4 Things This Generation Can Do To Prepare For The 2016 Election

By Audrey Russo

In the age of Facebook rants, Twitter fights and website clickbait, political messages are bombarded, construed and thrust upon young, voting-aged Americans en masse.

Who can we believe? How can I discuss politics with my friends? Where can I find the best information about the candidates?

Navigating the media circus is difficult enough when you’re balancing a job, homework assignments and internship applications.

It’s strenuous to sit down and sort through the issues that surface in an ever-changing political landscape.

When I voted for the first time in 2012, I discovered a few tips and tricks that helped me make my decision much easier. Here is a guide to the 2016 election, from deciphering rhetoric to starting a conversation about politics with your friends:

1. Know the Constitution

Simple enough, right? Actually, you’d be surprised to learn that the majority of Americans don’t know the basic tenets of the document.

According to an Annenberg Public Policy poll of 1,416 people, a little over a third could not name a single branch of the US government.

Having a fundamental knowledge of the US government helps you understand the validity of the claims made by both candidates and their opponents.

For example, during the 2012 presidential election, Planned Parenthood launched an attack ad against Romney, claiming he wanted to “get rid” of the organization.

The constitution allows for the president to push for defunding the organization, but it prohibits the POTUS from completely abolishing Planned Parenthood’s existence just because he or she doesn’t agree with its mission.

2. Know your news sources

For the busy young professional, it's programs like “The Daily Show” that provide the perfect balance of entertainment and news coverage.

Research has shown that young voters flock to these programs for news, making up the audience majority for both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

During the 2004 presidential election, Pew research found that more than one fifth of voters aged 18 to 29 used humor programs as their main source of news.

While entertainment news can be informative, its main goal is to be, well, entertaining. In short, jokes and political commentary shroud each issue, and satire can overwhelm the fundamental details required for a viewer to make an informed decision.

While it would be easy to stick with one news source for the entire election, it’s naïve to assume your favorite journalist or reporter isn’t biased. We all are, and it’s okay.

An important step to learning about political issues is familiarizing yourself with the press. Do a little research.

What does this news network do to earn the reputation of being unfairly liberal? What about this poll would lead people to believe the results have a conservative slant?

The more you compare news media, the easier it will be to dissect differences in the way questions are framed or stories are presented. From there, you can decide which news source has the most credibility.

Getting news from ideologically conflicting sources will present a campaign issue in several different lights, and it will allow you decide which side makes the most sense.

3. Know your debating skills

One of the best ways to test out the strength of your candidate preferences is to have them challenged, in a circumstance where you alone must defend them.

While old-fashioned etiquette dictates that one should never discuss politics with friends, we Millennials are convention-busters at heart.

Tell your roommate you disagree with his choice of candidate; ask your roommate which 2016 hopeful she thinks will handle the economy best. Just remember a few friendly tips when “talking politics” with a group of friends:

a) Letting your friend sound off on the topic before espousing your view is the best way to illicit an honest answer. This may seem elementary, but framing the question like “How do you feel about the recent Iran deal?” will start a better conversation than “Isn’t the Iran deal stupid?” If you attack your friend's point of view before he or she can even state his or her opinion, be prepared for the conversation to devolve into fight.

b) Sometimes, it’s not what your friend believes, but why he or she believes it. In the end, schism in politics comes down to differences in priorities. It’s better to ask not what your friend believes, but why he or she believes a particular issue deserves more funding or more legislation over another.

c) It’s okay to agree to disagree. At the end of a discussion, you and your friend may not agree with each other 100 percent. This, again, is a simple concept, but the number of out-of-control, online comment-section fights proves that many still have yet to grasp the idea.

While you and your friend may not support the same candidate, you can both walk away and respect the amount of energy it takes the candidates to remain collected during a debate. Disagreeing with a friend will help prepare you for the primary and presidential debates, as well.

That tough question fired at you by your friend may very well be fired at your favorite 2016 hopeful.

4. Know your polls

Actions speak louder than words, and candidates who make campaign promises need to have the record and a backlog of success to make their promises credible. Only you can decide for yourself what qualities and experiences make a candidate a good leader.

Reading candidates' online platforms is a good start to see where they stand on the issues, but polls are the most direct window into the hearts and minds of average Americans. What makes a poll more accurate?

According to Current360, the most accurate polls are the ones with large sample sizes because they have relatively small margin of error (around 2 t0 3 percent). Polls conclude how the Americans from a candidate’s home state feel about said hopeful’s ability to lead.

In the end, only you know what name you check off in the primary and general elections. It’s up to you to make an informed decision about your future.

According to a Harvard University Institute of Politics study, less than one fourth of all registered 18- to 29-year-olds planned to vote in the 2014 midterm election, citing cynicism toward the government and mistrust of politics as reasons to skip the ballot.

In 2016, we will do better than that. It’s easy to be cynical; it’s difficult, but definitely necessary, to stay up-to-date on the issues that affect you now and in the future.