Make a list of the values you have and what you care about. Then you will be ready to look for candidates and issues that match.
Make a candidate report card
List the qualities you want in a candidate, such as experience and open-mindedness. List the issues you believe are most important. For example, you may rank health care, education and taxes as most pressing topics. Then rate the candidates on their ideas and style and how closely they match.
Take a careful, critical look at campaign literature for each side
Does it provide substantive information about the candidates’ stands on issues and their qualifications? Is it designed to appeal to your emotions, does it simply attack the other side or does it offer specific facts and truthful information?
Learn how other people view the candidate
Check endorsements and ratings. Are they from an organization you can trust?
Rate the candidates on how they campaign
Are they open and honest? Do they answer questions or evade them? Do they talk about issues or do they just try to stir up your emotions?
Examine the candidate’s campaign finances
Is the candidate using personal funds? Getting large donations from a few people or corporations or small donations from many people? Are political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs – groups formed to raise and distribute money – playing a big role? Is the candidate open about who is funding the campaign?
Look for reliable sources of information
Check out websites run by nonpartisan political organizations such as the League of Women Voters. Consult newspapers and other media. Check with the political parties. By going to a variety of sources, you’ll have a broader and more reliable perspective.
Watch debates and forums
Candidate debates and forums are an opportunity for you to directly compare the candidates and their positions. During a debate, candidates meet face-to-face to answer questions, state their views and respond to their opponents’ statements.
Before the debate, prepare
Decide which campaign issues are most important to you.
Think about what else you need to know to make your decision.
Open your mind to new opinions and impressions of the candidates.
Consider watching the debate with a group. Discussing it with others may help you clarify your thoughts about what was said and how the candidates performed.
During the debate, ask
Does each candidate have an equal opportunity to speak and respond?
Are the questions clear, fair and equally tough on all candidates?
Is the moderator in control of the debate?
Do the candidates answer questions directly, or do they evade them?
Do they give specifics, or do they speak in generalities?
Do they talk about their own policies and positions, or do they mostly attack their opponents?
Can they actually carry out the promises they are making?
Do they explain how their backgrounds and experience qualify them to hold the office?
Are their answers consistent with their previous positions, and if not, why not?
What image are they trying to create?
Do their responses appear “canned”?
Are reaction shots or other techniques used to create a sense of drama or conflict?
After the debate, reflect
How are the pre-debate and post-debate commentaries trying to influence you?
Which candidate appears most qualified for the office?
Determine how you agree and disagree with each candidate.
What did you learn about the issues or the candidates?
What do you want to look into further?
Think critically about campaign ads
Listen to the ad with your eyes closed.
What feelings did you have while listening to the ad?
Now both watch and listen to the ad.
What feelings did you have while watching the ad?
What created those feelings? Consider music, other sound, visual quality, background scene and people shown in the ad.
What new factual knowledge did you gain from the ad?
Would the ad make you more likely to support or oppose the candidate it talks about? Why or why not?
Be a careful consumer of campaign advertising and messaging. Look for statements of fact and recognize when there is an attempt to manipulate your emotional response. Also pay attention to who paid for the ad. Was it authorized by the candidate or another group? If the top donors are listed, do you recognize any of the names? Are they individuals or groups with which you typically agree?
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