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The Primary Purpose


December 16, 2019 | by Adrienne Kirschner

Our primary season is long and well, a bit messy. They are also important, which makes it all the more surprising that voter turnout for primaries is typically very low (only 28.5% in 2016). Given what is at stake in the 2020 elections, we need to drive record-breaking levels of voter participation. And it all starts with the primaries.

Put simply, the primaries are how we narrow down the field to a single candidate who then represents a political party in the general election. We have different types of primaries in the U.S. and some states require that you be registered with a party in order to vote.  First: If you’re not sure what’s required in your state, look it up here. And update your voter registration here

Next: Do your homework. It’s up to each of us to evaluate the qualifications of the candidates. This is the same thing we do in the general election, but it can be a little more challenging because the differences between candidates, especially in terms of policy positions, can be more subtle.

To properly evaluate the candidates, we have to have a very clear understanding of our values, and what characteristics and qualities are most important to us. This helps in evaluating which candidate most aligns with our personal ideology. In November, the Washington Post published a quiz to help identify which candidate(s) aligns most closely with our personal position on various policies.

There are also other factors to consider, such as (but not limited to): What are their strengths and weaknesses? What is their political track record? How much popular support do they garner? How will they hold up under the relentless scrutiny of the campaign process? How do they respond in a crisis? And for the 2020 presidential election in particular, how likely are they to beat Trump? 

There isn’t one “best” way to do this. But here are some good tips:

  • Check out their website and social media posts.

  • If they held prior office, check out their voting record (Important note: make sure you understand the political nuance in their votes…for ex. don’t automatically dismiss a candidate for not always voting with their party; it could just be margin voting).

  • What is their track record with marginalized communities and people of color?

  • How are they doing in terms of fundraising and polling (Polls should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt, but still worth noting).

  • Consider what kind of campaign they are running. Is it constructive and positive or are they constantly slinging mud at their opponents? 

  • Look ahead to the general election and consider how they might stack up against the Republican candidate. How broad is their appeal? Will they motivate non-voters to show up to the polls? This is a numbers game. It’s not just about winning the popular vote, they need to win the electoral college. Consider how they might perform in swing states.

Once you decide on a candidate, you might consider volunteering on their campaign and/or promoting them on social media. This is a great idea as it helps spread their message and boost their candidacy. It can be a bit of a minefield though. If you do decide to share your opinions on social media, here are some helpful tips: 

  • Discussing candidates on social media doesn’t mean trolling candidates or engaging in ad hominem attacks of candidates or their supporters. 

  • Constructive criticism is great; mudslinging is not. Focus on their record, platform, qualifications, experience, etc. 

  • Avoid “tone policing.” People have different ways of expressing themselves.  There’s nothing wrong with that. Try focusing on substance rather than tone. Or, if you can’t get past the tone, just don’t engage. 

  • Don’t spread propaganda about any candidates. Verify information and vet sources before sharing. 

  • Remember that bad actors will exploit divides so if you see someone posting inflammatory rhetoric about a candidate, don’t join in or amplify. Instead of engaging, considering independently posting your views of the candidate. 

  • Critiquing candidates has the potential to be divisive–It really depends on how you do it. It’s possible to evaluate candidates constructively without being inflammatory. 

One note of caution: we need to be careful of going so far down the path of loving or hating a particular candidate that we aren’t able to “find our way back” for the general election. It’s entirely possible that the nominee won’t be our favorite, but we will need to unite around them anyway to ensure Trump isn’t re-elected.

We have a big job ahead of us: interviewing applicants for the most important job in the land. And the stakes have never been higher than they are right now. 

We need to look at their resume and take an honest, objective look at their strengths and weaknesses. We need to discuss their candidacy with friends and family and hear other perspectives. We need to challenge the candidates themselves and give them an opportunity to address our concerns. And when primary day arrives, vote.

Note: The Loyal Opposition does not endorse candidates. We do, however, endorse active participation in the political process and encourage everyone to vote in the primary. And looking ahead to the general election, we urge everyone to support Democratic candidates at all levels of government. This is about more than simply removing Trump from office; We need to also vote out the members of the Republican party that made a Trump presidency possible and contributed to the dangerous erosion of our democracy.

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