See through GOP’s haze, focus on candidates’ individual stances on issues

Every few weeks until the first primaries in early 2012, there will be televised “GOP primary debates”: where voters can begin to assess the candidate most in line with their own views.

Partisanship aside, the entire American electorate should be viewing these debates to the best of their ability.

The key here is recognizing that voters should not cast a ballot blindly following partisan lines.

As a responsible citizen that chooses to have a democracy as his or her form of government, it is necessary that each vote be, as political scientists say, sophisticated.

A politically sophisticated voter is one that evaluates his or her decisions about politics based on self interests, which means that it is possible, and encouraged, to vote for, say, a Republican candidate if he or she serves the voter’s interests better than the Democratic candidates for which he or she normally votes.

Voting for a candidate simply because he proclaims he is a member of one party does not serve a voter’s interests necessarily. For the most part, candidates will belong to a party that has a strict stance on certain issues, but once in office, they will deviate from that party and operate on a more personal platform.

For example, the Republican Party is generally against national education policies because they believe that education can best be served at the local or state level. Against this, President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into federal law, requiring that students take standardized tests to assess a school’s eligibility for funding, thus setting a national standard for education.

More recently, Rick Perry in the GOP debate on Sept. 22 deviated from the other Republican candidates by “standing behind”: the Texas version of the DREAM Act, which allows certain children of illegal immigrants to enjoy in-state tuition at their public universities. Republicans generally concede that any and all things that shed a positive light on illegal immigration should be instantly shot down.

Therefore as a voter, it is more important to focus on the way a candidate will handle specific issues instead of focusing on the candidate’s ideologies.

The next step is to decide which candidate will serve those best.

To do so, each voter should judge candidates on their personal attributes, and not just their current policy stances, which are likely to change as they adapt their own platforms. Especially important to look for are the candidate’s honesty, reliability or consistency and his or her general knowledge of political issues, all of which can attest to leadership ability.

These qualities are less likely to change as the candidate moves closer to Election Day or even into office.

While gathering information, take note of discrepancies between what candidates have said in the past and what they say now.

Hold them to their mistakes no matter what, as it sends a message to those politicians that they must consistently work to be better. It sharpens their ability to succeed. If voters allow politicians to make mistakes, what is to say they won’t do it again in the future?

Even if voters are only identifying non-political attributes now, these personal characteristics unlike candidates’ policy stances are really the only way to know what that candidate will do to affect policy in the future.

In developing personally-informed decisions on these characteristics, the voter inevitably has to gather information about the candidate. This act in itself is a great step toward political sophistication, and it represents a distinct difference from directly following partisan lines. It shows that the voter has taken an interest and has begun to form opinions which will be used to evaluate if the candidate truly follows the party’s ideologies.

If voters simply elect candidates because of their ideologies without evaluation, they can act unchecked, and their positions move further to the left or the right. This further divides politicians, which has led to the current grid-locks in Congress, according to President Barack Obama.

As Obama has urged, politicians should be putting ““country ahead of party.””: The extreme partisanship that has been developing in Congress has caused more argument than solutions.

Voters can check this at the polls. If we are voting based on the issues that should have emphasis, politicians see this and move their platforms from the extremes toward the center — toward compromise.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: We have the power to control what our government does and how our politicians act. Cast your ballot based on your researched decisions, and you’ll likely reel in what you were looking for from your politicians.

_Ryan is a sophomore in LAS._