Ah, August.  For so many, that means vacation when normally hard working Californians will be visiting theme parks, going camping or maybe just relaxing in the back yard.  But this is also an election year and the next three quiet weeks are the calm before the storm of political ads that will be unleashed after Labor Day.

There will be campaigns for statewide offices, Legislative seats, state ballot propositions as well as hundreds of local offices.  Mail boxes will be stuffed with “information” on candidates and issues. Television and radio will be dominated with pleas for this “good” candidate and with frightening warnings that their opponent is a malefactor who kicks puppies, or that the passage or rejection of a particular ballot measure will result in orphans going hungry. 

At best, these ads will have only the most tangential connection to the truth and, more likely, will be grossly misleading. The best informed voters will be those who ignore the millions of dollars of political advertising,  much of which is designed to confuse voters, and who do their own research including looking at recommendations and analysis from organizations they trust.

The problem with political ads is they tend to dumb down the issues and cause “low-information” voters to become “misinformation voters.”  A recent poll by the by the Public Policy Institute of California illustrates the problem of voters being provided only limited or inaccurate information. The poll reveals that 76% of Californians support imposing carbon emission taxes on oil companies, but support declines to only 39% if the result is higher gas prices, a dramatic drop of 37%. Without getting into the particulars of climate politics, this illustrates how providing or withdrawing information on almost any subject can radically alter public perception.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the health, even survival of our  democracy depends on voters taking a keen and skeptical interest in candidates and ballot measures.  It requires the public to be aware that special interests will spend millions to convince voters to approve measures that may only benefit a select few at the expense others or to elect candidates who are not interested in the general welfare of the state’s residents.  In many cases, special interests, their high powered lobbyists and the politicians they elect, would prefer that voters, who think for themselves, not participate in the process.

But voters can confound the manipulators by ignoring the political advertising, studying their ballot booklets, asking questions and soliciting recommendations from sources they trust.  This writer is biased and believes much good information for voters is available on the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website,www.hjta.org, but, obviously, there are hundreds of other good sources for information that are infinitely more valuable than the paid political advertising that is almost impossible to avoid.

The father of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis, used to say “Only the knowledge that the people care will keep the politicians honest.”   Let’s keep them honest by doing our homework and showing up at the polls well-informed.