Don’t Just Show Up – Vote Informed!

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“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.  The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Our duty does not stop at showing up at the ballot box.  We should not vote without knowing what we are voting on.  We must arm ourselves with knowledge.  Otherwise, we might as well pin the choices on a dartboard and heave a dart at them.  It is just as meaningful as a vote without information.  And by that, I do not mean the “information” gained from watching commercials on television.  Get real ammunition – the facts.  And get those facts from reliable sources.  Reliable means objective sources, not sources that typically side with one party or the other, like Fox News or CNN.[1]  You need facts, not spin.

One source that attempts to eliminate bias in news is Knowhere.  This website uses artificial intelligence (AI) to produce articles on controversial topics after evaluating factual claims and bias.[2]  Journalists then review and edit the AI stories for final publication.[3]  Because AI is being used, Nowhere will get even better with time.

But not even facts will help if they are filtered through intense partisanship.  Many voters strongly identify with one party, and they interpret facts along party lines.    An example of this is the recent Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh when he and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified.  People were expressing opinions about their credibility, the truth, and Judge Kavanaugh’s demeanor.  And those opinions were expressed despite hearing only snippets of testimony on the news.  Instead of objectively evaluating the testimony, people defaulted to the position of their party.

How do we stop viewing candidates and issues through the lens of partisan bias?  That is not easy.  First, we have to stop treating our political parties like sports teams and blindly cheering for one over the other. Democracy is not a sport.  It is far more important.  Your team losing a game does not mean that you will pay more taxes or lose your health care insurance.

Second, we need to remember that issues matter, not political parties.  Granted, parties are identified with certain issues.  It’s likely, but not certain, for example, that a Republican candidate will be pro-life.  Or that a Democratic candidate may support abortion.  But it may not always be the case.  Voters should learn about the candidates’ positions before voting.  When we vote on a candidate, we are really voting on the issues.

Third, follow Atticus Finch’s advice to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view….Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Look at issues from the other side.  We don’t have to agree, just understand.  And because understanding seems to diminish hostility, each side looking at an issue from the other’s point of view may allow reason to trickle through the passion that we each feel.

This is where biased news organizations provide a service to voters.  But instead of accessing the news outlet that aligns with your views, take a look at the other side.  For example, conservatives could watch CNN and liberals, Fox News.  You may need to take a few deep breaths first!

Several news organizations have done work in this area.  One such website is AllSides, which demonstrates the differences in coverage between the left, the center, and the right. [4]  By reviewing stories on this site, the dichotomy between left and right is revealed as well as the value of focusing on facts in the “center” perspective.

BuzzFeed News offers two features:  Outside Your Bubble looks at how people outside of their own social media spaces are talking about news stories, and Outside Your Bubble Facebook Group allows members an opportunity “to post stories, videos, or events that [they] feel may have broadened [their] perspective.” [5]

Slate offers Today in Conservative Media,[6] which collects right-wing viewpoints for left-wingers.  Crooked, founded by former Barack Obama staffers, promises to “talk about politics in a way that doesn’t make you want to throw your phone out the window . . . [and will] hopefully [help you] decide that you want to help fix this mess too.”[7]

We need not look at every site.  We just need to choose the one that moves us away from polarization.  And we need not review it every day.  A review of the most controversial stories will suffice — or perhaps the story that most causes your blood to boil.

“Oh, come on,” you say, “all this effort for one vote?”  Granted, one vote will likely make no difference.  But combining that vote with others may make a profound difference:

It does not matter much if any one voter is ignorant, but it does matter if we have an entire electorate that is that way. The situation is comparable to air pollution: one gas-guzzling car makes little difference, but thousands or millions of them could potentially cause great harm to the environment. Similarly, widespread voter ignorance is a kind of pollution of the political process.

– Ilya Somin, “The Ignorant Voter,” Forbes, June 27, 2016[8]

So do we give up, vote in ignorance, and pollute our elections with ill-informed votes?  After all, it takes time and effort to get unbiased facts about candidates and issues.  Once again, the choice is yours.   Will your vote be ignorant or informed?

 

[1] To check the bias of a news organization, go to https://mediabiasfactcheck.com.  To see media rankings by the day, week, month, and all time, see https://knowherenews.com/how.   For Apple iPhone users, an app “Read Across the Aisle” will rate a site’s ideological outlook by displaying a meter that turns red or blue.

[2] https://knowherenews.com/how

[3] Id.

[4] https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news.

[5] Lisa Tozzi and Brandon Hardin, The Next Step For Outside Your Bubble, BuzzFeed News, January 3, 2018, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/lisatozzi/the-next-step-for-outside-your-bubble.  Please note:  The latest entries are dated, so the continued viability of these features is unknown.

[6] http://www.slate.com/topics/t/today_in_conservative_media.3.html.

[7] https://crooked.com/team/.

[8] Jared Meyer, The Ignorant Voter, Forbes Magazine, June 27, 2016,  https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaredmeyer/2016/06/27/american-voters-are-ignorant-but-not-stupid/#48539d4b7ff1.

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