Choosing Good Candidates

Pick the Best Candidates

One of your greatest sources of political power is your right to vote. At election time, you vote for people in two or three branches of government. It’s important to pick the candidates who are qualified to do the job, and who most closely agree with your priorities for action. Once someone gets into office, you have to live with their decisions for two, four or six years. That’s why voting intelligently is so important!

There are four major tasks to picking the best candidate. They are:

1.  Learning about the issues and deciding where you stand on each major issue.

2.  Finding high-quality information about where the candidates stand on the issues. You also need some information about the candidate’s experience.

3.  Analyzing the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

4.  Making a decision about which candidate is better.

For now, we will assume that you’ve already thought about the issues enough to make comparisons between candidates. (Learning how to analyze the issues can be found in Part 9.)  So we move to the second task…

 

Finding Quality Information about Candidates

First, let’s think about the quality of different sources of information. Here’s our thinking. See if you agree:

Candidate TV ads:  VERY LOW QUALITY.  Contains a lot of packaging to make one candidate look good and the others look bad. Music and film editing have nothing to do with the heart of an issue or candidate. They are designed to create an emotional response of liking, not intelligent decision-making. They don’t have enough time to seriously cover even one issue.

Candidate Literature.  USUALLY LOW QUALITY.  Again, contains a lot of packaging to create feel-good emotions. May or may not contain a lot about the candidate’s stand on real issues. Often makes a lot of promises. However, you will usually find information about previous experience.

What opposing candidates say about the candidate. LOW TO MEDIUM QUALITY.  Opposing candidates will often exaggerate their opponent’s weaknesses and bad decisions. However, they also sometimes zero in on a candidate’s major short-comings.  If troubling facts are presented, they can be verified elsewhere.

Your friends.  USUALLY LOW OR MEDIUM QUALITY.   Currently most people don’t have access to good information, and/or they don’t have good critical thinking skills.

Political blogs and political news websites.  LOW TO HIGH QUALITY.  The quality of blogs and political websites vary greatly, as does the writing of individuals on any given website. You must make judgments about the writer and writing before you can trust it.  (See our section Choosing Good Information Sources for more on this.)

Newspaper Editorials and Endorsements   MEDIUM QUALITY.  Newspapers often have a bias because of who owns them and what their politics are. But newspaper editorials and endorsement often give reasons for why one candidate is better.

Video of candidates at meetings.  MEDIUM TO HIGH QUALITY.  Video of officials interacting at city council meetings or as part of house or senate meetings at the state and national level is often available. It can give you insight into the personality, views and intelligence of candidates. But it’s important to pay attention to the important things, and not be impressed by appearance, charisma or speaking ability.

The candidates’ voting records.  HIGH QUALITY.  Most candidates for public office have held other offices before. If you can see how they voted, you can have an excellent idea of how they will vote on similar issues. Voting records, or information about policies that they implemented, are not just talk; they represent commitments that the candidate made.

For voting records of current candidates click on  “current candidates” in the red at the top of the page.  Project Vote Smart.

Also, you can check  On The Issues.

Vote-Smart Political Courage statements.  HIGH QUALITY.  When available, these are excellent, because they ask candidates directly if they favor or oppose certain issues. There is no room for waffling. Project Vote Smart   Political Courage Test 

League of Women Voters (LWV) Voting Guides.  HIGH QUALITY.  When available you can find these published in major newspapers a couple of weeks before a general election. They can also be downloaded from local LWV websites.  Note that the LWV does take stands on certain issues. But their reporting of candidate positions usually seems to be without bias. LWV Voters Guides can also be found online for most locations. Start at the League of Women Voters site, go to “Find a Local League” and find your city or town. League of Women Voters.

Fact-finding websites that give information on a candidate’s source of funds.  HIGH QUALITY.    OpenSecrets.org  (for national candidates) and  FollowtheMoney.Org   (for state candidates.)
All these and many other information links can also be found on our Political Info pages.

 

Analyzing the Candidates

In some cases, one candidate is clearly better than another, so there’s no need to study them in detail. But at other times, you will need to think carefully about the candidates for a certain office.  Below is a worksheet of questions to fill in for each candidate: (For a document that you can write in, pick one: Candidate-Open Office file  or  Candidate-Word file.)

CANDIDATE WORKSHEET

1.  What is the candidate’s previous experience? (Experience outside of government is worth something, too.)

2.  Is the candidate well-qualified? What is his or her educational background?

3.  Does the candidate’s statements demonstrate intelligence and an understanding of the issues?

4.  Has the candidate shown an ability to work well with others?  (Can the candidate negotiate?  Can the candidate inspire?  Can the candidate organize work?  Has  the candidate made political enemies that will neutralize his/her effectiveness?)

5.  Does the candidate appeal to your emotions (usually bad) or your intelligence (usually good)?  In other words, does the candidate talk about hot-button issues that get people angry and not about priority issues that significantly affect people?

6.  Does the candidate present clear solutions, plans, new approaches?–Or does the candidate just talk about values, visions and problems in interesting or inspiring ways.  (Just because you can impress people about your knowledge of the problems, it doesn’t mean you have any solutions.)

7.  Does the candidate also talk about funding the new solutions?  Does he or she have any creative ideas about saving money or generating funds?

8.  Does the candidate offer simplistic and no-sacrifice solutions to complex problems?  (bad)  Is the candidate able to take unpopular but principled positions, for instance, asking people to face long-term issues that require some sacrifice? (good)

9.  Are the candidate’s priorities the same as yours?  Or does the candidate focus on things that aren’t important, that don’t greatly affect the quality of life of enough people?

10.  What is the candidate’s voting record on these major issues?

How government operates (structural issues)?

The economy?

Government spending/Taxes?

Education?

Healthcare?

Other social services?

The environment?

Homeland security?

Another key issue for you ________________

Another key issue for you ________________

Another key issue for you ________________

11. Who is making and has made major contributions to the candidate’s campaign?  Does the candidate seem to be bought by these contributors?  (Check the voting record for any signs of voting that is independent of contributions. That would be a good thing.)

 

Next, make a decision about which candidate is better

Here are three questions to ask yourself:

1.  For a minute, ignore the facts about the candidates. What is your emotional reaction or gut reaction toward each candidate? Why do you like or dislike this or that candidate? Why do you trust or distrust this candidate?

2.  Is there a good reason for your attitude or emotional gut reaction, or has your thinking or attitude towards any of the candidates been biased or unfairly influenced by hype, rumors, slogans, images or any other sources of bias? Can you get beyond this bias?

3.  Recalling their stands on issues and the facts, which candidate is more likely to create laws or policies that you favor? (Vote for this one!)   Note: We encourage voters to think twice before they vote for a candidate solely because their stance on one issue. Most people in office make many decisions that that will affect your safety, quality of life and future.

 

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