The Very Very Short VersionI've given up on shortcuts, and am instead going to score election candidates (national, state, or local!) with an equation and vote for the highest positive score.
If you're not in a major party, you're probably getting either a 0.5 or 0.25 for Electability. Policies and Personal Virtue have equal weight, 500 points each. Policies are great, but you'll get distracted and have to work with the other party, so you won't get them done. I try to compensate for that. In practice, a presidential candidate can only get 250 policy points. My gut feeling is worth 50 points. And 250 extra credit points are available if I really believe you're a Christian. (And unless you enjoy lots of detailed reasoning, you should stop reading here!)
EDIT: And if I can't assess the virtue term very well, I'll compensate by weighting the policy term higher instead. See bottom of page.
BackgroundI've been considering how I should vote for pretty much my entire adult life. As a kid it seemed easy: Just vote Republican. There are significant values that the Republican party matches much better than the Democrats, so it's been a good approximation. But it's been uncomfortable all along. I really don't like how the conservative crowd tends to dismiss the poor or immigrant (not officially or across the board, but as a rule I sense a lack of concern), and the blurring of the line between Christian, Republican, and American is disastrous. My allegiance to Jesus should not be in any way confused as a vote for the Republican party. The Gospel is so much bigger than that!
I was two weeks too young for the 2008 election, and 2012 was already thought-provoking. Having a Mormon candidate (outside the bounds of historic Christianity) was unsettling. 2016's Trump is so morally reprehensible that it forced a full evaluation of my priorities and some analysis on how I should be making a decision. My allegiance is to Christ, above even the country and certainly over any party. One particular angle that needed to be addressed: Am I voting for policies (which?) or a person?
So being the ultra-logical person I am, I decided to settle this once and for all with an equation/algorithm for combining and prioritizing what matters to me into an overall candidate score. (OK, it'll probably need tweaking. But I'm hoping it'll be mostly good for 10-20 years, and be able to apply to non-presidential elections too.)
In an attempt to be thorough, I went to Facebook and asked my friends (and 34 in particular) to contribute their reasoning on how we should vote. Not candidates, just general technique. I got about 50% participation among the 34 tagged, which was pretty good, and found the responses to be very helpful in formulating my thoughts and helping me not miss important issues. I did throw some out in the end, but I very much appreciate all the interaction!
I was, however, a bit disappointed by the lack of Christian reasoning. Jesus reigns over the entirety of our lives, including our political lives, so our priorities need to line up with His, to the degree they're revealed in Scripture. I have my own preferences, but they should be lower in importance. Most of the friends who would agree didn't comment, so I did quite a bit of research on my own. Very helpful resources included Faith in the Voting Booth, How Would Jesus Vote?, various Gospel Coalition and other articles, and How To Choose a President (most importantly the first chapter which is available online (possible paywall)).
One additional note of explanation is needed regarding the Supreme Court. I do not find the argument that we should vote in fear of who the candidate may nominate to be persuasive. One line of reasoning, suggesting it's too hypothetical to bear much weight, is here. Another, come to on my own, is that the person I want on the court is a lot like the person I want as a candidate: An assortment of views on an assortment of issues. The Supreme Court is no more a single-issue decision than the presidential election. In effect its effects are blended throughout my equation.
Which finally brings us to the true equation.
The Real Equation!
A candidate's score is an Electability fraction of the sum of four scores, shown with their possible range:
- Candidate's Policies [-500, 500], multiplied by an Effectiveness fraction [0, 1]
- Candidate's Virtue [-500, 500]
- My Gut Feeling [-50, 50]
- Candidate's Personal Faith [0, 250]
EDIT: I've thrown a Confidence in my virtue assessment factor in after originally publishing. See the bottom of the page for the revised equation.
I generally reject the argument that you should vote for the lesser of two evils. I feel I'd be complicit in asking for evil. I'm not choosing Mussolini vs. Stalin. If God wants to work through an evil ruler (and He has), that's his prerogative, but I'm not going to try to predict His ways. Highest positive score wins. This also means that I won't vote for someone who gets a negative score.
Most factors can be positive or negative. If I like some aspect of your policy or character you get points. If I can't score it, or it's not relevant, or you don't seem to care about it, you might get no points. If I actually feel you're working against my views, however, you will lose points.
There's an Electability factor that affects everything. Without one, I have to consider several hundred million people! With it, I can limit to a few and give more attention to more major candidates.
I weighted policy and character equally, each with 500 points up for grabs. I'm not entirely sold on that balance of power, but the fact I couldn't really decide supports making it a 50/50 split. Both matter. But it also became clear that part of the problem is claiming all the best policies in the world doesn't mean any of it will happen. Campaign promises are broken, priorities change, and most importantly, you're probably working with a lot of other people who don't agree. So I can only partially care about your policy. In a federal election, this factor is significant, effectively limiting you to 250 policy points. More later.
At this level the equation is pretty generic. I can reuse it in future elections or local elections. Policy might instead be about zoning laws or a school board member's philosophy of education, but the structure should stay in tact.
Electability: Would I be wasting my vote?Score Range: [0, 1]
I reject the notion that a vote for a third party is a vote for The Candidate You Hate More. It's a variation on the lesser of two evils rejected before. I'm voting for the best candidate, and leaving the results in God's capable hands. I do, however, want my vote to mean something. Even if that something is only to inflate the third party vote count and signal to the bigger parties that they need to reevaluate their platforms. And I don't want to analyze a couple hundred million eligible people. So I tried to hold these conflicting ideas in tension and allow third parties a fighting chance, but easily skippable if I have a decent major candidate.
This factor is imperfect and may need balancing. It's a fraction, or percentage meant to reduce good scores if the candidate has no chance. Let's start with the right side, evaluated from top to bottom. The major parties, currently Republicans and Democrats, have a chance by definition so they get to keep 100% (or 1) of their scores. If you're a third party in a debate, which hasn't happened in my voting lifetime, you can keep at least 75%. If the media is treating you as legitimate, you're guaranteed 50%. The 25% chance of winning a state is different; in a little known quirk of our system, if no candidate gets enough electoral votes, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives to decide between the top three. At that point all bets are off and the candidate would be legitimate. So if the candidate is just disruptive enough to prevent an electoral majority... it's not a wasted vote. And finally 10% if there is enough buzz, at least in my Facebook feed, that the total votes might be noteworthy and maybe influence the future if not this election.
The left factor allows a higher score than the right guarantees if your poll percentages are good. It's effectively how close you are to being an equal player, assuming the major parties are split evenly. Use '2' for the current number of major parties, and this term effectively means that you get full credit if you're polling at 23%. Even if you were never in a debate.
Effective PolicyScore Range: [-500, 500]
It's easy to look only at policy, and I still want to, but there are character qualities and political realities that make policy dangerous to rely on. Promises are broken and you will most likely be working with a divided Congress. Supreme Court members may not come up for replacement. Or 9/11 could happen and your entire job changes. So I want to look at policies, but limit it.
So generally, If that notation is new to you, it's a sum of individual policy scores. All multiplied by an effectiveness score.
But more precisely, thanks to the distributive property, we can put the effectiveness score on each policy, becoming . I probably won't generally evaluate effectiveness on each individual policy, but I can.
EffectivenessScore Range: [0, 1]
So what makes you likely to make progress on your positions?
You're realistically not going to get much done at the federal level. Too much can go wrong. I don't remember but George W. Bush campaigned on, but I'm sure it wasn't terrorism! Your local school board, however, is probably going to stay focused on education. Some character traits also help or hurt your ability to get stuff done.
- is the level of government. This term limits how well you can do just by the sheer slowness of the political process as described above. Possible scores: 50% for a federal election, 75% for state, 100% for local.
- is the ability to compromise and work with other parties. Score range: [0, 50]
- is the experience and/or education to come up with a good policy, without too many loopholes or unexpected side effects. Score range: [0, 20]
- is the related ability to be thoughtful. Good critical thinking skills and reliance on good advisers. Score range: [0, 30]
- is a possible penalty for inconsistency. If your views have changed without good reason, it's hard to trust your intentions. Score range: [-25, 0]
PolicyScore Range: [-500, 500]
Coming up with policies that matter to me was tricky. There's so many! And the really important ones are really important. And you mathematically can't give 80% of your vote to five different things at the same time... So I'm not entirely happy with my weighting, but I tried. A large chunk of what did survive is coming from Scripture. Most of what's left are issues I'd argue could undermine our entire political system if not addressed. The goal is to seek the welfare of the entire country, not just the Christian interests (Jer. 29:4-7). God will take care of those anyway! The equation listed here is intended for federal elections, and as guidance for smaller elections. But some issues won't apply. What does apply should be scaled as necessary to still allow for 500 points.
Advocating for the Vulernable / VoicelessScore Range: [-250, 250]
This is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. It's hard to miss. Israel was given laws generous to various vulnerable classes, it instead repeatedly allowed people to be taken advantage of, and the prophets repeatedly decried it. Failure to treat people properly was a major factor in God's harsh judgment on Israel (the exile), Zech. 7:9-14. And it's reestablished frequently in the New Testament as well. See, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) or James 2:15-17.
I'm including four distinct groups of people that our country is failing to represent well in this category, each with its own support (though they often overlap into this general category). A number of references are from the Old Testament, where they were commands, not suggestions. I see nothing that would suggest they were ceremonial or religious law that shouldn't transfer into current contexts. It's basic moral law that we should follow regardless of personal preference or political factors. At least half of the available policy points are going to this category.
AbortionScore Range: [-90, 90]
To hypothetical conservative readers, this takes no explanation, except maybe why it's so low. That bothers me too, actually, and I don't have great answers, except perhaps to speculate that political action isn't the best way to accomplish this at the moment. Perhaps addressing underlying causes would be more effective. See below.
To hypothetical liberal readers, the intent has absolutely nothing to do with control or women. It's in this category of protecting the voiceless for a reason. Unborn children have literally no ability to defend or speak for themselves. The standard for killing people should be very, very high. (Even capital punishment is up for debate.) We see no meaningful moral difference between their lives or any post-birth. Difficult circumstances, gender, or free choice don't change that, though I'd like to address the difficult circumstances below too. And if there's any question about whether they're human ("person") enough for legal protection, I want to err on the side of caution. Past limitations of personhood are today disgraceful. (Note: That link looked like an iffier site than I'd like. I won't vouch for it. But it had a good list, including Supreme Court references. Consider the argument itself.) Abortion isn't directly addressed in the Bible, but we do know that the early church took in abandoned babies, that the Law treated an assault on a pregnant woman as also being a criminal act against the child (Ex. 21:22-25), and there are passages that God cares about us before birth (Psalm 139:13-16). We should too.
PovertyScore Range: [-75, 75]
I don't know how to end poverty. I'm not rooting for any particular policy. What I do want to see is concern, compassion, and consideration of how our policies may effect the poor. I don't see much Biblical basis for limiting our duty here. (OK, there's 2 Thess. 3:10. But balance it against the entirety of scripture.) I see no basis for limiting our concern. There is definitely support for a safety net (e.g. Lev. 19:9-10). There may be personal implications too, which I try to be sensitive to. See, for a very small sample, Deut. 15:7-8,10, Matt. 25:31-40, Luke 14:12-14, James 2:15-17.
ImmigrationScore Range: [-60, 60]
I'm for comprehensive immigration reform, including some degree of amnesty to those currently here and a dramatic review of our policies. My understanding is that it's very difficult for existing undocumented residents to become legal, and that should be fixed. Limits may or may not be appropriate, but I want to see the concern for the immigrants, not our own personal safety. (Let's face it: The occasional drug lord is not an existential threat. And they're rare.) Also appalling: "If the parents of a child born in America are deported, that child may be forced into foster care or become homeless without parents. He or she cannot legally go with parents who are from Mexico, Central America, or China, because the child is an American citizen without legal status in those places." (Faith in Our Voting Booth, 109). My value on strong families (everywhere, and especially for the citizen child) outweighs the illegality of the parents' residency, especially given our structural problems and that being here probably was driven from desperation, not criminal intent. I do want to see laws followed (duh), but I want them fair and am concerned more about the people than the rules. I'm again not aware of "immigration", per se, being an issue in the Bible, but major characters were immigrants at some point (Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, David, Daniel, Jesus). There were foreigners in Israel, and the Law was written to treat them equally in many cases (Lev. 19:33-34). We're not doing that, certainly in the attitudes I see in general conversation. See also Ex. 23:9 and Deut. 24:19, among others.
Criminal Justice ReformScore Range: [-25, 25]
Our justice system is broken. How you're treated seems to have a lot to do with both wealth and race, neither of which should be relevant. The United States has the most prisoners in the world, both in raw numbers and as a percentage. They're treated poorly, and often not ending up rehabilitated. Being concerned here may have ramifications on unquestioning support for police and/or policies on drugs, and that may sound unpopular. Again, I want to see laws followed, but they seem to be overzealous and/or over-enforced right now. What we're doing clearly isn't working. Micah 6:8 is relevant: "He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [other translations: mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?" We've got the justice down. Let's work on the mercy. Also relevant: Matt. 25:31-40
A Balanced BudgetScore Range: [-70, 70]
We're now out of defending the vulnerable and on to issues that could undermine our entire political system. It's common sense that you have to pay for what you buy. That applies at the personal level, and it shouldn't be surprising that it applies to government too. We're seeing countries going into default already, and some states aren't far behind. We won't even be able to have a conversation about the poor if we keep accumulating debt and China decides to threaten military action if we don't pay up. That's hypothetical of course, but sooner or later this will become a priority, and the way interest works it would be in our best interest to deal with it now, not then. This may mean reductions to the military, or a higher standard for government programs, or increased taxes, or all of the above. I don't really care, but it needs to be addressed. How's that for cutting across party lines?
Role of GovernmentScore Range: [-60, 60]
I like the American experiment in democracy. It's worked well for 227 years, and I'd like it to keep working. The separation of powers was ingenious and necessary to combat a sinful human nature (Jer. 17:9). Explicitly protecting our rights in the Constitution was also invaluable. I don't see the Constitution as a mere piece of paper. It should actually constrain our government's abilities, not just be given lip service. I don't want to see the president take too much power; Congress should challenge it. (For example, declarations of war should be needed instead of this invade first, and then have Congress kinda half-heartedly agree later philosophy we have going now.) I'd like to see more power reside in the states, as was the intent of the tenth amendment. The Constitution should be interpreted according to the original intent of its authors. They gave us the ability to change it after all! If they didn't foresee gay marriage, let's enact amendments instead of redefining it for our times. And I'd like to see term limits.
Religious FreedomScore Range: [-50, 50]
As with abortion, this needs some explanation. To the hypothetical conservative reader, why so low? Again, I'm not sure it's a battle worth fighting too hard in the political arena. We're acting like the problem is worse than it is (we won Hobby Lobby), and we might be shooting ourselves in the foot. God will take care of us, and even if we lose some ground here, the Church thrives under persecution, which is currently much too strong a word to be using.
To the hypothetical liberal reader, the intent here is not to be mean to our gay neighbors. I (we? and I think the founders?) view the right to religious freedom as essential to a functioning democracy. When you start telling people how they should think, or how they should act in public, you're on your way to a dystopian future. If a person feels something is wrong, or required of them, they should be able to act out their convictions. There are (probably) limits, but forcing people to do what they feel is wrong is dangerous. I like the intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which allows the government to limit religious freedom, but only when there's a compelling government reason and only as narrowly as possible.
I want religious freedom protected both in private and in public. It is not merely freedom to worship. It means not treating the Muslims any differently until the rare person actually becomes violent. We're definitely not deporting them on the basis of their religion! It means allowing otherwise-illegal drug use for the Native Americans. It probably means a photographer should be able to avoid clients she feels she'd be sinfully endorsing by accepting. It might even mean polygamy in Utah. If we're going to err, I'd rather this right be too strong and a little unfair than not strong enough. I do think the Christians are crying wolf a little here, but I don't like the direction we're heading.
PrivacyScore Range: [-50, 50]
I'm growing increasingly concerned about the government's spying on just about everything we do. Snowden confirmed what some were already strongly suspecting: The amount of information collected and retained seems to be unlimited except for the occasional high-profile court case where one small piece of data is deemed unconstitutional. In general, there's little oversight (which as noted above, I think is critical) and in an era where terrorism is the national enemy, it's being applied just as strongly to our citizens as international. The loss of privacy is too high a price to pay to stop the occasional terrorist attack. The scariest part is that we don't know how bad the problem is as it's all classified. Congress is being lied to. I'd like to see significant oversight and the fourth amendment used to dramatically limit information to cases where there's actually probable cause.
Foreign Policy / MilitaryScore Range: [-20, 20]
I'd like a smaller military, or at least a smaller international role. I tend to be more isolationist and agree with Washington's farewell address advising us to stay out of foreign entanglements. I certainly do not think we should have the sole role of the policemen of the world. I'm concerned that we're already losing rights (see Privacy above) and it's being defended as necessary for our protection. Terrorism is not an existential threat. I didn't even live through the Cold War, but I can tell there's no comparison! Let's defend ourselves and be involved in international cooperation as necessary, but I want to see us quit having our national interest covering just about everything.
VirtueScore Range: [-500, 500]
In contrast to stated policies, which may not even be relevant the day after the election, personal virtue will shape just about everything the candidate does throughout his term. As priorities change, I want to know I can trust the actual person to do what is best for the country no matter what happens. I don't fully agree with our long-term reactions to 9/11, but I appreciate that George W. Bush was calm and collected and didn't do anything rash. It seems obvious that character matters, but I've found it challenging to quantify how much it matters. I found this article from Christianity Today several years ago to be helpful. (Possible paywall - if you, dear hypothetical reader, want access, let me know.) Supporting using character as a substantial factor are Psalm 72, Deut. 17:14-20, and Ex. 18:20-21, along with several New Testament passages that are focused on church leadership (which is less relevant). In the end I settled on a 50/50 split with policy as I couldn't fully convince myself of either, although the effective policy multiplier and the fact that neither party fully meets my policy desires (and thus will have some negative scores offsetting positives) will result in this Virtue term carrying comparatively more weight.
- is a measure of respect. How does the candidate treat others? Of particular note are rivals (mudslinging?), expert opinions, and the voiceless (are they ignored or prioritized?). This is important as he'll need to work with others to get the job done, including people who have better experience or won't agree. Score range: [-30, 30]
- is a measure of personal integrity. How does the candidate himself behave, especially when nobody is looking. That's hard to judge, but there should be some personal record. His/her marriage and family history is highly relevant to this score. This is generally important, if for no other reason than to avoid distracting scandals. Score range: [-30, 30]
- is a measure of moderation or self-control. Is he rash or impulsive or driven to excess? It's important he can be trusted with power and not just use it for personal gain. Score range: [-20, 20]
- is a measure of wisdom. Also hard to measure, but years of experience and nuance in positions may help. This is obviously important for making good decisions. Score range: [-10, 10]
- is a measure of humility, a realistic understanding of his faults and limits. This will be important, at least, to appoint and listen to good advisers who may be better informed on the many policies the candidate isn't. Score range: [-10, 10]
Gut FeelingScore Range: [-50, 50]
We all have gut feelings. (If not, score 0.) They matter, but should be analyzed a little more carefully. I'm putting all the analysis elsewhere, but allowing a small 50 point factor (roughly 5%) for anything else I can't quite pin down.
FaithScore Range: [0, 250]
This is purely extra credit. No points are deducted for not being a Christian, but all things being equal, I would prefer one. We can't fully judge a person's salvation, but we can make educated guesses. When unclear, I'm going with no; it's meant to be a high standard. Some founding fathers would not get it. Romney would not get it. I'm not looking for someone who merely says he's a Christian, but one who actually shows some evidence of it. I'd like to see faithful church attendance, and a low Virtue score is probably going to disqualify you from this bonus. There should be fruit in your life (Gal. 5:22-23). Why do I include this specifically when there's already a Virtue score? Because I think there is a meaningful difference between a good person and a person who is actually "listening" to God's voice in his life. By listening I don't mean an audible voice. I mean things like God providing the right friends for guidance, or a verse striking you in your personal devotions. (Which, I was surprised to discover, God required of Israel's kings in Deut. 17:18-19) If you're responsive to the Holy Spirit, over the long term God will bring your priorities in line with His. And he'll bring my policy priorities above into better alignment with His too. The candidate won't be perfect by any means, but he'll at least be going down the right path personally, and to some degree (moderated by separation of church and state) be indirectly leading the country in the right direction.
Personal AppearanceScore Range:
Because we needed some humor! This was my mother's joking suggestion, and I promised I'd include hair color. What I didn't promise is what I was looking for! She's thinking blonde, but I prefer brown hair. It's a tiebreaker only, and realistically will never be needed.
EDIT: Adding Character ConfidenceScore Range: [0, 1]
Although I stand by the described system, it was very hard to score some presidential candidates in 2016. Specifically, the virtue term is hard. So I want to make it clear that I reserve the right to approximate and use some gut feelings if individual terms aren't clear. And even then, I don't always have great confidence in my assessment. This was particularly hard for third party candidates with limited media exposure. I simply can't gauge character well. A second, smaller problem also became evident. The Effectiveness term on policy does a really good job at reducing the weight of policies, and makes the (uncertain) virtue term carry a lot of weight. So, I'm going to have to edit the system. Already. I want to keep it in tact whenever possible, but if I'm not confident of the virtue score, I'm going to redistribute some of the points back over to the policy term, where I have more confidence. It'll be a subjective assessment of whether I feel I have enough information to gauge the virtue term well, as a percentage. So the revised equation is now:
A 100% score keeps the weighting 50/50. 50% would put a 1.5 weight on the Policy and only 0.5 weight on the Virtue, giving the Policy three times the weight (which is closer to equal when you throw in Effectiveness). That should be a little more balanced.