With the rise of social media, the rapid decline in local newspaper coverage, the expansion of media echo chambers, and the rapid proliferation of “fake news”, the American people have been spoonfed a warped sense of reality through their news.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “A well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.” For the sake of our democracy, take an active part in educating yourself before heading out to the polls.
The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.
- John F. Kennedy
CHECK YOUR SOURCES
The best way to counter one-sided bias or fake news is to conduct your own research. Fact-checking claims with reliable information from credible sources is perhaps the best way to fight the spread of misinformation. By double-checking a claim you see on social media or in an online article, you can verify whether or not it’s true. Using verifiable, reputable sources to fact-check information is essential — otherwise, you risk perpetuating the cycle.
FACT CHECKING SITES
WHO'S ON YOUR BALLOT?
Before you begin evaluating candidates or issues, you’ll need to know the races and ballot measures on which you’ll be voting. One way to find out is by entering your address into sample ballot generators This is an easy way to learn when the next election in your state and locality is taking place. These tools will also generate a list of candidates and issues that will be on your ballot when you vote. It may be helpful to check both ballot generator tools to see which has more details on your state or local races.
VOTING INFO SITES
RESEARCH YOUR CANDIDATES
Candidates can be judged in two ways: the positions they take on issues and the leadership qualities and experience they would bring to the office. Both are important. Your first step is to decide which issues you care about and the qualities you want in a leader.
CHECK WEBSITES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
You can get a sense of a candidate’s background and position on various issues by looking at their campaign’s website. Even though a candidate’s website will be biased in their own favor, comparing the sites of all your candidates should give you a good sense of each candidate’s background, experience, and where they stand on the issues that are important to you.
RECOGNIZE DISTORTION TACTICS
Adapted from the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts
NAME CALLING: In a classic case, one politician won an election when he alleged that his opponent “once matriculated” and that his opponent’s wife was a “thespian.” In addition to ignorant or absurd rumors, inflammatory statements that distort the truth can be just as damaging. A candidate might, for example, call an opponent’s behavior “wishy-washy” or “two-faced” when it should more accurately be described as flexible or responsive. Don’t be side-tracked, either, by attacks on a candidate based on family, ethnicity, gender, race, or personal characteristics that don’t make a difference in performance.
RUMOUR MONGERING: Watch for the unsubstantiated statement or innuendo. Have you ever heard quotes like these in a political campaign? “Although everyone says my opponent is a crook, I have no personal knowledge of any wrongdoing.” “I’ve heard that Jones is soft on communism.” “I can’t speak for Riley or Baker, but I would never have awarded such a low-cost loan to an out-of-state builder.” Legal, perhaps, but dirty campaigning. Such dark hints can sway an election, if voters are unwary, long before a fair-campaign investigation or a slander suit can put a stop to them.
LOADED STATEMENTS: “I oppose wasteful spending” doesn’t say much, and it implies the candidate’s opponent favors it. If a candidate gets away with an empty claim like that, he or she may never have to account for identifying which expenses are necessary and which are just fat. The loaded question has the same effect. Asking, “Where was my opponent when the chips were down about expanding employment insurance?” without mentioning that the bill never came to the floor for a vote is an easy way to distort the facts.
Guilt by association — Look carefully at criticism of a candidate based on that candidate’s supporters: “We all know Smith is backed by big-money interest” or “The union has Jones in its pocket.” Every candidate needs support from a wide range of people and groups who may not represent the candidate’s view on all the issues. Judge the candidate’s own words and deeds.
CATCHWORDS: Beware of empty phrases such as “law and order” or “The American Way,” which are designed to trigger a knee-jerk, emotional reaction without saying much. If a term defies definition or leaves out great chunks of real life, be on your guard. Try to translate such “buzzwords” into what the candidate is really trying to say.
BAITING: Politics is a tough game. But badgering and intimidation are unfair campaign tactics. Think twice about a candidate who tries to make an opponent look weak or out of control by harassment until she or he flies off the handle or says something rash.