The midterm elections are coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and although they may not get as much hype as presidential elections, they’re still important, says Joshua J. Weikert, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and chair of Immaculata University’s Civic Engagement Department. Weikert has wide-ranging academic experience and practical involvement in politics, public policy and governing, having served as a research consultant, policy analyst and legislative advisor.
In recent years, Weikert has seen a trend of more young people voting. Traditionally, voter turnout tends to be higher among older adults, Weikert says, which is why politicians often talk about issues that matter to that population, such as Medicare and Social Security. But recently, he has noticed that younger voters—including college students—are increasingly recognizing that politicians will pay attention to issues they care about if they vote.
“Voting is a habit,” Weikert says, and encourages students to vote in the next several elections to build good lifelong habits. He shares five tips to help voters choose candidates and make their voices heard on election day.
1. Make a plan to vote.
Voters should make sure they are registered to vote in each election. Pennsylvania residents can check their voter registration here.
An area may have plenty of polling locations, but “you can’t vote just anywhere,” Weikert says. Everyone must vote only at their designated polling place (or by mail, if they requested a mail-in or absentee ballot by Nov. 1). Pennsylvania voters can look up their polling place here to find out where to go. Other states also offer voter information online, usually on their department of state or board of elections websites. They can then find out the hours of their polling place on election day and pick a time to go and cast their ballots.
2. Do your research on candidates.
“Be a responsible citizen, put in the work, even for a few hours,” Weikert says. He suggests visiting Vote411.org and VoteSmart.org, nonpartisan websites that compile candidates’ answers to questions about important issues and that show the voting records of incumbent candidates.
Weikert also recommends reading candidates’ platforms. “If they don’t have much to say, they’re probably a bad candidate.” He cautions against believing everything opponents and third parties say about candidates. “Always be asking questions [like] why and according to whom?”
3. Consult news sources.
The three major TV networks provide 30-minute news segments at 6:30 p.m. with little opinion/editorial content, Weikert says. He also points to publicly funded news outlets—NPR or PBS—as reliable sources with sound, fact-based journalism.
“Go to a reputable news source with a stake in things,” Weikert advises. “Large media companies have a lot to lose if they’re wrong.” He mentions The New York Times, Washington Post and similar major newspapers.
However, he adds, the top articles on those news websites could all be opinion/editorial pieces. “Take editorial and analysis content with a grain of salt,” he cautions. Most major news outlets clearly label articles as news, analysis or opinion to help readers distinguish between them and be aware of commentators’ biases.
“There are thousands of media outlets that will mislead you,” Weikert says. With the internet, “overall media content has grown, and it’s mostly editorial content.”
He also encourages people to avoid cable news, which he says is mostly editorial content, and to beware of political information they see on social networks. “If you see it flying around on social media, there’s a good chance it’s misleading in some way,” Weikert warns.
4. Read widely to check facts and assumptions.
Weikert mentions confirmation bias, people’s tendency to seek out information that confirms their opinions and to disregard facts that challenge their beliefs. “We skip over articles we don’t agree with,” he notes, and points out that large news sites have algorithms that note readers’ preferences and show them articles that interest them.
“This creates the false impression that everyone already agrees with us,” he comments. “Go out of your way to read things that disagree with your presuppositions.”
5. Just vote!
It sometimes feels like a single vote doesn’t make much difference, Weikert acknowledges, but voting matters. “The higher the rates of voter turnout, the more public policy matches public opinion.” Voting sends a message to elected officials that they will be held accountable, he says, and they can’t get away with doing anything they want.
If politicians think voters aren’t paying attention, Weikert notes, they may be more likely to be swayed by other interests, such as big donors or their party’s politics. “Politicians will go with what the voters want every single time if they know voters are going to show up.”