Current Events: Presidential Primary 2016


PrintHow to go about comparing and then judging the candidates? All too often, slogans, name recognition and personality are all that come through in campaign materials. Because television continues to dominate political campaigns, with the Internet as an every growing presence, it is difficult to move beyond a candidate’s image to the substance of a campaign. However, it is possible to move beyond style to substance. The steps outlined are designed to help you to judge a candidate.

Decide what you are looking for in a candidate.
Candidates can be judged in two ways: the positions they take on issues and the leadership qualities and experience they would bring to the office. Your first step in picking a candidate is to decide the issues you care about and the qualities you want in a leader.

When you consider issues, think about community or national problems that you want people in government to address. Also consider what party the candidate belongs to and the typical stance the party takes on the issues.

When you consider leadership qualities, think about the characteristics you want in an effective leader. Do you look for intelligence, honesty, an ability to communicate?

Find out about the candidates.
Pick campaigns to study. Find out which candidates are running in the race.

A Voters’ Guide is a source of information. Find out all the eligible candidates that will appear on the ballot. Be sure to include minor party and/or independent candidates.

Gather materials about the candidates.
Put together information about the candidates. Collect any records you can find on the candidates. Call campaign headquarters and watch the press. Sources of information you may choose to review include:

  • campaign literature
  • direct mail letters (mass mailings sent to selected voters asking for support and funds)
  • press reports (newspaper clippings and television and radio reports)
  • radio and television ads
  • candidates’ speeches
  • candidate debates

Evaluate candidates’ stands on issues.
As you read the materials you collect, does the materials give you an overall impression of the candidates? What specific conclusions can you draw about the candidates’ stands on issues?

Learn about the candidates’ leadership abilities.
Deciding if a candidate will be a good leader is difficult. How can you know if someone will be honest, open or able to act under pressure if elected to office? Here are some ways to read between the lines as you evaluate the candidates’ leadership qualities:

  • Look at the candidates’ background and their experience. How prepared are they for the job?
  • Observe the candidates’ campaigns. Do they give speeches to different groups – even those groups that may disagree with the candidates’ views on issues? Do they accept invitations to debate? Do the campaigns emphasize media events, where the candidates can be seen but not heard? For instance, a candidate is seen cutting ribbons to open new bridges rather than talking about transportation. Review the campaign materials. Do campaign materials emphasis issues or image? Are they accurate?

Learn how other people view the candidate.
Once you have accumulated information from campaigns and other sources, you will want to learn what other people think about the candidates. Their opinions can help clarify your own views, but do not discount your own informed judgments. You may be the most careful observer of all!

Seek the opinions of others in your community who keep track of political campaigns. Interview three people (not family members), such as a librarian, store owner, neighbor or politically active volunteer, to find out which candidate they support and why. Learn what has shaped their political opinions. Was it an event? An idea or program proposed by a candidate? A particular issue about which they feel strongly? A long-standing party loyalty?

Learn about endorsements. This is a way for interest groups and organizations to give a “stamp of approval” to a candidate. Endorsements provide clues to the issues a candidate supports. Get a list of endorsements from each of the candidates’ headquarters. Find out what these groups stand for and find out why they are endorsing this candidate.

Look into campaign contributions. Where do the candidates get the funds to finance their campaigns? Do they use their own money or raise funds from a few wealthy donors, from many small contributors or from Political Action Committees? (PACs, as they are known, are groups formed to raise and distribute money to candidates.) Many types of information about campaign contributions must be reported to the government and are watched by the press. Check the newspaper for stories on campaign finance. How might these campaign contributions affect the candidates’ conduct in office? You might also want to analyze an incumbent’s voting record on issues important to PACs and other campaign contributors.

Throughout the campaign, opinion polls will be taken by a variety of groups to evaluate public support for the different candidates. Polls reveal who is leading at a certain point in the race. This information can be crucial for a candidate because it can increase support and contributions from people who want to be on the winning team. As you read the polls, ask these questions: Who sponsored the poll? Was the poll produced by a trusted and independent group? Were all the figures released, even unfavorable data? What kinds of questions were asked? Were they slanted or unbiased? How were respondents selected – randomly or in such a way to include all segments of the population? How many people were included in the poll sample?

Sorting it all out.
Review the information and compare all the candidates. Ask yourself these final questions:

  • Which candidate’s views on the issues do I agree with the most?
  • Who ran the fairest campaign?
  • Which candidate demonstrated the most knowledge on the issues?
  • Which candidate has the leadership qualities I am looking for?

Is the choice clear? If so, pick a candidate.


GOP Presidential Candidates 2016
Who would be the best Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential election? (listed alphabetically)
Jeb Bush
Dr. Ben Carson
Gov. Chris Christie
Sen. Ted Cruz
Carly Fiorina
Jim Gilmore
Sen. Lindsey Graham
Mike Huckabee
Gov. Bobby Jindal
Gov. John Kasich
George Pataki
Sen. Rand Paul
Rick Perry
Sen. Marco Rubio
Rick Santorum
Donald Trump
Gov. Scott Walker


Democratic Presidential Candidates 2016
Who would be the best Democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential election? (listed alphabetically)
Lincoln Chafee
Hillary Clinton
Martin O’Malley
Bernie Sanders
Jim Webb

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