With days left before Election Day, it is time to figure out how you will vote. Voter guides are one way that political groups can help you with this decision. Some are very informative. Most are not. All of them are biased, some more so than others. Here is a run-down of voter guides aimed at evangelicals and other religious voters this election season.
Guides for Red vs. Blue Voters
The goal of most voter guides is to simplify the election into two stark choices. Many groups cannot legally endorse candidates, but they can "educate" voters by telling them how the candidates stand on key issues. On one side of the guide is the good guy. On the other is the bad guy. And if you support the group issuing this type of voter guide, this is a very helpful tool as you decide for whom to vote.
Ralph Reed's Faith & Family Coalition, Gary Bauer's American Values, and Family Research Councileach offer social conservatives a flyer outlining how Barack Obama and Mitt Romney differ on the issues (spoiler alert: Obama and these groups apparently do not agree on anything). These guides cover the expected social issues like abortion, marriage, and gay rights. They also include economic and fiscal issues including the estate tax, "Cap and Trade Energy Taxes," and the Keystone pipeline.
According to the FRC voter guide, Mitt Romney has had several "etch-a-sketch" moments since the Republican primaries. But rather than moving to the middle (as candidates tend to do between the primary and general elections), Romney has apparently become more in line with the FRC since he became the GOP nominee. On the FRC primary voter guide, Romney was listed as "mixed" on four issues: federal funding of stem cell research, federal prohibitions against all human cloning, the estate tax, and support for "strict constructionist judges." In the general election voter guide, Romney is now listed as completely supportive of the FRC position on these issues.
The FRC also has specialized voter guides. For those in the military, there is a guide that drops discussion of Planned Parenthood, human cloning, and some gay rights (marriage and workplace discrimination) in favor of new positions on defense spending and the federal debt. There is also a special Vice Presidential voter guide for Catholics, which lists issues touched on by Catholic social doctrine. The FRC also provides a Spanish language guide. The Spanish guide is identical in content to the generic English language guide. There is no discussion of the FRC's positions on immigration or support of English as the nation's official language.
Voter Guides That Don't Pick Sides
The trouble with these types of "voting for dummies" guides is not that they are too simplistic (they are) or that they use slanted language (they do)—a guide, after all, is supposed to tell you what to do.
Sojourners' voter guide is long on issues and values and short on candidate positions. The Sojourners "Endorsement for President" is a statement that they won't endorse a candidate, and their "voter guide" doesn't provide any information on candidates. It is more like a party platform than a guide for voters.
"Christians have a moral and civic responsibility to participate in the political life of society" write Sojourners. "We must, however, remember that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and prayerfully measure the policies of all candidates against a range of Christian ethics and values."
The Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) voter guide, "Can My Vote be Biblical?", presents principles, not politicians' positions. President Ron Sider goes further than Sojourners in ESA's Prism magazine. Sider walks through the issues espoused by both parties, finding them both wanting.
"So who does God want us to vote for? I honestly do not know," Sider says. "I urge you to do what I plan for myself. Follow the debates. Keep learning about each candidate and his polices as they are stated, attacked, defended, and developed. Talk to others. Pray fervently that God will guide in this election. And then vote for the person you think will be at least a little better in moving our nation and the world a bit closer to the shalom God wills."
The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Freedom Commission also eschewed coverage of candidates in favor of a compilation from the Democratic and Republican party platforms. But platforms do not always reflect candidates, particularly those further down on the ticket. Knowing a candidate's party is important, but there is more to a candidate than a party label.
Researching Your Races
For those who want to research voting and campaign contributions on their own, a first stop should be Project Vote Smart. For the presidential and congressional campaigns, Vote Smart's Vote Easy site lets you pick issues and find out which candidates match your positions. On Vote Smart's main site, you can see biographies, issue positions, and other information on congressional, state, and local candidates.
Additional information on campaign contributions can be found at Open Secrets. This site makes Federal Election Commission data easily accessible. Voters can see who is giving how much to whom. Open Secrets breaks down contributions, letting you see which companies and sectors give the most to the candidates. Obama's largest contributors include universities and tech companies. Romney's major backers come from Wall Street.
One guide that is very informative is the voter guide set up by the American Family Association and its allies. The guide is explicitly conservative and aimed at helping Christian social conservatives vote. (If you sign up to look at your candidates, your address will be available to the AFA and the Heritage Alliance, a Texas political action committee.) On conservative issues, there are simple grades. Obama receives an F; Romney a B+. But beyond the grades, the guide aggregates information on presidential and congressional candidates, including votes in Congress, issue positions, political endorsements, and campaign contributions.
Wallbuilders' christianvoterguide.com lists both national and state guides for Christian conservatives. Some state guides are more comprehensive than others. The California Family Councilprovides endorsement data from a wide range of groups from social conservatives to LGBT advocates, labor unions to taxpayer groups, and pro-life groups to Planned Parenthood. Illinois Family Institute compiled guides for each congressional district. Each district guide includes state legislative races, with information on how each candidate would have voted on actual legislation in the state capitol.