By Mardee Handler
This November, voters in 36 states will cast their votes for a new (or re-elected) governor. Not unlike during other election seasons, TV screens across the nation are already ablaze with political ads that attack the opponent and distort the facts.
Unfortunately, many citizens rely on this campaign propaganda as their primary resource for information about the candidates. If you’d like to avoid the drama and skip straight to the facts, consider these four ways to get your hands on objective information.
1. Follow State and Local Media Election Coverage
“For high quality and timely information on gubernatorial candidates, the best source is usually a daily state newspaper. Typically, the state’s flagship paper or the one based in the state capitol is an excellent source of balanced coverage,” according to Barry Burden, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
As election time gets closer, many local newspapers also publish special Voter Guides. Even before then, local papers usually provide timely coverage of candidates’ activities, speeches, debates and stances on various issues.
2. Check the Facts
Can you believe everything you hear in those TV ads, especially the ones that badmouth the opponent? Before jumping on the bashing bandwagon, consult a website like Factcheck.org or PolitiFact.
Factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters. It supports or disputes claims made by political candidates – and sitting elected officials. In addition to a special 2014 Election section, the website also includes a forum for submitting questions and a quiz to test your political knowledge. Enter the name of any state in the search box to see a list of articles pertaining to claims made by politicians or candidates in your state.
PolitiFact, an independent journalism website hosted by the Tampa Bay Times, also aims to set the record straight for voters. Its trademarked Truth-o-Meter acknowledges the vast gray area that often lies between fact and fiction, and that many statements can, indeed, be partly true or false. It currently covers issues in 8 states: Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
3. Reflect on Your Own Values
Voters vary considerably in what they look for in a candidate, reminds Barry Burden. “Surveys show that factors such as integrity, competence and compassion often rank highly.”
How candidates feel about social issues – death penalty, legalization of marijuana, etc. – could be a deciding factor in earning your support (or not!). Interactive tools, such as the Sacramento Bee’s “Candidate Match” tool can help match your opinions with a candidate best suited to earn your vote.
Vote411.org, a service of the League of Women Voters, is a service that not only encourages citizens to register to vote and helps them find polling places, but also provides an address-specific Voter Guide. It allows you to select and compare profiles for two candidates per race. Information, including biographies, links to social media pages and answers to specific election-related questions, are submitted by the candidates’ respective camps.
4. Familiarize Yourself with the Issues
Waiting until the week before a semester project was due to start your research may have worked for you back in the day, but is not a good idea when it comes to becoming an educated voter. What might be a pressing issue among candidate rhetoric one week may be an entirely different one the next. To get a well-rounded view of the candidates’ views on the hot topics in your state, start paying attention early.
What are the pressing challenges facing your state? While no human being can single-handedly fix a statewide fiscal crisis, for example, which candidate appears better suited to lead the state to economic recovery? Knowing the issues can help you assess the potential of each candidate to lead the state to better times … or to keep the good times rolling.
Determine which specific issues matter most to you. As a small business owner, do you have a vested interest in minimum wage legislation? Or will pension reform impact your retirement lifestyle?
The more you know about the hot topics in your state, the better prepared you will be to choose a candidate that not only represents your best interests, but that you feel will serve the residents of your state best.