By: Amy Lutz
On the cusp of the Iowa Caucus, the debate as to whether winnability should factor into voter decision making rages on. Should I sacrifice principles and values for a candidate’s greater probability at electoral success? Or should I vote for the candidate with whom my values most closely align, regardless of their poll numbers? More often than not it seems that the answer to the former question is “yes.” A candidate’s capability for success is attractive to the voter whose only goal is to see Barack Obama reenter private society in 2013. However, the strong desire to remove our current Commander in Chief from power overshadows the adherence to values that is necessary for electoral participation. We give candidates our votes not so they can sit in a cozy office in Washington D.C. and retire with a comfortable pension plan. We vote for certain candidates because we believe that they will do the best job in protecting our Constitutional Republic. Yet, that idea has slowly slipped by the wayside as Americans are more desperate to see radical change in Washington. However, that desperation does not always have to result in the election of a wishy-washy professional politician. Choosing a candidate to receive your valued vote is a process that requires a great deal of time and education, but the effort is rewarding in the end and the process does not have to be difficult. In fact, here’s a simple equation that will assist you in determining which box to check or which lever to pull when your state’s primary rolls around.
(1) Why are you voting in the first place? If you are simply voting because you think it’s your “civic duty,” stop there. With this duty comes a great responsibility for education and deliberation; voting is not merely something to be checked off a “To Do” list. Entering the voting booth without an informed opinion is like going to a NASCAR race without earplugs; naïve and stupid. With an informed opinion, you can then determine why you’re voting at all. Maybe you’re voting because you love this country and want to see it succeed. Or maybe you’re voting because you’re invested in a certain cause and want to make sure that cause is successful at the ballot box. Regardless of what your reasoning is, make sure it’s a good one. We certainly don’t want to have a large section of the electorate uninformed and voting just because they can. Unfortunately, perhaps we already do.
(2) After you’ve hopefully developed your own informed opinion, it’s time to figure out what’s most important to you. What issues do you hold closest to your heart? If you live on the Arizona-Mexico border, illegal immigration might be something you care about deeply. If you are a doctor fearing the impending dangers of Obamacare, then health care is probably something you are greatly focused on. Figure out the causes you most support and hold on to them, you’ll need your adherence to those stances when Election Day rolls around.
(3) Now it’s time to turn to the candidates. Think about the issues you care for most. Which candidates will do the most to make sure those issues are dealt with in a way that aligns with your principles? If your pro-life stance is one that you value above all else, then veer away from candidates like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, for they both have shaky stances on the issue (though Romney’s has evolved). Look, instead, at social conservatives like Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry. However, if auditing of the Fed if your most important goal, then perhaps you’ll want to look more closely at Ron Paul. If you believe that global warming is manmade and you will do anything to stop it, then perhaps you should look at candidates like John Huntsman, who has a more “open-minded” view of the subject. Others, like Rick Perry, who greatly doubt the authenticity of the theory, would certainly not be among your top contenders. No matter what your causes are, make sure you find a candidate who espouses similar stances on your more important issues.
(4) Finally, what are you able to compromise on? Although it’s important to put your values first when voting, there is no perfect candidate and we simply can’t agree on everything. People who tend to be more socially moderate might flock to candidates like Romney, Gingrich, Paul, and Huntsman; putting issues like abortion and gay marriage on the back burner. Conversely, staunch social conservatives and Tea Party members might want to take a closer look at Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry while compromising on other economic or political issues. Compromise may be necessary, but choose your concessions carefully.
Now, hopefully, you’ve got a bit of a roadmap to follow when it comes to casting your vote in the upcoming primaries. Notice that the first two steps did not even mention the candidates who are running. That’s simply because you must know yourself and what you value before you entrust a politician to protect those values. Principles first, politics second. A sole focus on winnability implies a compromise on all values, even your most important ones. You might want to make winnability a factor in your decision making, but I urge you to make sure it’s not at the expense of your core values. If, for some reason after reviewing the formula you find that a candidate’s capability of success is the number one consideration in your decision making, then go ahead and vote on politics. However, be wary. Remember that the election is merely the beginning of a politician’s stint in office. Once they are elected, it’s time for the real work to begin. It is much more comforting to have a principled president than a proven politician when it comes to making the touch decisions.