ELECTION 2016: The Paradox of the Informed Voter

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Happy Election Day, guys. We made it! Here’s something I’ve written to voice some of the frustration I’ve experienced during the Presidential Election of 2016. Remember, what you’re reading is just more discourse thrown out into cyberworld and by no means should you take what I’ve written to be unquestionably true. Read it with a healthy dose of skepticism, as you should with everything out in the world today. So without further ado, here’s my take on 2016.

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You hear it all the time.

“Get informed”, “know the candidates on the issues”, “read this article”. Insert link to a completely random website. It’s hard not to get bombarded by political articles and videos while perusing through social media sites and newspapers.

Do you consider yourself to be an informed voter? The data says most likely, yes.

According to a study done by Rasmussen Reports conducted in September of 2013, their model showed that a whopping 83% of American Adults consider themselves to be informed citizens while just 12% admit they are not informed citizens.

It’s difficult to imagine not being informed at this point unless you’ve been living in a World War II bunker a mile under Earth’s surface.

However, the issue at hand is not whether voters are informed. It’s more so an issue of how badly informed and poorly equipped to use the information at our disposal they are, claims Art Carden, Associate Professor of Economics at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

I agree in many respects.

In 2012, he advised voters to stay off Facebook and Twitter and pick up a few books instead. We have a duty, Carden argues, to be informed voters and largely ignore the partisan propaganda that repeats “vacuous (or economically illiterate) platitudes for the umpteenth time”.

The same should be said for the 2016 election, an election taking place in a time characterized by clickbait, bad journalism, and biased data.

So what is one to do to become “informed”?

I wanted to find out.

I began this past January by trying my hardest to stay up date on the issues. I read countless books on economics that are far above my head and followed each state’s primary election and three major debates closely. Each day I began my day by reading the political news from NPR, New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, RealClear Politics, and FiveThirtyEight. I made sure to watch both Fox News and CNN’s headlines. What were the Democrats saying, what were the Independents and Republicans saying? I fact checked rigorously and tapped into what pollsters were saying in Podcasts. I spent an entire day teaching myself how polls work and how each poll determines the outcome of their data. I refused to let my upbringing and socioeconomic factors blind me from seeing the world through another person’s eyes. It’s nothing short of fascinating of everything I’ve learned in eleven months of following the election cycle.

And guess what?

The more I learn, the more I realize how little I truly know.

I am not an expert in economics, social issues, the national debt, and have no concrete plan on how to solve any of America’s problems. There are many schools of thought and methods political parties claim is most effective to make America successful, but historically, before any true results can be seen, a new president is elected or policy remains stuck in political gridlock in Congress.

What shocked me most was learning that often, presidents can be elected based on how the economy did under the previous president- whether or not the president realistically had control over the economy or not. We saw this after Bill Clinton was elected over incumbent president, George H.W. Bush (data from the renowned American Economist, Nate Silver here and here).

Furthermore, I can’t find any NONPARTISAN, raw data to conclusively prove that Keynesian economic policy is superior to Laissez-faire or vice versa. I don’t think there is a perfect answer to this problem as both have reliable evidence for and against them. Economic geniuses tout their preferred solutions, but who am I to determine what’s best for America? Which experts should I trust? I’m a 24 year old English major grad. Dream big.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve taken the “isidewith.com” quiz MULTIPLE times and have gotten highly frustrated trying to figure out what I think is best for America moving forward.

I collapsed into an existential crisis after being asked about whether or not I think fracking is okay or not.

 

How can we, experts in very little, expect to make an informed decision for the rest of America? I wasn’t an expert on fracking- in fact, who even is?

While my thumb hovered absentmindedly over the Fracking question, I realized I, and no one else, can truly claim they have EVERY solution guaranteed to work for any single issue. To further my personal crisis, I realized the most highly educated voter can vote for the same candidate as someone who decides to choose the candidate based on their hairstyle.

It’s completely and utterly absurd, but it’s part of our democratic system.

We have the freedom to vote for whichever candidate we’d like for based on whichever personal reasons or research we’ve done- whether the reason be we believe everything a certain set of news outlets report or what our own research shows.

That’s why candidates use certain tactics rather than others, they realize they can appeal to a portion of voters through specific tactics- some less noble than others.

Bottom Line? Not all hope is lost, of course. Through my search to become more educated on the issues, I’ve remembered two very important points that align with those of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU):

#1: Use reliable sources.

Remember in high school when you had to use research from scholarly sources and type a bunch of stuff into Easybib? Turns out this isn’t just something that’s valuable in the classroom, it’s something that is extremely important post-graduation. Here are some great links to reputable and informative sites from AASCU.

#2: LISTEN and RESEARCH.

Are you being persuaded through political rhetoric? If the candidate uses political rhetoric to avoid answering a question, your red flag should go up. Learn more about political rhetoric here.

See? Not all hope is lost. Election year is a reminder to all of us that we should strive to educate ourselves and not fall into the trap of only reading headlines. If you already do this, great. I challenge you to truly try to understand those who oppose your worldviews. Why do they think the way they do? What is their socioeconomic status compared to your’s and how does that affect their decision making process? Try not to dismiss others as simply, “dumb” or “crazy”. It’s sometimes hard as hell, but it’s a great mental exercise.

So even though 2016 was a grueling, long year filled with plenty of crazy moments (remember when Ted Cruz appointed Carly Fiorina his VP?) and utter terror at the thought of electing either major party nominee to be the 45th President of the United States, I think it’s time to appreciate our democracy for what it is: imperfect, just like us. 

Get out there and vote!

 

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As always, a public disclaimer on my political opinions: I identify as slightly left-of-center and am an Independent voter.

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