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In our opinion: The real test is what voters are asking themselves

Voters face a list of difficult decisions in the two weeks preceding this year’s elections, and they should make time to ask the right questions. Although political candidates deserve a thorough grilling from potential constituents, the most important questions voters can ask will be aimed at themselves.

In a bygone era, candidates could have a one-on-one conversation with each voter, but that’s not the way most of the country operates today. Instead, televised debates, commercials, online forums and comment sections make it difficult to cut through the hot air and choose a candidate that demonstrates a certain set of values.

Taking time to sift through the dialogue and reflect on the questions that matter most is hardly a waste of time. Here are a few examples of the questions voters neglect to ask themselves:

Are the candidates positioned to exhibit real courage? Are they willing to stand their ground and do the right thing even if it means relinquishing their power by losing a re-election? A candidate who is willing to cast an opposing vote or voice opinion on legislation manifests a type of bravery that is lost on many who are only consumed with gaining or retaining power.

Intuition, or “gut feeling” should not be ignored, either. The way a candidate makes a voter feel is an important aspect in decision-making. Do a candidate’s comments lead someone to think about only the speaker’s life story, or does it make them reflect on their own life? Simply put, nobody should be left feeling afraid or frustrated. Voters should focus on finding a candidate whose ideas lead to a place of hope and a better future.

Is the candidate more concerned about raising campaign cash and pleasing the national political party than serving the people of the district? The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and the ensuing fundraising is a fresh example of what lengths each side is willing to go to turn political difference into a crisis whose solution somehow depends on voters’ campaign contributions. Political parties may be richer at the end of the day, but the country loses.

Other questions consider what candidates are for, not just what they are against. The conversation tends to focus around what is wrong with government without much thought for what it would look like if everything got fixed. Does the candidate have a plan for restructuring health care, curtailing debt and the deficit, protecting the nation against foreign threats or balancing seemingly disjunct values in the culture war? Or is the plan to blame the other side for the country’s ills? A 30-second overview is fine for a TV spot, but when pressed for details can the candidate deliver specifics in a way average voters understand?

Ultimately, voters should be honest with themselves about their role in maintaining the good health of democracy. Are you willing to engage your community on issues that matter to you? Are you willing to speak with civility and respectfully disagree? What are your plans for supporting civil society and bridging political divides?

Answers to these questions reveal more about the nation’s actual trajectory than the candidates the country chooses to put in office. With unusually thick ballots this year, voters have plenty to consider, but introspective queries shouldn’t get lost in the fray.