Tips for the Informed Voter
In consideration of the upcoming elections, I figured I’d compose a little advice about being an informed voter among all this political rhetoric. The teams behind presidential candidates are factual contortionists- no one comes close to their ability to alter data and reality to whatever they want to depict.
Polls mean nothing-Categorically nothing. Shockingly nothing. The more you know about statistics, the more you realize this is true. They are so easy to skew, it doesn’t matter who’s ahead by 5 points or 14. Looking at what I just said, I didn’t even specify if they were percentage points or some other arbitrary scale, and that’s a huge difference. For example, there was a robotic poll that, when received by an answering machine, would record that the recipient favored Obama. The questions are almost always pointed and unrealistic. The closest thing to an accurate poll is available only to the candidates and their campaigns, as all others are skewed. So, when people argue about who’s ahead and who isn’t, remember that it doesn’t matter.
Quotes are questionable- First, watch out for ellipses (…). They may be innocently reducing the length of a sentence for practicality’s sake, but they often are used to remove a phrase that clarifies or reveals the real intent. This allows people to blow things out of proportions or villainize a fairly simple idea. Find the original quote in a whole and verifiable state. I’ve heard it claimed but highly doubt that there is anywhere in the Republican platform that says in “no uncertain terms” that they discourage rational thought. Try to determine the context and intent of the quote and judge off of that, not anyone’s interpretation (that’s heresy).
Use diverse sources- Don’t stick to one source or one side of the aisle. You’ll find that any one source will be biased and lead to an incomplete view of the issue. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, all are incredibly biased. While some sources are (much) better than others, like the Wall Street Journal and NPR, it’s also a good idea to employ international and intercultural media. For example, Romney and Obama were recently interviewed on Univision, the primary Hispanic media channel in the US. The host asked far more important and interesting questions than just about any domestic reporter I’ve seen. Sources like BBC, Univision, etc provide new perspectives that you don’t get in the US, but remember that they are often biased themselves.
Be familiar with the actual policy- Remember the birth certificate issue with Obama 4 years ago? That’s entirely not the point. It had little to do about whether Obama should be elected, but it kept some Conservatives rabid. Once the certificate was released, it was shown that all their raving had been in vain. It is almost certainly the same with Romney’s tax records. In the end, these issues that come to the forefront are incredibly trivial and have little bearing on how the candidate would serve as president, which is what the whole thing is about. Read the actual platforms to get a more substantial concept of the policy and decide on that.
Vote for who you want- Don’t join the bandwagon. Don’t vote who you think will win, or who the polls favor, or any of that. Vote who you think would be the best president. Don’t vote against Romney because he is a Republican, or has become rich, or Mormon (especially since Mormons are awesome; if you have problems with it, shoot me an ask, and I’ll try to help with the issue). Don’t vote against Obama because he’s liberal, or African American, or incumbent. Vote for real, non-bigoted, non-prejudiced reasons.
These are all things that an informed voter needs. It all comes down to intellectual independence, to be free of prejudice, bias, or ignorance. Unfortunately, these things are what most campaigns want from their voters, so it’s a hard fight, but in the end, it is worth it.