Making Democracy Work

How to Judge a Candidate

How to Judge Candidates

With so many candidates vying for your vote, how do you choose the candidate who will best represent you?

Judging Your Candidates

Tactics to Watch Out For:

Loaded Statements "I oppose wasteful spending" doesn't say much and implies that the candidate's opponent favors it. If a candidate gets away with claims like that, he or she may never be held 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 prescription drug benefits?" 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 interests" or "The waste industry has Jones in its pocket." Every candidate needs support from a wide range of people and groups who may not represent the candidate's views on all issues. Judge the candidate's own words and deeds.

Catchwords Beware of empty phrases such as "law and order" and "the American way," that 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 "buzz-words" 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 harassing them until he or she flies off the handle or says something rash.

Passing the Blame When one candidate accuses another candidate or party of being the cause of a major problem such as unemployment or inflation, check it out. The incumbent or the party in power is often accused of causing all the woes of the world. Was the candidate really in a position to solve the problem? What other factors were at work? Has there been time to tackle the problem?

Promising the Sky There are promises that no one in an elective office can fulfill and problems that are beyond the reach of political solutions. Public officials can accomplish realistic goals, but voters shouldn't expect miracles and candidates shouldn't promise them. When you hear nothing but "promises, promises," consider how realistic those promises really are.

Evading Real Issues Many candidates work very hard to avoid giving direct answers to direct questions. It's not enough, for instance, for a candidate to say, "I've always been concerned about the high cost of health care," and leave it at that. And the candidate who claims to have a secret, easy plan to solve a tough problem is often just copping out. Watch out for candidates who talk about benefits and never mention costs or how the nuts and bolts of a program will work.

What's the Most Important Factor in Judging a Candidate?

On the Big Issues Pinpoint the issues that are important to you. Decide what changes you feel that your community, state and country need most. What do you want to keep the same? Which of your interests are served by the programs each candidate is proposing? As you ponder, weigh alternatives. Listen to people on both sides of an issue. Look at cause and effect. Consider what you have to trade off to get what you want.