We always hear about how important it is to vote—but equipping yourself to make the right choice is easier said than done. Amid all the overwhelming coverage and sensationalism of politics, truly understanding the issues can be daunting. Here, we list some great resources for getting started, as well as a few key issues that may be of particular concern to Asian Americans and young women in general. (For our younger readers: Even if you aren’t old enough to vote yet, knowing the issues is still important to get involved in your local community and make a difference from the ground up.)
LEARN THE BASICS
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New to politics? This site has a great quiz that asks which issues are important to you and your general stance on them, then shows how much overlap there is between your views and those of each presidential candidate. You can explore each issue in greater depth, and see what others have to say.
When you’re ready to delve more deeply into the candidates’ positions, check out Ballotopedia for each candidate’s stance in everything from abortion to immigration to the recent deal with Iran.
On The Issues
This website may look old school, but it collects up-to-date quotes from the campaign trail alongside past statements from the candidates to illustrate their positions. All the information is searchable by politician or by issue—and if you have trouble placing the small sound bites in context, each quote is followed by a link to a full transcript.
Rock the Vote
Rock the Vote, a non-profit organization geared toward keeping youth politically engaged, has all the details for how exactly to get out and vote. Find information on election dates, registration procedures and deadlines, absentee ballots, polling places, and more.
BRUSH UP ON THE ISSUES
Jump to the issue you care most about, or read our full take below.
The lives we Asian Americans lead in the United States are only possible today because of the immigration policies that allowed our great-grandparents, grandparents, or parents to emigrate to this country. Topics like deportation, citizenship, and birthrights often come up in the discussion about immigration.
The Republican Take: Most Republicans have a strong stance for limiting immigration, supporting the tightening of U.S. borders, and having harsher consequences for those who do not enter the U.S. legally. Republican candidates have also expressed their wariness for birthright citizenship, controversially using the term “anchor babies” to negatively describe newborns who become citizens when they are delivered in the States (whether or not their parents are citizens). Donald Trump has expressed an extreme plan to limit undocumented immigration: to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and forcefully deport all illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S.
The Democratic Take: Hillary Clinton has come out in support of deporting serious felons to their countries of origin, one of the more drastic measures to which some other Democrats object. Still, most Democratic candidates—including Clinton, in cases not involving felons—are against deportation of undocumented migrants, instead placing focus on reforming laws to ease the path to legal citizenship.
The Libertarian Take: Gary Johnson is of the opinion that anti-immigration laws are largely based on racism, rather than economic interests, and therefore should not be adopted. Libertarians are largely against blocking immigration to the U.S. by severe means; in fact, Johnson has stated that access to work visas should be made easier—except when the individual poses “a credible threat to security, health, or property.”
The Green Take: In the short term, the party supports allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, granting legal status to undocumented persons who have graduated high school in the U.S., and making the current approval system more efficient. Jill Stein’s long-term plan includes granting legal status to undocumented immigrants currently working and living in the U.S., as well as their families, so long as these individuals present no threat to society. The Green Party also hopes in the long term to reverse the business and trade policies, like NAFTA, that they believe created the demand for undocumented labor.
Many agree that education is a basic right, yet most Americans believe that the public education system is broken—criticizing inefficiency, a reliance on standardized tests, and overemphasis on a rigid outdated curriculum. Some groups are concerned about prioritizing rote memorization over analytical and free thinking, while others point to a lack of funds for academic resources and technological improvements in poor neighborhoods. Then there’s the issue of the cost of higher education and debt forgiveness, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans are scrambling to pay off trillions in student loans.
The Republican Take: Trump (like other Republicans) believes that for all levels of education, the power and funding of the federal Department of Education should be decreased—and that individual states should administer their own guidelines and funding. That said, most Republicans have acknowledged the need for reform on a national level. They’re supporters of effectively incorporating the use of standardized testing and of expanding charter schools and voucher programs (essentially state-funded scholarships for private school), which the party believes will create a “competitive system” to improve education nationwide. Most Republicans are against providing free higher education.
The Democratic Take: Most Democratic candidates have voted or spoken out against the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act—which arguably was the cause of today’s focus on standardized tests. The Democratic take on education is to overhaul that reliance, reforming the system so that extra funds and resources for teachers are not dependent on test scores. Clinton wants to double funding for early education programs, cut taxes for the middle class to help with education costs, and implement a targeted “debt-free” model that adjusts tuition based on family income for all higher education. Democrats overall support relieving pressure to immediately pay off student loans and reducing the rate for future loans.
The Libertarian Take: Johnson believes that the federal Department of Education should be eliminated, leaving policy to state and local governments. He believes that free market competition is the best way to provide more educational choices, which is why he also favors focusing on expanding charter school programs. When it comes to higher education, Libertarians attribute the rising cost of college partly to rising government subsidies. If government were to pull government money from all colleges, they say, competition would increase and the cost of college would naturally decrease.
The Green Take: Jill Stein’s platform for educational reform focuses on funding public (as opposed to private) education and reinvigorating the curriculum to teach students critical thinking and intelligent questioning. Plans include a promise to cover tuition for all qualified candidates at public universities and vocational schools, plus working to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act.
In the women’s rights category, abortion is a particularly hot topic: some say an unborn child’s life should be protected above all, while others insist on a woman’s right to make choices about her own body and pregnancy. As women reach new heights in the workplace, it’s still true that they are typically paid less than men for the same work. For every dollar earned by a man, women make only 78 cents—and women of color make even less.
The Republican Take: The Republican platform is pro life. Conservative Republicans have pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, and Trump has said that as President he would do the same. Trump also recently implied that his nominee for a Supreme Court justice (to replace Justice Scalia, who passed away earlier this year) would fight to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling, which recognized a woman’s right to have an abortion as a constitutional one. On the equal pay front, Trump has been ambiguous in committing to new policy implementation.
The Democratic Take: Clinton believes that a woman’s personal decisions concerning her health, including whether to obtain an abortion, should be her own choice. She supports protecting funding for Planned Parenthood, pointing to the wide range of “life-saving preventative care” that the organization provides. Democratic representatives have been trying for years to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for employees to talk openly about their wages without fear of retribution from their employers.
The Libertarian Take: Again, as little government interference as possible is the key mantra of the party here. Johnson has said that though Planned Parenthood does a lot of good, the government should not fund abortion—just as it should not deny women the right to seek one. Likewise, on the issue of equal pay, Libertarians believe that the agreements between individual employees and private employers are outside the scope of government.
The Green Take: Stein stands by women’s rights to access contraception and abortion services and seeks to make these services freely available to women in poverty. Greens also support legislation to close the pay gap, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, and a reformed welfare system that would provide greater support to single mothers working below the poverty line.
The past few years have seen the legalization of gay marriage, improving recognition of transgender identities, and the enactment of anti-discrimination laws in many states. Still, it wasn’t so long ago that the Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and understanding surrounding transgender and queer identities remains a work in progress. It was just this year, too, that arguments became heated over whether transgender persons could use the bathroom that aligns with the gender that they identify with. There’s also the question of Supreme Court decisions versus states’ rights to decide how to implement federal rulings.
The Republican Take: In the past, Trump has supported federal law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in the workplace and has said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be amended to include sexual orientation. However, he does not support the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality and has pointed to domestic partnership benefits as the more appropriate alternative. Republican candidates, including Trump, have suggested that marriage equality is an issue that should be addressed at the state rather than the federal level.
The Democratic Take: Most Democrats, including Clinton, have supported marriage equality, gay rights, and transgender rights. Clinton has spoken in support of allowing transgender individuals to use restrooms that align with their gender—and spoken against “religious freedom” laws that allow businesses to refuse services to LGBTQ individuals as discrimination. She applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect same-sex marriage and other efforts to afford same-sex couples equal treatment for under federal law. Democrats have voted in favor of strengthening legislation against hate crimes targeting the LGBT community (as well as hate crimes in general).
The Libertarian Take: In matters of marriage, adoption, child custody, and other issues involving the law, Libertarians view all individuals equally, regardless of that person’s gender, sex, and preference in either. This logic leads Johnson to support gay marriage and equal rights for queer couples and individuals. He’s also lauded the “Utah Compromise,” which affirms LGBT protection in the workplace and in housing, but exempts country clerks from performing same-sex unions—so long as their office has someone else available to do so.
The Green Take: The Green Party “supports full legal and political equality for all persons” and affirms an individual’s right to choose a gender identity and to equal treatment for all under the law in all civil matters. The party has also pledged to pursue legislation against all forms of hate crime and to end aid to nations whose governments are intolerant of queer genders or sexual orientations. Stein does not accept “religious freedom” as a valid reasoning for businesses to refuse services to LGBTQ individuals.
Energy & Sustainability
Our current energy system is not sustainable, whether from an economic or environmental perspective. Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—are a big part of the discussion; they’re non-renewable energy sources and the way we access and burn them can often be harmful to the planet. Then there’s importing oil, making us reliant on foreign countries for our energy. Politicians on both sides have offered various proposals for a more sustainable energy system, but what restrictions, if any, should be in place in the industry remains contentious.
The Republican Take: Trump’s plan includes tapping domestic oil and gas to make the US independent from foreign oil providers, which he argues will lower prices and create more jobs at home. Republicans support fewer regulations to allow more projects like the Keystone Pipeline, a proposed pipeline for bringing sand oil from Canada to Nebraska that was hotly contested before Obama finally rejected it last fall. However, the party disagrees over what impact such projects (and human behavior more generally) would have on the environment—with some, including Trump, calling climate change a “hoax.”
The Democratic Take: Clinton sees climate change as a real threat and has accordingly pledged to power at least half the nation’s energy needs by renewable, “clean” sources (such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy) by 2030. This would necessarily cut into the coal industry, leading Clinton also to pledge $30 billion to develop communities in Appalachia and other coal mining regions. With the hope that all this will lead to more innovation, Democrats strive to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, improve our commitment to the environment, and open new industries here at home.
The Libertarian Take: Johnson is against government regulation of energy and oil production, despite his acknowledgement that current practices contribute to climate change. While government should encourage alternative energy, it shouldn’t regulate or fund either that or current, more harmful energy industries. He believes that current government subsidies have played a role in preventing the energy industry from moving to reduce its environmental impact—and that pulling government funding alone would cause positive change when it comes to energy.
The Green Take: The Green Party proposes a far-reaching energy program that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent by 2020 and 95 percent by 2050. The plan addresses the problem from a number of sides, from replacing dirty and dangerous energy sources with clean and sustainable ones, to revamping transit systems, to taking more care in our water and land use, to localizing food production and distribution.
In the wake of recent and numerous shootings of black men by police officers, race relations are a tense topic in this election. The most apparent divide may be between blacks and whites, but there’s a larger question of power and representation at stake, and the Asian American community has gotten involved too. Black Lives Matter activists, hailing from diverse ethnic communities, have been at the forefront of organizing rallies and becoming the voice for fairness and justice. Groups related to the movement have endorsed a platform articulating tangible policies that they want candidates to adopt, in areas ranging from reparations to community control to political power for minorities.
The Republican Take: Trump has criticized the Black Live Matter movement, calling it a “disgrace” and claiming that its tactics only further isolates the black community. Otherwise, he and other Republican politicians haven’t much addressed the movement or its demands. Trump has said that he would take the controversial stop-and-frisk policy nationwide to make neighborhoods safer, expressing empathy for “mistreated and misunderstood” police officers and calling for strict enforcement of “law and order.”
The Democratic Take: Clinton supports more police training, clearer guidelines for police use of force, and a general reform of the criminal justice system—at the same time calling for greater respect for police. In her brief encounters with activists, she’s also asserted that making policy changes is the more effective way to accomplish the movement’s goals; in particular, Democrats have looked to improving economic conditions and educational opportunities as the path to “expanded opportunities for African American and all Americans.” They agree with some of the points in the movement’s platform, from ending capital punishment to progressive tax reform, and support a debt-free tuition plan.
The Libertarian Take: Johnson is rare in fully applauding the protest movements that have grown up around Black Lives Matter. The party condemns “bigotry” and discrimination on any personal basis—though it does not move to regulate the behaviors of individuals or corporations who hold such views. Instead, Libertarians say that “…individuals are free to respond with ostracism, boycotts, and other free-market solutions.”
The Green Take: The Green Party platform states that “reparations are a debt (not charity) that is owed” to black and brown persons. These include: beginning to recover profits from the slave trade into a reparations trust fund; removing all remaining clause that allude to slavery from the Constitution; restoring all stolen lands and property; and greater support for education within these communities. Stein’s platform also calls for “strong measures to combat official racism in the forms of police brutality.”
Let’s be real: we all have the tendency to over-share sometimes, whether it’s on Facebook, Snapchat, or in (what we think is) the privacy of phone or email. But as recent fears of terrorism have made the web a more heavily patrolled place, it may not be safe to assume that what’s meant to be private stays that way. Even before the Patriot Act —which granted government agencies certain powers of surveillance following the events of 9/11—and concerns about the NSA, the very invention of the Internet complicated the ideas of ownership. What do I own of what I say and share online? What data and materials can the government collect about individuals? What do I have to fear from surveillance or cyber attacks?
The Republican Take: After the terrorist attacks in Paris, Trump has claimed that many Americans “would be willing to give up some privacy in order to have more safety.” He has also called for more regulation on the Internet to protect us against the Islamic State. (Not all Republicans share his zeal for big government or government surveillance, however—Ted Cruz and others say it would be better to target known individuals; and notable Republicans have spoken against the Patriot Act and tried to block its renewal in Congress.)
The Democratic Take: Clinton has generally taken a more forceful approach in issues of cyber-security and surveillance. She voted twice in favor of the Patriot Act in 2001 and in 2006, and it is her position that Edward Snowden should be brought back to the United States to face charges for leaking classified information. (Bernie Sanders has put his support behind Clinton in this election race, despite his opposing view that the Patriot Act is “Orwellian.” He represents those who believe that there should be greater protections around the amount of data that governments and corporations can collect from online users.)
The Libertarian Take: The Libertarian Party platform says candidly, “We are committed to ending government’s practice of spying on everyone.” Johnson has applied this principle specifically to security in our communications, including email, phone, and other records. He believes that, additionally, this security should not be suspended under any circumstance, even in the face of war and perceived threats to homeland security.
The Green Take: Stein and her fellow party members call for the repeal of the Patriot Act as well as for other national security acts that they see as being in violation of the Bill of Rights. They call for the end of government surveillance activity justified under these acts, including wiretapping without a warrant; collecting usage information from Internet, phone, and other service providers; and search, seizure, and detention of individuals without due process.