2016 Elections: Lessons I Learned from the Aftermath

Marc Bilodeau/ November 23, 2016/ Self Help

This post isn’t about the 2016 elections results or my personal political opinions. It’s about what I learned from the aftermath. I don’t consider myself a political person, nor am I passionate about the many issues others in the country care deeply about. In fact, I thank them for their efforts to talk about the issues and move us forward as a country regardless if I agree or disagree.

However, there were events happening during the 2016 elections that I could only realize in hindsight. With the waves of disappointment, jubilation, riots, and news stories from Americans as a whole, I paused in self-reflection to pinpoint potential traps that can influence voters.

Opinion Polls are only Opinions

Pollsters are ready at the helm to provide feedback on candidates and important issues. Just because the majority feels one way or another, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct. Although a pollster goal is to be neutral and unbiased, opinion polls are prone to biases and inaccuracies.

Respondents may not give candid answers. They simply may not participate. The attitude of the pollster may affect how respondents answer. The questions may not necessarily explain the issues fully, or may be unconsciously bias to influence a particular response. These are just some reasons that make opinion polling an unreliable means to understanding.

Opinion Polls are just that, opinions. They do not dig deep on the issues or candidates. It’s my responsibility to take opinion polls with a grain of salt and independently research.

The Media

First, I express gratitude for the news stories and articles. This is a highly competitive industry, and survival depends on readers. Misleading titles and clickbait seem more rampant then ever. It’s especially true when major events unfold. Additionally, false stories surface that can mislead people. What’s worse is news outlets seem to take sides and report on issues that best reflects their organization’s political leaning. Confirmation bias is everywhere.

News and social media are important tools. It helps me understand the issues, allowing me to research candidates, ballot questions, and opinions. Sometimes we cannot make a decision by ourselves, and they provide a wealth of information to help. However, I must take every article as is and not absolute truth. Trusting one source of media doesn’t expose me to enough information and opinions. Therefore, it’s important I read different sources about the same candidate or issue. This way, I gain a complete understanding from different perspectives.

Not everyone votes

This isn’t a new problem. It’s been an issue for past elections, and even worse when it isn’t a presidential election. Estimates show that only 58% of eligible voters went to the polls in the 2016 elections. Although a majority, 42% of voters decided to remain silent. If these missing voices were to vote, then the results of the election may have had a different outcome at some level.

This is unfortunate. For one reason or another, we are missing those voices on important issues and overall direction for local, state, and nation. I was part of the 42% in the past. Today, I realize the importance of voting and will continue to do so in the future.

Live Debates

I use to think live debates were a waste of time. But now, I believe they provide value. Debates expose a candidate’s opinions, policies, and reactions to potential voters. Debates give valuable insight that cannot be easily gathered from news or social media. Without debates, I’d have to patch together bits of information about candidates and issues. With the barrage of information from every direction, it’s hard to tell what is correct, incorrect, or embellished.

I did not realize until the 2016 elections how much insight I gathered about the candidates by watching the debates. Seeing candidates discuss their positions and issues provides context to the news articles and social media posts after the fact.

Conclusion

Keeping all of these things in mind, I can see why someone can be easily influenced when deciding how to vote. My goal is to make a fair assessment of the candidates and issues.

To take an objective approach, I download the local ballot from my town’s website. Then, I read about each candidate, and research the pros and cons of each question on the ballot. Lastly, I watch the debates to hear directly from the candidates. This process doesn’t take a lot of time and allows me to vote with confidence.

In the end, there is no one to blame for the outcome. It’s important to accept it as the process of the system. I believe in the system regardless if I’m with the majority or not. The key point is that I vote with understanding, and stand true to my opinions and beliefs.

Voting is serious and can move mountains. When I was younger, I never appreciated it. But now, I realize its importance and I hope others do to.