How to Research Candidates Before an Election

( – A functioning democracy depends on its citizens voting for candidates who best represent their views. Though federal law doesn’t require voting, the right to vote brings a profound responsibility.

The candidates we choose through the election process affect our daily lives, our future, and beyond. Casting an intelligent ballot calls for knowing the candidate’s position on the issues and their voting history. The best-informed voters take the time to research the candidates.

Know Your Position on the Issues

Before you start researching the various candidates, it’s imperative that you know and understand your position on the issues. Physically create a list of your concerns and how related legislation may impact your daily life and the future for you and generations to come. Some typical topics that many people consider when they cast a ballot include the following:

  • Wages and minimum wage
  • Taxes
  • Protecting the environment and fighting climate change
  • Infrastructure
  • Social justice issues and human rights
  • Education

Of course, many of these issues intersect, and it sometimes presents a juggling act when you consider, for example, how improvements in education and infrastructure may impact taxes.

The Problem with One-Issue Voting

People sometimes become so impassioned by one particular issue that they vote for a candidate who focuses on that topic. Choosing an elective official based on one point may go against the voter’s best interests if their candidate votes for other legislation that may significantly and adversely impact their life.

Make sure to thoroughly research all candidates, especially those focusing on one or limited issues. Some candidates will use emotional sound bites to appeal to impassioned voters.

Vote Your Interests

Though one-issue voting doesn’t always make sense, some groups advocate for a specific population segment. Often, these organizations will recommend particular candidates and prepare voter scorecards. AARP represents one group that supports senior citizens. AARP will promote candidates that protect Medicare and Social Security and other financial interests that impact those 65 and older.

Steps to Take in Researching Candidates

In addition to considering the candidate’s position on political issues, you’ll also want to review their character. Voters may define character differently and assign it varying levels of importance, but a couple of traits most people agree are essential include honesty and dependability. Check out the following ideas for resources as you prepare for an upcoming election:

  1. Visit the candidate’s website. A serious contender will clearly state their positions on the issues.
  2. If the candidate already holds public office, you may research their voting record on the appropriate government website.
  3. Attend campaign events and town halls. These events may include anything from large campaign rallies to small gatherings in homes or coffee shops.
  4. Visit the campaign headquarters to ask questions. Staffers and volunteers working there will undoubtedly possess valuable knowledge regarding the candidate’s views.
  5. Factcheck the candidate’s claims on important topics through sources such as, run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which keeps track of candidates’ statements and claims.
  6. Take a look at websites for groups that focus on your passion or special interests, such as AARP for senior citizens and Clean Water Action for environmentalists.
  7. Additionally, sample ballot sites and apps may help you determine which candidates align best with your views. Some of these sites include Vote Smart, Vote 411, and Ballotpedia.
  8. Stay connected with the local news, especially for updates on city and municipal races.

As you research the candidates, you’ll also want to explore ballot initiatives and other measures to understand what a yes or no vote could mean at the ballot box.

Watch Out for Bad or Unbalanced Information

Social media and cable news may offer in-depth reporting on candidates and issues. Citizens should proceed with caution and fact-check questionable information. One example of social media gone awry involves Russia’s involvement in interfering with the 2016 election through bots and fake profiles on Facebook.

Researching the issues and candidates will make for informed voters and contribute to the survival of American democracy.

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