I remember what this time of year was like for me. A year ago my team was starting its journey through a hacker-extended month of USC election campaigning.The experience is somewhat surreal in the first couple of days because you can’t quite believe that the campaign is finally happening or that you’re a candidate. Running for USC President is something that other people do–that is, until it’s you.
You’ve heard how difficult the race can be–anonymous twitter accounts, harsh media criticism, angry comments and personal attacks–but you really don’t know how you will react to it. You think your skin is thick enough to handle it, but you’re not quite sure. You’re proud and a little bit embarrassed about how much work you and your team have put into developing your platform, media and strategy and you have no idea if people will laugh at or cheer for your efforts. You know that your video is a promotional tool and that the platform is what you stand for, but you worry that many won’t take the time to read your ideas. This excites you because you think that your video is the best, but frustrates you because your beliefs are what matter. You hate the fact that people think that running is about resume building or popularity but you know that a lot of people are cynical about politics and that you won’t change their minds. You wish that you could look every voter in the eye and show them that you’re honest, passionate and trying to do what is right. You’re frustrated by the media because you aren’t as simple as the synopsis that appears in the paper, but you also understand that they are important to the campaign, often make good points and that they have a distinct role to play. You hope that people will recognize that your motives are pure despite the fact that you have to solicit votes. You genuinely care about the people that you meet and hate the fact that you will forget a lot of names and look like a jerk. You wish that people would believe that you’re “not just saying this” because you’re running for election. You actually do treat people well even when you’re not in a campaign. The smile is real, but you’re already questioning whether people will think that it’s fake. You’re excited for the first debate, but also fearful of looking at your twitter feed afterwards–did people make fun of me or did they at least respect me for giving it a shot? You understand that its easy for others to make jokes at your expense and want to find them funny–but you don’t and it bothers you that you just can’t laugh them off.
I say all of this because I think that it’s important to put yourself in the candidate’s shoes when you’re reacting to elections. Motives matter and I firmly believe that most candidates have pure ones. I know that each candidate wants people to evaluate them critically–they don’t want and certainly don’t feel like they deserve a free ride. However, each candidate wants a fair evaluation and they want to hear what you think. They want a chance to correct the assumptions about their character and about their platform but they know that they won’t get to speak to everyone. At the end of the day they just want each voter to give them a chance and to evaluate them independently. They want you to read platforms, watch videos, visit the UCC atrium, email questions, tweet, comment on facebook, talk to your friends, talk to candidates, attend debates, read the Gazette, listen to CHRW and do whatever you need to do to objectively cast a vote. They want you to believe that your individual opinion matters and that your gut feeling is probably right.
Candidates really don’t have a lot of demands, they just want a chance.