Politicians have a job to protect democracy, preserve our way of life, and ensure that the nation thrives in the future. With the number of scandals currently unfolding throughout the nation, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say some of these politicians are doing a poor job.
The truth is scandals and American politics have always gone hand in hand. Political disagreements feel sharp because there are more means to broadcast messaging, and because our issues are divisive, but the spirit of public discourse has always been alive throughout America’s contentious history. That’s thanks in large part to hardworking journalists who challenge political figures on their stance on certain issues and demand answers for past choices.
However, scandals like Watergate or Clinton remind us that our politicians are not always virtuous people. Local news is on the decline and the debate over fake news feels almost deafening. That’s why we advocate looking past the messaging into the people you’re voting for. Here are some methods voters use to research everything about a politician for a more informed decision.
Does a Politician Undergo a Background Check?
There is no formal or legal process to background check a political candidate, even though anyone can conduct one. Those who believe in background checks for politicians argue it will expose those who would find themselves embroiled in scandal. Those against it argue that it’s too difficult to provide the kind of oversight necessary to make sure background checks aren’t done with a political slant.
Politicians have a great deal of personal information publicly available thanks to the various disclosures they need to fill out for office. You can also background check someone with little more than their name and some contact information. The Freedom of Information Act also provides some access to information that might otherwise have been prevented from public disclosure.
In fact, it’s become so commonplace that fact checking occurs in real-time today. Facts are almost fluid when pundits start arguing a particular side. They often use studies to support their points, but it’s important to ask who funds these studies. Are there competing studies from reputable sources? Think tanks frequently rely on biased sources for funding, thus skewing the outcome of all the work they do. Would you trust a study that said smoking was only moderately risky if the study was funded by Phillip Morris?
Once voted in, a politician is essentially confirmed. This doesn’t mean they have carte blanche access to the government. Security clearances rely on background checks conducted by the FBI or DOJ, and clearance is always granted to politicians on a “need to know” basis. Those with a criminal record would almost certainly fail such checks.
All of this is to say that voters hold the power in this democracy. The information is there, but bias is prevalent right now and the major news sources tend to speak to their bases. To get a clear picture of the state of the country, it’s helpful to dip your toes in both sides of a debate.
Checking the Campaign
Most candidates utilize the web to clearly explain where they stand on issues, which is helpful if your goal is to become a more informed voter. Here are some thoughts on fact-checking and background-checking candidates to learn more about what they stand for.
Most candidates have a website with points of contact and other information you can use to conduct a background check or learn more about their stance. You can also join a candidate’s mailing list and find out the major social networks they belong to. An email list is interesting because it provides insight into how a candidate runs their campaign, and which issues their donors are responding to. Donors make campaigns happen, so the issues they care about tend to drive the candidate’s agenda.
You can use this information to check for both criminal and civil offenses this person has committed. You can also find voting records that stretch throughout the candidate’s history in office. Voting records help check whether a candidate has been consistent on an issue and if their voting record agrees with yours.
Following the News
Looking past the agenda is difficult when the bias agrees with your point of view. Politicians use the news to communicate with their base, but how do you know they aren’t arguing a biased point? We propose viewing news through three filters: examining the viewpoint of the story, the implied stereotypes, and the choice of coverage.
The viewpoint of the story affects how the public perceives it. When thousands of people lose jobs at a major enterprise, the politician might talk about the effect this has on stockholders rather than local workers.
Stop and ask yourself: is this person speaking with your interest in mind?
How something is reported can change everything about a case. Politicians use stereotypes frequently, relying on biased statistics to prove a point.
Pundit is another word for “expert,” which is a nice way of saying someone was paid to authoritatively argue from a certain perspective. Politicians sometimes rely on talking points made by pundits to explain their side of an issue, but viewers should be hesitant to take anything they say as factual. Pundits frequently inject unfair bias into the debate and taint the evidence with stereotypical viewpoints.
The news media doesn’t always help to provide a picturesque view of society.
Election cycles of late have touched upon deep moral and ethical issues that divide us as people. What do we do with those in need? How can we help those who can’t get ahead in life? What do we want for our future? These important questions need to be asked in a thriving and healthy democracy.
The more responsibility we take for fact-checking our politicians, including their personal information and voting records, the more informed voters become. An informed voter holds immense power in a democracy. Make voting more than a chore; make it your responsibility and take it seriously.