on others to choose for you, while you research what is important to you. If you're going to vote this way, it's a good idea to vary your advisors between these three main categories:
- Political nonprofits––Labor unions, AARP, the NRA, League of Women Voters, i.e. 501(c)4, 5 or 6. Choose at least one nonprofit you identify with and trust, whether you belong to it or not. Churches are generally not included, since they're not supposed to be involved in politics or they would lose their nonprofit status (they're a 501(c)3). The nonprofits to which you donate, where you can't take a tax deduction, are those that are allowed to advise you on politics.
- Social media and friends––Be careful to choose friends who make sense to you, not the ones who get all emotional and frothy at the mouth. Same thing with social media people you barely know.
- Mainstream media––Television, YouTube, newspapers all have their favorite candidates. When you watch or read them, look to see if candidates make sense and are telling the truth, or if they're just spouting someone's party line. Watch the commentators too. If they frown or look wooden while speaking, it could be they're being forced to read something they don't believe.
The best way to make sure you are voting with full integrity is to do your own research. There are several ways you can do that, depending on how much time you have and how important it is to you to vote well.
How do Voters Choose?
3. Forming Your Own Opinion
Forming your own opinion does not take a college degree. It does take curiosity, skill at searching the Internet, and the ability to put two and two together. It takes patience to do the research and courage to face up to what you find.
There are four main steps to take:
- Identify your top values.
- Look for candidates that appear to match your values.
- Look at those candidates' backgrounds.
- Validate with friends and others.
Before I go into detail, note that it helps a lot to write down what you find as you go along. The table below is an example of one method you can use for keeping track.
What they stand for
Where we agree
Where we don't agree
1. Identify your political values.
Many people have a good idea of what their political values are by the time they're ready to vote. However, you may not have really looked to see whether those values come from your own experience, or from the insistence of family or friends. If you want to vote with integrity, you'll need to make sure they're coming from your own beliefs and experiences. Here are a few things to check and make note of:
- Which news events or topics trigger you the most? Watch how you react emotionally when you listen to news or read the newspaper. What makes you feel hopeful or expansive inside? Write those topics down. Then look at what makes you angry or sad. What's the opposite of them? Write those down too.
- Now check how you are with family and friends. When you're sitting around talking, what topics do you leap to comment upon or defend? Are those topics on your list already? If not, add them.
- What do you most wish you had the power to fix in the world? Each of us has a secret hero image inside. What is yours? When you daydream about yourself saving the day, what is it you're saving? How does that compare with your values list? Anything to add?
When you start looking at candidates, your own values will clarify further. Keep your list next to the chart you're going to fill out (if you've decided to) and be prepared to continue to refine it.
2. Match the candidates with your values.
Now it's time to begin looking at candidates, especially if you're considering voting in the primaries. Since the media will probably already be talking about them, you'll have a general idea as to which candidates you prefer. But the media often distorts news, so you might want to start with the candidates' own websites.
Choose several candidates that you like so far and conduct a search online for their websites. They'll only include what makes them look good, but you should be able to find their stated values, some history, testimonials, and their major supporters. Consider that any articles listed are a form of testimonial. Note that those candidates who are already elected officials will also have a professional website, so you should check both.
Taking this step will help you prioritize the candidates to put those you most relate to on top. Subsequent steps will help you fine tune the list, showing who's for real and who has faked a different persona just to get elected.
The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Example: Analysis of Tulsi Gabbard
Here's an example of a candidate I don't know much about. Tulsi Gabbard is a congressional representative from Hawaii who is running for U.S. President in 2020.
Her campaign website talks a lot about love, her support for the environment, and how she believes in service. It talks about her deployment to the Middle East and her political service. A lot of it is general, geared to make you like her and think she's pretty (which she is). The website also shows that she accepts donations from people not PACs, which is becoming common these days since Bernie Sanders did it so successfully. She's a strong Bernie Sanders supporter.
Other than her support for Bernie and her interest in the environment, there's not a lot on her campaign website that impresses me or differentiates her from others running. Now I'm going to look on her congressional website to see if anything there backs up the general stuff, and also to see what her military service led to politically. Having served in the US Peace Corps twice, I am strongly anti-war.
Her congressional website shows that she's served four terms in Congress, so she does have experience in governing. That's good. The website gives updates on each of the Hawaiian islands, showing good communication with her constituents, and she's also active on social media. As a military veteran, Tulsi served in Iraq and as an officer in Kuwait, from which she returned with a medal. She still serves in Hawaii's National Guard. Hmmmm.
Surprisingly, we appear to be compatible on all the major issues, which I would not have expected from a military officer. She's against intervention in other countries' wars and against provoking wars for invented reasons, against LGBTQ discrimination, and against rapists going free just because they were in the military.
She's for protecting the environment (Hawaii's coral reefs), for Net Neutrality, for secure elections, supports nurses, and wants to set up a scientific vetting process for studies coming out on legal marijuana use (including its effect on prisons), which I like.
I'd like to say that one or two of these issues are the most important, but they're not. All of them are important, so what I see on her congressional website gives her a big plus in my voter's eyes. And the surprise factor––the blend between "conservative" and "liberal" is another plus in my eyes. She doesn't let herself be labeled. She acts on what she believes.
In preparation for the next section, I looked up Tulsi Gabbard on YouTube. Now, I never watch Fox News, but when I saw this video I watched and was very impressed. From here I would do the same for all the other candidates I'm interested in.
3. Look for integrity
In checking for integrity, you're looking to see which candidates walk their talk. I won't analyze a candidate here, but will give you information that can help you check experience, character, and knowledge.
- Experience: You want to see if they have the type of experience necessary for the office they're running for. If President or VP, have they worked for the government before? Do they have a breadth of knowledge across disciplines? Do they network with people from different countries and social strata? Do they have public speaking experience? Experience overseas, especially living in another culture? Are they well organized? How do they treat subordinates? All of these play into top government work, so they're all important.
To find out you can check news outlets for past news about each candidate, especially the more neutral outlets like BBC or The Washington Post. If you do look at Breitbart News or The New Yorker, keep in mind that they are heavily biased, so what they report will not necessarily be accurate.
Also note that, where experience is concerned, running a government is NOT the same as running a business. Both require good staffing and organization, but their purposes are diametrically opposed. The corporate world goes after money and wealth as its top priority. The government's top priority is supposed to be the public good––the wellbeing of the people as a whole. Compassionate government is the check and balance to materialistic corporate interests. That's why our current administration is not working so well for most of the people of this country.
- Character and beliefs: Look for candidate speeches on YouTube. Watch how the candidate acts, who they look at, what they do when they're upset or challenged. Watch the expressions on their face and their body language. You can usually tell when they're looking for approval or trying to impress, instead of speaking their truth.
- Knowledge on the issues: When they talk about the issues, do they make sense, according to what you know and have experienced? If you're not sure, find someone you know who understands something of the issues the candidate supports, and ask them to weigh in.
Also watch the debates and how candidates interact. The candidate who spends the most time trashing the others is usually the one who's weakest on the issues. That's why they're trashing––to deflect from their lack of knowledge.
Compassionate, people-oriented government is the check and balance to materialistic corporate interests.
- Consistency with stated values: Consistency is important. People with integrity act on what they believe. They don't just say something to make you feel good and walk away. Look to see if the candidates' actions in the real world match what they're claiming on the campaign trail. Look to see if what they say in Iowa matches what they say in California.
- Proof via their legislative record: All candidates holding current or past public office will have a legislative record that's accessible online. This will tell how they voted on which potential laws, and what they've cosponsored or even written themselves. The link above is for current U.S. representatives. Enter the name of the candidate and click "go" to see their record. Some candidates say one thing and vote completely differently. Again, you're looking for consistency. If you see something that's glaringly inconsistent, check the news to see why.
- What candidates say about each other: Although most candidates criticize each other on the trail, sometimes the things they say can be quite enlightening, especially if you check for further information. When Donald Trump criticized Hillary Clinton about using her private email for public work, he neglected to mention that it's common practice among public officials to keep undeveloped ideas under wraps, while they're working them out.
- Opinions of opposing public figures: Ron Paul is highly conservative. He stated in Breitbart News that Tulsi Gabbard is by far the best presidential candidate. The New Yorker on the liberal side calls her a "compelling figure" and goes on to paint a tentatively positive picture. This relatively favorable opinion from both extremes is good news for Tulsi.
- Who is donating to their campaign: Major donors usually expect some kind of recompense. Who's donating? What kind of payback might they expect? How does that match the candidate's stated values and how will it affect the public good?
Remember that you're looking for depth of experience; consistency between what the candidate says and what they do; and alignment with your own values, in addition to electability.
4. Check the opinions of others for validation.
Once you've done your own research, then it's a good thing to talk with others about the candidates you were most impressed with and why. Look to see if the others know something you missed, and what they think of the research you've uncovered.
You can check with political organizations and nonprofits that match your values, friends in person and on social media, even people who's values you know are different from yours. Watch ongoing news reports. This is similar to what many voters do instead of their own research, but I've found that researching first adds a depth that makes subsequent conversations really exciting.
Researching Issues on the Ballot
Researching proposed legislation––initiatives and referendums––is as important as knowing your candidates. Whereas we don't generally vote for federal legislation (Congress does that for us), we do vote for much of the legislation in the state we live in. Whatever is passed statewide has an immediate impact on our lives, so do research any legislation too.
An App Can Help You Choose
Voting on Election Day
The actual voting time on Election Day is minimal, compared to what it took you to research. To find out when to vote, look on your sample ballot. It will show your polling place and the polling hours––different from county to county nationwide.
Most counties have streamlined the voting system, so you can vote before or after work or during lunch hour, and get in and out quickly. You just check in, take the ballot they give you to a booth to fill out, then drop it in the ballot box and you're done.
Afterward, it can be fun to sit with friends and a drink, while you watch the voting results come pouring in. Everyone else's vote matters like yours does. However, if you've done the research to vote with integrity, your personal satisfaction will be enhanced.
Whatever the Outcome, Celebrate the Result
- Ocasio-Cortez Viewed Favorably | Sienna College Research Institute
Ocasio-Cortez is viewed favorably by the majority of voters in her district: 48% of all voters and 61% of Democrats would re-elect AOC.