A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post entitled, “Know Your Politicians or Stay Home.” I agree with my friend’s premise that if one knows nothing about either or any of the candidates in a political race, one should not vote, for how can one make an informed choice? In the opposite extreme, only a few people close to politics will have perfect information about even one candidate.
I recall an article a few years back which seemed to decry the fact that people were too busy in their daily lives – preparing their kids to school, etc… – to really get into the upcoming election. Elections are not important enough that people should alter their lives in order that they can study the candidates in depth. However, there is so much information, albeit limited information, readily available on a daily basis about political candidates. I believe it is reasonable to make a choice based on this limited information.
In a perfect world, a voter would examine the world view of each candidate, and choose those whose world views are a close match to his own. The final choice would be based on how well each candidate would perform his job. To evaluate a candidate’s world view, one needs to pay attention to what he says and does, although it is hard to determine precisely a candidate’s intent and character from his actions and words. To evaluate how well a candidate would perform his job, one should look at past performance. However, accurately evaluating a person’s job performance is difficult.
Often what a candidate says, or what is said about a candidate, can convey information about the candidate’s world view or his suitability for the job. I’ve argued that Barney Frank’s own words show that he is not suited for Congress. This New York democrat has been endorsed by noted white supremacist David Duke, revealing information about his world view.
Legislators have public voting records that can be used to evaluate candidates for a legislative position. Judges have public records of their decisions on legal cases. In California, we have propositions on our ballots. Here, the law of unintended consequences rules – the California bullet train, which is bogged down with lawsuits and money trouble, came out of the proposition process.
Presidents and governors are often judged by the economic or social health of the country or state. This is not completely fair, but it is reasonable. Bill Clinton was re-elected to a second term because the United States had been experiencing a period of prosperity. However, the Monica Lewinsky scandal showed poor judgment. If the scandal had occurred during his first term, Clinton would not have had such an overwhelming victory.
In summary, there is a wealth of information – though most likely incomplete information – available about candidates’ characters, past performances, abilities, etc… It is reasonable to use this incomplete information coupled with logical thought and reflection about the information to make a choice on election day.