An interested reader left the following comment on my earlier blog post “How does one decide?”:
Your wise procedure seems very wise, but what about time? How should voters confront the reality that they only have a limited amount of time to research candidates and their stances? How many issues do you think the average intelligent independent can address? How should one choose their issues? Are all issues created equal?
Here is my response:
Those are good questions. I’ll try to answer them. First of all, I agree that the average independent will probably not have enough time to research every stance for every candidate. So, given that one cannot always know enough to make an informed judgment, perhaps it’s best to just go with one’s gut, or even flip a coin. It partly depends on what the independent’s reasons are for voting in the first place.
One should acknowledge right off the bat that no one individual’s vote will make or break the election. Statistically speaking, that means that the independent could choose not to vote at all, and it would make almost zero difference to the outcome. But it seems that there are other reason’s to vote, personal or political reasons.
I see the decision to vote as primarily a political statement, but it need not be. An independent might choose to vote merely to exercise what they believe to be a civic duty, or as a quarter-annual (or more frequent) acknowledgement of political consent.
However, my reasons for voting are probably more similar to the reasons why most other people vote: to align myself with the party that I believe will govern the country best. For this reason, I do not feel that there’s a deadline. If I decide not to vote this election and thereby express my support/allegiance to one party over another, I will have plenty of other opportunities to do so, and more time to mull over the political stakes. My not voting is a statement in itself, that I feel unable to make a judgment about which party would govern the nation best, and that I am unwilling to vote for any other reason.
Having said that, there may be non-partisan reasons to vote for a candidate, such that casting a vote for Obama/Romney doesn’t necessarily express a partisan allegiance as much as a commitment to a particular issue (guns, for example), cluster of issues (the environment), or simple self-interest.
How many issues can the average independent address? It probably depends on the issue (so no, I don’t think that all issues are equal), as well as the level of rigor that the independent demands for their self before they will consider the issue ‘addressed’. For some people, a vague awareness and some gut feelings are good enough. But in my opinion, to really do any issue justice, to really earn one’s position takes more time and work than most people are willing/able to make. One of my teachers offered some advice that I have found to be valuable in undergoing this seemingly Sisyphian task: “Take a stance, take it provisionally, and take it for reasons. When better reasons come along that trump your current ones, abandon your stance.” And always search for weaknesses in your own view. Assume that you’re wrong, even though you believe that you’re right, and try to figure out where you’ve been led astray. Set high standards for yourself. Don’t be complacent in your belief.
If an independent is unwilling to rigorously examine every issue that they care about in this way, then my advice for how they ought to decide is simple: go with your gut, or flip a coin.