In our country, we have the great privilege of participating in the selection of leaders and the direction of our government. After observing elections over many years, I decided to summarize the main approaches to voting that I have seen. This simplification helps me both now and for the future, and perhaps it will help you as well.
1) Personal Gain: Many people vote on the basis of “how will it help me now?” The focus is on the present and immediate future benefits. The operative word is “free.” For this approach, the politician who promises the most free stuff wins. In spite of my gullibility and optimism, I have usually found that free stuff is usually worth about what I paid for it, or has a hidden cost that becomes apparent only later. There is a place where you can get free health care, free housing, free food, free clothing and free education. There is no inequality. This sounds like a political utopia, but no one would choose to live in the government-designed and -sponsored institutions called “prisons.” People there would trade it all for simple freedom.
2) Party: Many people vote purely by party affiliation. Even assuming that your candidate will follow the direction of the party, careful observers have noted that there have been significant changes in the foundations of the main parties over the past years. Where is each party headed today?
3) Personality: Many people pick the candidate the way they would pick a friend: likable, compatible, pleasant, etc. However, elections are not about picking friends (as you will likely never have any direct contact), but rather about picking a person to do an important job. For most jobs, skills are the primary concern, rather than personality. If you are selecting someone to fix your plumbing, they must be competent to complete the task. They may be very likable, but this does not help your clogged drain if they cannot fix it. In addition, people who focus on personality often have very intense feelings about their choice, and negative emotions dominate toward candidates they do not like. We know that emotions cloud judgment and reasoning, and negative emotions especially warp our thinking. Angry people distort facts and quickly jump to wrong conclusions. There is a better way…
4) Policy, Principles, and Priorities: In politics, we choose people whose core principles will guide their actions and decisions. The best guide to their political priorities is what they have done recently, if they have a political record, and if not, what they emphasize in their words. I ask myself, “What priorities and principles do I consider most important in the political arena? Will they endure?” These are the things I should emphasize when voting. Once my priorities are clear, it is easier to make the decision.
If I really cannot decide on an issue or a person for an office because I lack sufficient information, there is another good option, which is simply not to vote. Leave that one blank. This is better than making a blind choice, which could be harmful. Democracy only works well when people make informed choices. If masses of people are voting in ignorance or for poor reasons, we are likely to get the leaders and policies we deserve.
Happy voting! May our republic endure with “liberty and justice for all.”