Campaigns haven’t always been the “larger than life” productions that they are today. Before news spread like the common cold, with the invention of the television and internet, campaigns were primarily face-to-face ordeals. After a hopeful would announce their intent to run for the office, usually through means of the radio or a newspaper, you would then wait for them to come to a town near you to hear them speak. Leading up to the election of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, traveled some 10,000 miles to personally visit 34 states. Americans, then, couldn’t look up their entire voting record, where they went to high school, or the length of their marriage with one quick Google search. So given the resources available today, it would be natural to assume that voters in the year 2016 are the more informed voters than the generations before. However, that isn’t necessarily true. Since the democratic process is irrefutably one of the foundations of the United States, here are three simple tips that can help you become more informed at the polls, and make the most of your vote.
Know What the Office of the President Actually Does and Can’t Do
What is a proper campaign without grandiose promises, right? It is no secret that so many of the promises the candidates make, never come to fruition while they are serving in office. But why? Is it because they never had an intention of trying if elected, because they simply didn’t have time during their administration, that the other party opposed them too heavily to succeed? While it could be any of those things, it is often because that what the hopefuls promise is either impossible, or at best, extremely improbable. How can we, as voters, know if what they claim has a decent chance at ever being produced? You wouldn’t hire someone to help run your company, and not know the details of the position you were interviewing them for, so let’s take a look at the job description.
When the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution, they had seen, first hand, the affinity for corruption that power bestows upon man. Consequently, they were very intentional in their writing, to limit how much control any one man, or branch of government may have.They created the three branches of government to keep one another accountable and limited in power (checks and balances, separation of powers). The office of the President was no exception. They outlined what qualifications are necessary for office, as well as the limitations of what that office can do:
Commander In Chief of the Military, may grant reprieves and pardons, to make treaties (with advice and consent of the Senate), nominate and appoint certain offices of the United States (with advice and consent of the Senate), fill vacancies of the Senate, give the State of the Union from time to time.
That is the lens in which we can “fact check” the intentions and promises of a candidate. When you watch a debate, or hear them speak at a rally, and they guarantee that they will make something legal or illegal; they can do no such thing on their own. They can attempt to get a bill passed through the House, and then the Senate, and then at that point they may approve it (getting it to that point is quite difficult and lengthy), but they cannot simply declare something a law because of their office. Knowing exactly what the office is capable of, will allow you to make a more informed choice on who would be the best to fill it. (Not to mention being able to detect which claims are more for show than actuality.)
Watch More Than Just the Debate Highlights and Ads
Punchy one-liners are great for sitcoms and comedians. They give us a little chuckle, and sometimes a “right on!”, but not so much for presidential debates. When you just watch the snippets of the debate, you only get those one-liners that the crowd was particularly pleased with, and honestly, they are usually not very substantive, or they are just super rehearsed. This year, 114.4 million Americans watched the Super Bowl, while less than 25 million tuned in to the latest Republican and Democratic debates, combined! Even though it can feel more like a dog fight than a debate at times, try to sit through the entire program and watch how they respond to questions that they didn’t practice in the mirror for. Are they calm and ready to answer their questions with tact, or defensive and filling their time with “fluff” because they don’t have an adequate response?
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
Try Watching the Debates with the Subtitles Only
Maybe this is just a quirk of mine, but I like to watch the debates without sound. As you probably know, politicians are skilled in the art of rhetoric and presentation. They have an entire team to tell them which tie or shade of lipstick is going to make them seem the most relate-able and trust worthy to voters. And part of that skill set isn’t just what they say, but more importantly, how they say it. The goal of any speaker is to make you feel something.The pitch of the voice, the way it crescendos when making a point, or hitting one of those key words that spark our attention, isn’t merely coincidence, but a highly refined skill. I find that when the volume is down, and their words are in black and white, it is much easier to discern if their replies and speeches are real, useful content, or something that just sounds good to my ears, and rouses an emotional response.
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” – Abraham Lincoln
Whether you vote red or blue, take the time to research your candidate. Utilize the vast resources that we have today, to be an active part of the democratic process that our forefathers fought so hard to establish.
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment and let me know what you do to be better informed!