Stop, Think, Then Vote!

With the upcoming United States 2012 Presidential Election (November 6), it’s time to think about voting.  This election is very important to getting our country back on track.  I don’t plan to tell you who to vote for, but I do plan to tell you how you should vote!

While I have chosen to focus my blog on libraries, archives, and history, there are times I cannot ignore what my undergraduate minor was.  That minor is in political science.  Political science is not the same thing as politics.  Political scientists study the behaviors of voters and politicians and the outcomes of legislative processes.  Thus, while the mentioned election and its candidates will be used as examples, what I plan to illustrate is universal.  Any voter from any country will benefit from this reminder.

With these facts in mind, let’s look at how many vote.  These days there are certain hot-button issues that tend to sway voters to vote for a particular candidate or support a particular party based solely on that issue.  Abortion, gun control, and healthcare are the main ones in the United States.  For example, someone who is pro-life may automatically support Governor Romney.  Likewise, a strong supporter of the Affordable Healthcare Act (sometimes termed Obamacare) will support President Obama.

What voters need to remember is that candidates support more than just one issue.  Candidates are a package deal.  They have views and ideas on multiple issues.  What if you agree with a candidate on a hot-button issue but disagree with them on every other issue?  Does this benefit you?  No, because it could lead to policies that could cause you more frustration in the long run.  After all, which is really more important: abortion or social security’s future?  Gun control or the rescuing the economy?  Access to health insurance or possible medical bankruptcy?  What issues directly affect you?  Answer that question, and focus on those issues.

All I ask of voters is to examine your values and beliefs.  All of them; not just one or two.  Pick the candidate that best fits all of your values.  Don’t be a one issue voter or vote based on party loyalty.  Don’t vote for someone  because your organization(s) or religious institution tells you to.  Don’t even rely on the media; do some research on how candidates have voted and supported issues in the past.  Look at their websites and understand their current political platform.  Stop, think, then vote.  You might be surprised at what you discover.

One tool you might choose to use to decode your valued is iSideWith.com.  This questionnaire not only presents the Democrat and Republican views for consideration, but also those of the Libertarian and Green parties.  All the major issues the upcoming election is focused on are addressed.  The website is not affiliated with any political party or candidate and is bipartisan.  I also have included a list of useful online resources at the end of this post.

Likewise, remember presidential and gubernatorial candidates can make the people many promises during their campaigns but they are not the ones that have the power to ensure those promises are carried out.  That is up to Congress and the state legislatures. The legislative branches are the lawmakers.  Presidents and governors can only veto or sign into law what the legislatures approve; the executives may or may not have much influence on the lawmaking process.  And with an increasingly divided Congress, expect more debate and deadlocks before any laws are approved.  See the below charts to see how increasingly polarized our nation’s government really is.  What our country needs is more political moderates from both parties and/or third-party candidates and fewer political extremists.  This will allow compromises to be more easily reached and allow the issues affecting our nation to be truly addressed.  These moderating groups create a balance in our political system that allows it to address the real needs of the people instead of endless debate.

Congressional Polarization

Overall Congressional Polarization in the House; From http://thatsmycongress.com.

As the above chart demonstrates, most lawmakers are not in the middle ground (30 to -30).  The lawmakers are solidly for one party or the other. For the other charts, check out these times series graphs.  Voteview.com shows the divisions on the United States Senate votes from 2005-06.  Voteview also features a click-through animation that demonstrates the changes in Congressional ideology from the 1920s through 2000.  The larger group of letters refers to the House of Representatives while the smaller cluster is the Senate.  Of course, blue is Democrat and red is Republican.  The key letters used can be found at the site’s homepage.  You will see the gaps between the color groups widen each year.

Did I open you eyes to make you a better voter?  Had you considered the fact executive-level candidates are not the lawmakers they promise to be?  Did you realize just how divided our country is?  Also, if you chose, share your thoughts and/or results after taking the questionnaire here and share this post or its ideas with other voters.

Sites of the American Presidential Candidates:

Sites for Candidates’ Voting Records:

I’ve linked to the general sites unless notes otherwise.  This allows you to also look at congressional candidates too.

  • United States Senate Voting Records(check per year, then it is divided by issue)
    • People to check:  Barack Obama (D), Joe Biden (D); look at pre-2009.
  • United States House of Representatives Voting Records(check per year, then it is divided by roll call, then by issue)
    • People to check:  Paul Ryan (R).
  • There are no state government sources online for Mitt Romney (R), Jill Stein (G), and           Gary Johnson (L).
  • Cheri Honkala (G) and Jim Gray (L) have not served in any elected roles.

Other Resources:

  • Commission on Presidential Debates:  Check here for transcripts and videos from the debates.
  • Project Vote Smart:  Check here for facts on candidates and issues.  This site is non-partisan.
  • FactCheck.org:  Thier mission is to provide a “nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players…”
  • Presidential Election-2012 Election:  This was posted 10/17/12 by my undergraduate university.  It features many non-partisan websites to gain more information about the candidates and issues in the election.

Further Reading/Sources:

Most of my background for this post came for the Legislative Process course I took with Dr. Russell Renka at Southeast Missouri State University. These were the textbooks for the Legislative Processes class:

  1. Stewart, Charles III. 2001. Analyzing Congress. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  2. Dodd, Lawrence C. and Bruce I. Oppenheimer, eds. 2009. Congress Reconsidered, 9th ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press.
  3. Jacobson, Gary C. 2008. The Politics of Congressional Elections, 7th ed. New York: Longman Classics in Political Science.

This is the syllabus for the Spring 2010 Legislative Processes class; it point to further articles and websites. It is linked with Dr. Renka’s permission.

Update 10/29/12:  Google Webmaster Tools alerted me to four broken links (all the sites for the candidates).  They have been fixed.  Many apologies.

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