The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | Voters must prioritize the policies proposed by candidates

Prioritizing images and words over policy has dug Americans into a legislative ditch.
Republican+presidential+candidate+and+Florida+Gov.+Ron+DeSantis+speaks+with+a+supporter+before+a+Cy-Hawk+football+game+between+Iowa+and+Iowa+State+at+Jack+Trice+Stadium+in+Ames+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+9%2C+2023.+%28Ayrton+Breckenridge%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
Ayrton Breckenridge
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks with a supporter before a Cy-Hawk football game between Iowa and Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Policy should be the paramount concern of voters, but image and rhetoric seem to be in style.

2024 Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has caught negative press recently for his intense social awkwardness. While his awkwardness is certainly one of his more noticeable features, it is getting a little too much press.

I oppose everything DeSantis says and stands for with every bone in my body, but it is not because he is socially awkward. I couldn’t care less about that when I consider whether to vote for him. It is because I believe his policies are cruel, outdated, and not based on any data, evidence, or reality. 

There are a lot of things that need to be considered when casting your vote, but the rhetoric and image of candidates is over prioritized. Not only do voters need to start putting policy ahead of that, but they also need to be taught how and why to do so.

The unfortunate truth is that these backward priorities are a combination of very natural habits of voters. Voters desire to judge candidates and politicians by their words, looks, and the way they carry themselves, but not wanting to dive into the frustrating and incredibly complicated jungle of legislation, policy, and bureaucracy. 

This does not mean that policy is the one and only thing you should consider. Things like character and experience should absolutely be taken into consideration by voters. However, the consideration of those factors alone is dangerous, and a big reason why our legislators have so dramatically failed the American people.

Words matter a great deal to voters, and that’s why they become so repetitive between candidates. How often do you hear something like “Candidate X is running to fix Washington because they understand the needs of everyday Americans,” regardless of party? How many more times do we have to hear that someone is a true American patriot, and their opponent is an evil monster who hates America?

There is even a connection between looks and electoral victories. Between 30 image pairs of real political rivals, 65 percent of candidates that looked “more physically threatening” lost their elections, according to JSTOR Daily. 

There is nothing that we can do to prevent rhetoric and image from being the first thing people see or perceive about their representatives. What we can do is educate voters on the power of rhetoric and image before they hit the polls.

Thirty-nine states require at least half a year of civics education for high schoolers. I believe all these states — and the 11 others — should include education on strategies and practices candidates and their campaigns use to win over voters in the curriculum, and why policy matters more. If this is taught to students who are nearing voting age, it could force the hands of campaigns to push policy harder as opposed to just images and words.

A huge benefit of this approach is that it is nonpartisan. Conservatives, liberals, and everyone on the outside will have to better elaborate on their policy, and voters can make more well-informed decisions that better represent their needs. A better educated public means better educated voters, which means better policy.

Changing the widespread mindset and priorities of American voters is undoubtedly a daunting and maybe even naive task, but if we are ever going to see real change in the priorities of our legislators, it must and will only come from a change in the priorities of our voters.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Evan Weidl, Opinions Editor
he/him/his
Evan Weidl is a senior majoring in political science. He previously worked in the opinions section as a columnist.
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
(he/him/his)
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.