Approximately 130 million people voted in the 2008 election, roughly 64 percent of the electorate. That number was up considerably from the 122 million who voted in 2004. The expectation for voter turnout for this year's election is low.
What influences a voter? With political advertising at record levels, can we really get all of the information we need to make an informed decision from a 60 second sound bite?
Television stations have become the big winners in the media war for political advertising, especially in swing states. Campaigns choose television over other forms of media because television advertising can play to a time-conscious audience's emotions quicker and better than other forms of advertising.
The problems is, voters do not know for sure whether the political advertising is coming from the candidate's campaign, a Super Pac, a union, or some other wealthy individual or corporation. And rarely does a television advertisement tell the audience where the candidate stands on an issue, but rather it points out all of the shortcomings of his or her opponent.
Thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which ruled that corporations have the same right to political free speech as individuals, voters have become less and less influenced by political advertising on television, but spending on the media has sky-rocketed.
Project Vote Smart is dedicated to serving all Americans with accurate and unbiased information for electoral decision-making. Based in southwest Montana, the project's policies, procedures and structure attempt impartiality and focus on the issues.
Vote Smart President Richard Kimball, in a video message to online readers stated, "Our founding fathers created a form of government based on truth, transparency, on the people's ability to know the facts, and govern for themselves. They took an historic gamble that every generation of Americans would do what was necessary to defend those basic principals of freedom. They would be sickened to see how their dream is being corrupted."
Project Vote Smart, in coordination with over 200 news media organizations, asks candidates to provide essential information about where they stand on various issues. If the candidate fails to provide their position on the issue, Project Vote Smart will determine the candidate's likely position from his or her public statements, legislative record, and interest group ratings. The information is compiled and made available on their web site, www.votesmart.org.
According to Kimball, "The crass selfishness of modern day politicians has made us all dangerously mistrusting of each other and almost anything said or written. Ugliness has become contagious. Somewhere politicians decided it was more efficient to move us emotionally rather than persuade us intellectually. They push fear because it sells." He went on to say, "Campaigns have always been bitterly fought, but when truth can no longer catch up with the lies and selfish interests will not be set aside for the common good, they cripple our nation."
Voters have more information available to them about their candidates than ever before. The challenge is sifting through that information, determining fact from fiction, and boiling it down to determine how the candidate would be likely to vote on any given issue. Not only do we need more organizations like Vote Smart to get to the heart of the issues, but we also need a voter base willing to put forth the effort required to vote on the issues rather than emotion.