On Prioritization

When we consider our votes for different political candidates, we often line up the candidates' positions on issues side-by-side and count up what we like and what we don’t like and make decisions that way.

A good example of such a match-up is the following side-by-side comparison of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush on domestic issues, by ontheissues.org. We’ve attached a screenshot below of some of the comparison; following the link will get you the full list. Note that we don’t mean to imply support of any particular candidate, nor support of any particular portrayal of their positions--it’s just a convenient example.

There are of course a bunch of issues missing from this list, but looking at these, ask yourself: are all of these of equal importance to you?

If we wanted to measure on balance how we should vote for a candidate, how would we do it? Should we just tick off the number of issues we agree on vs. disagree on? 

Perhaps we should rank them by importance?

That seems an excellent start.

But if we really wanted to choose effectively, we’d need to prioritize very fiercely. It’s unlikely that any of us is going to find candidates that agree with us fully on many issues: as people with a wide array of experiences and backgrounds, our positions are likely to be nuanced and complex.

Sometimes we get very emotionally excited over certain social issues like gay marriage, abortion, and the like, and those often keep us from prioritizing effectively. I remember a friend recently told me, “I will never vote for someone who will tell my spouse what she can and can’t do with her body.” This would suggest that no matter where the candidates stood on every other issue facing the country, this would be the deciding factor.

What’s not clear is whether this friend went through a rigorous exercise of determining that this issue was so much more important than all the other issues combined that it would trump any other combination of positions. We shouldn’t speculate here whether it could, but it highlights an important point: some issues are just far more important than others for the future of the country. This applies, of course, outside of US elections.

Which issues facing your country are 2x, 10x, even 100x more important than others? Which are the few that we must absolutely get right, whose outcome will have the biggest impact on today’s citizens and those of the future?

What issues are less important, but are distracting us as we make comparisons between candidates? Where have we gotten caught up and lost sight of the by-far most important issues facing the country? 

When educating ourselves for our next major elections (national or local), let’s rigorously and rationally prioritize what few issues in the big list are by-far the most important, and make clear to those lobbying for our vote what we really care about most.

Leave a comment telling us what you think should make that short-list in the next national election in your country: it would be great to see what different people have chosen!

1 Comment

Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.