How do you decide who to vote for?

I had a professor in college whose area of research was political parties, their history, and how people identify with them. It was all very interesting, though admittedly I never actually read any of the thesis he had posted among family pictures on his university website.

Anyway, his suggestion for voting was to do the research to determine which party suited you best and then vote straight party ticket. Every decade or so, he said, or during particularly contentious primaries, you might reevaluate how each party and/or candidate aligns with your views — but for the most part, just be a partisan and be done with it.

I can’t say that I was ever swayed by the argument, but it was interesting, nonetheless. I was reminded of it today by this post from worstthatcouldhappen on Tumblr, which another blogger, squashed, responded to. The original post is very brief, and basically argues that you do lots of research and vote based on what you’ve learned about the issues, concluding: “Use logic not emotion when making decisions that effect the rest of the world.”

Squashed’s reply disagreed, advocating that voters simply go with their guts. Considering the issues logically, he writes, is the “wrong tool for the job,” and:

Thinking logically about the issues is not for helping you decide between candidates. By the time you sit down to do your thinking, you’ve already made your decision. The purpose of “thinking logically about the issues” is to help you feel smug about the decision you already made.

I understand the perspective (and the point about feeling smug is too often spot on), but it seems to me that the primary problem with this argument is that it severely discounts the filters through which we receive information about our candidates. We may think we’re making a voting decision based on who we trust more — who seems to share our priorities — who we’d rather have a beer with, but aren’t we really deciding instead based on how well their PR firms did their jobs? On how our favorite news sources selected (and ignored) stories and quotes? On who is a better public speaker? On who better manipulates a given medium? Remember Nixon and Kennedy with TV, after all. For an even older example, Coolidge and Davis with radio. It’s just the same now withObama and Romney with the internet. Should having/having a staff with better technological skills be the deciding factor for who would best be president? 

In short, it sounds nice to say that going with our guts is actually a “complex judgment on priorities and character,” but in a Photoshop world, is that judgement based on anything but editing?

Needless to say, I come down on the side of voting by issues — ideally, issue positions supported by concrete past action (votes, laws signed or vetoed, etc.), though of course that isn’t always available with candidates who are new to politics.

This post is getting long, so I’ll close with my initial question:  How do you decide who to vote for?

  • Party?
  • Issues?
  • Gut?
  • Something else entirely?
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