Political strategists claim that negative campaigning and advertising are much more effective than positive messages. Radio, TV and newspapers seem to search out these comments and stir up controversy in order to increase interest in their programming.
How can one decide their vote in such an environment? Ignore negative campaign material. Here is an approach that may prove useful.
1. Consider your own objectives, approaches and results time frame for the office.
- Often a substantial majority agrees on an objective, but disagrees on what actions need to be done to achieve it. In addition, there is frequently a different level of urgency for when an objective should be completed.
- Consider the top few areas important to you, and it will give you an effective benchmark in order to match with what you learn about each candidate.
- Make sure that the objectives and the approaches are responsibilities of the office they are seeking. For example, public schools have been the responsibility of local governments to be paid for by property tax. What role do you feel the state and federal government should play in public education funding and policy? Should the views of state and federal office holders relative to public education be a factor in deciding your vote?
2. Compare past performance, character and the candidate’s proposed agenda against your criteria.
- The most valuable information you can have about a candidate is from your own experience observing their past performance in any situation. What are the goals they pursued? What priority did the candidate place on each goal? What actions did they take to pursue them?
- In a candidate’s past performance you can observe if they present their ideas clearly, but are ineffective in getting them done, or effective in execution but don’t communicate well, or excellent in both. This may reveal that a candidate says one thing to get elected but doesn’t follow through once elected, or that they are true to their word.
- If the candidate is new to you, then the only things you have to go on are how they run their campaign, what they say they are going to do, and recommendations of those you trust. Often the candidate will state objectives with no planned actions to achieve them. This may be enough to sway you, but if both candidates agree on objectives important to you, how they plan to accomplish the object must be vigorously sought and considered as to whether either plan makes sense to you.
3. Completely ignore any negative claims by a candidate or supporter about the opponent.
- A definition of politics might include the art of using fallacies. Some favorite devices are:
- Ad Hominem (name calling): “He’s a Communist”, “She is out of the mainstream”, “That idea could only be hatched by a Fascist”.
- Bandwagon: This is often used to discredit the ideas of an opponent. “We all think that’s a joke”.
- Non Sequitur: A politician is certainly artful, when they respond to questions with confidence, while completely changing the subject.
- Politicians often falsely condemn their opponent for something of which they themselves are guilty. Then, if they are challenged in the future, they can claim “everyone does this” or “my opponent did this”. At worst a future charge can be considered a wash, because it is perceived that they both have done it, or at best the false claim about the opponent is the only one remembered. In either event, the possibility that the opponent will bring up the issue is reduced. If all charges by a candidate about an opponent are ignored, you can evaluate unbiased revelations regarding either candidate objectively.
- Search for what is positively known about a candidate. Often you will see that one of the candidates has no ideas at all except how to wrongly define their opponent. You are left then to solely evaluate the plans of the opponent.
- You can directly observe actions of a candidate and form opinions about them either positive or negative. For example, if a candidate uses the fallacious devices described above, it gives you insight on how they will conduct themselves in office and how they will work together with other officials. In other words, negative campaigning by a candidate should color your view of the character of the candidate not their opponent.
4. Decide your vote.
- Once you have established your criteria for an office and your unvarnished knowledge about each candidate, your decision on how to vote will be true to your values.
Negative campaigning can only be reduced or eliminated, if it doesn’t work. If more and more voters ignore negative campaign claims and do not pass them on, perhaps we can start to change the nature of campaigning and governing and get substantive discussion on the merits of each candidate’s ideas for the office they are seeking.