Politicians are a different breed. They straddle the line between public and private life like few others, with their personal lives constantly under public scrutiny. But how can you tell if a candidate is trustworthy? The best way to suss out a politician’s character is by looking at their past. People who want to run for office must meet certain requirements—the most important being that they can put the public good above personal interests. But not everyone can pass this test; many politicians fail it spectacularly. It takes some digging, but there are red flags that tip you off to someone who should probably not hold office. Here are the biggest warning signs:
Politicians who lie violate the trust of the public, which is incredibly corrosive to a functioning democracy. The specifics of any lie are less important than the fact that they’re willing to lie at all. The best way to spot dishonesty is to look at politicians’ track records. If they have a long history of lying, they’re probably going to keep doing it. If you’re not sure where a politician stands on an issue, look up their past statements on the subject. If they’ve flip-flopped multiple times, it’s a red flag.
Politicians are not immune to greed, which can lead to all kinds of misconduct, from corruption to neglect of duty. Greed can also manifest as a need for attention and adulation, which can tip into narcissism. Another great way to spot greed is to look at a candidate’s financial situation. Overly wealthy candidates (especially when they didn’t come by that honestly) are often motivated by greed. For example, candidates who have been paid to lobby for special interests are required to disclose this information. If they fail to disclose that they’ve been paid to advocate for a certain cause, that’s a sign that they don’t think the public should know about it.
3) Lack of transparency
If a politician is reluctant to share information about their past, there’s a good chance they have something to hide. Candidates should be happy to share as much information about their past as possible. If they resist releasing their tax returns, college transcripts, or other relevant documents, this is a big red flag. If a politician has something to hide, what is it? Is it a skeleton in their closet? A past conviction? Something that would rob the office of its dignity? If a candidate has something to hide, they shouldn’t be in public office. Period.
4) Authoritarian tendencies
A politician with authoritarian leanings may promise to “make America great again” or “restore law and order.” These promises are often thinly veiled gestures toward totalitarianism. Authoritarian candidates often display aggressive, bullying tendencies. If you’re seeing a lot of demagoguery and hateful rhetoric in a candidate’s campaign, they probably have authoritarian tendencies. This can manifest as a tendency to bully and threaten critics and the media, or a desire to rewrite the First Amendment and impose censorship. If a candidate has authoritarian leanings, they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power.
5) Shifting positions
Politicians who shift positions on important issues (like abortion, the economy, or foreign policy) are likely doing so for political expediency. Candidates who shift their positions on important issues are often pandering. This is a warning sign that the candidate is willing to say or do anything to get elected. A politician who shifts positions on important issues likely doesn’t have deeply held beliefs. This is bad news for voters and democracy in general.
When you put all these factors together, you can learn a lot about a candidate’s character and whether they would be a good fit for office. A prudent voter will take these signs into consideration when casting their ballot. When you vote, you’re not just deciding who will represent you; you’re deciding who will be responsible for shaping the future of your country.