"This above all: to thine own self be true," Polonius tells his son Laertes in the first act of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. And the bard's advice is good, as we find that voters may be picking candidates based on what they think they stand for, instead of the candidate's real stand on the issues.
Let's face it; it isn't easy to find out where the candidates stand on the issues. Sound bites from politicians on newscasts can be measured in nanoseconds. Watching the debates doesn't exactly produce a roadmap, as we began with more than 20 of them, broken up over three debates. And when the candidates get into shouting matches and mudslinging, it's hard to figure out where the candidates stand on, let's say, Social Security or student loans. And political talk shows are known for oversimplifying, even distorting candidate stands or records.
I decided to see if my students actually agreed with the candidates that they supported. So I gave them two tests. In one test, I had them tell me, in advance, which candidate they thought they supported (like, Dr. Ben Carson). Then I had them take a quiz from OnTheIssues.org, where the students themselves provided answers on questions about what their stands were on about 25 issues. Then the test would tell them which candidates they really supported (like John Kasich).
Of my 23 students who took the test, only three correctly matched the candidate they thought they supported with one that had similar issue positions.
Now I know you're thinking that they're college students, and a bunch of dummies. That's not the case. They did much better on a prior ideology test, where they had to guess whether they were liberal, conservative, centrist, libertarian or authoritarian. More than half correctly matched their ideology to their stands on the issues.
Even among those that missed their ideology, most were off just a bit (thinking they were conservative when they were actually libertarian, or thought they were centrist when they were really liberal). Hardly anyone thought he or she was a liberal and was really a conservative, or believed he or she was a libertarian, and was really an authoritarian.
It was the same with the candidate matching. Some thought they were Donald Trump supporters, and really backed Jeb Bush, or anticipated liking Ted Cruz and really preferred Marco Rubio. We didn't have any Bernie Sanders-Ben Carson mismatches.
And just so you don't think I'm above it all, I took the tests myself. On the CNN test, I correctly picked my candidate. But I was more closely matched with another candidate (who has since dropped out) for the "OnTheIssues.org" test than the one I hope to vote for in Georgia's primary.
To overcome this, I had my students work on an election guide, like the ones the League of Women Voters used to put out, identifying candidate similarities and differences on 26 issues. We are also having a presentation on campus, where we let students pick the issues and we tell them where the candidate positions are. It should help the attendees with their vote choices. For as Polonius warns his son "And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com. He would like to thank his students Michael Buckley, Alexandra Butson, Keaton Coates, Anisa Cole, Brandon Collins, Reid Emery, Jacob Gassert, Seth Golden, Helon Hammonds, Richard Howell, Alex Hughes, James Kane, Jawaun Leach, Mimi Loftus, Miguel Martinez, Erin Missroon, Duncan Parker, Ben Puckett, Nick Rawls, Chris Smith, Tressea Stovall, Brooke Turner, Stephen Wagner and Lindsey Weathers for working on the election guide.