It’s campaign season in California, and politicians are filling our television screens and our Facebook feeds. Their advocates lurk outside of supermarkets and shopping malls. They promise us the world if we vote them into office and warn us about the catastrophes that will happen if we don’t.
“Elections are the best and worst of times. Political ads, candidates and pundits play on our emotions while social media divides us,” warns Adama Iwu, co-founder of the We Said Enough movement and one of The Sacramento Bee’s California Influencers. “More than ever, we have to inform ourselves, venture outside of our bubbles and fight confirmation bias.”
Bee readers have expressed frustration through our “Your Voice” feature about where to turn for reliable information in this divisive political landscape. One frequent piece of advice from the Influencers: Don’t rely solely on sources that reinforce your opinions, but instead seek out a variety of perspectives.
“I watch Fox News, the conservative cable station of choice. And I read The New York Times, the paper of record for the left,” said Jon Fleischman, publisher of the conservative website FlashReport. “A voter who wants to draw their own conclusions about political happenings should cast a wide net for opinions.”
“Getting news from a variety of sources … will help ensure you’re hearing about candidates or initiatives from many sides,” said Sacramento government affairs expert Larisa Cespedes, chair of the HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality) leadership and advocacy organization.
Other Influencers stressed that such information gathering can be done through both mass media consumption and personal communications.
“Find and follow some intelligent people on Twitter with whom you strongly disagree to learn how the other side thinks,” suggested California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. “Next time you’re tempted to get into a shouting match on Facebook, ask respectful questions and seek to understand.
“And instead of cutting off family members because you can’t stand their politics, sit down for a meal and genuinely open your ears and your heart to their perspective.”
“Of all the well-informed adults you know whose personal judgment and intellectual honesty you most respect and trust, ask how they are going to vote,” said former California Gov. Pete Wilson. “If you are not satisfied with their answer, tell them why and ask them to explain it further. Then ask them to make the best argument they can for the other side.
“Then thank them sincerely for taking the time and making the effort to help you make the right choice,” he said, “because voting in American is both a right and a duty that should not ever be taken for granted.”
Democratic political consultant Catherine Lew recommended turning a political discussion into a social gathering “where neighbors are getting together, divvying up myriad issues (and) candidates, and assigning friends, family and peers to perform additional research … then reporting back/debating each while marking ballots together over a pizza party.”
Several Influencers also pointed to reliable sources that require some reading.
“The best source of information is the ballot pamphlet, which comes in the mail before voting begins,” said Donna Lucas, CEO and President of Lucas Public Affairs, who also recommended the California Secretary of State’s website at http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov. “(It) summarizes the issues, presents arguments pro and con, and shows who supports and opposes each measure.”
“Lists of endorsements can give voters a type of shortcut to help them in their research,” said Loyola Law Professor Jessica Levinson. “This gives voters a sense of who stands to be helped or harmed by the election or defeat or a candidate or ballot measure.”
“Consider the source,” said California Endowment Senior Vice President Daniel Zingale. “The only way to make sense of the Information Age is to figure out who you trust. It can be a news outlet that still employs fact checkers, an organization or leader who makes endorsements, or a political party you think comes closest to your core values.”
Other Influencers talked about the importance of identifying sources of a campaign’s financial support.
“I suggest that voters always take that extra step of decoding exactly who’s paying for the incoming slew of campaign ads … and propaganda headed their way these next two months,” said Cassandra Pye, President of California Women Lead and founder of 3.14 Communications. “Knowing the source (of those funds) — and understanding their agenda relative to the pie — should give voters a better sense of who and what to believe.”
Former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer offered a reminder of the importance of political involvement, and the magnitude of the stakes involved, quoting Benjamin Franklin from a conversation about the goals of the new American government:
“Have you given us a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin was asked.
“A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”