Courage California Voter Guide Methodology
- Why a voter guide?
- How is this guide different from other voter guides?
- Will this guide cover every race on my ballot?
- Where do you get your information from?
- What is unique about this election?
- How do you decide to recommend one candidate over another?
- What do you mean by candidate viability? what is that?
- What is the courage score report card?
- Why do you sometimes recommend more than one candidate?
- Why do you sometimes make no recommendation?
- I see a lot of recommendations for non-progressive candidates over what I think are progressive candidates. what’s the deal?
- Do you only support democratic candidates?
- Do you only support incumbents? also, what is an incumbent?
- How do I know your recommendations will have a positive, progressive impact on California?
- What about local races? How do you make recommendations on offices like judges and school board positions?
- What about judges? How do you make recommendations or decide to simply provide biographical information about candidates?
The Courage California Voter Guide aims to close the gap between the government we have and the government we want for the state of California.
Our vision for California’s government is to build a progressive, equitable, and truly representative democracy that serves all Californians, regardless of where they live, their wealth, the identities they hold, and any other qualifier that is unjustly used to rationalize unequal treatment.
Achieving our vision is going to take a lot of work, and we hope this Voter Guide is a big step in the right direction. We’ve mapped out our vision, and piloted the steps of how we get there, and built our recommendation process based on the advice and insights of hundreds of progressive organizations working across the state. We’ve attempted to strike a balance between our vision for where we want to be in the future, and the realities of where we are today in terms of who is in office and the current political climate.
Our strategy for developing this guide and all the recommendations it holds was and continues to be a work in progress. Read on for a view into our methodology, and please get in touch if you have questions or would like to offer feedback or get involved.
It is nearly impossible to keep up with the vast number of candidates and races currently going on in California, let alone keep track of the various networks and agendas at play. We all know that well-funded special interests do their best to control the message in the media so you’ll vote for their candidate. We’re here to help cut through the confusion and provide you with clear guidance on the specific candidates and ballot measure positions you should support and why.
Many voter guides describe candidates and ballot measures but don’t take a clear position on who you should support. They provide you with all the information they can so that you can decide for yourself. They are great resources, but in today’s political climate, we don’t think that providing information alone is enough. Our democracy is under attack, and misinformation is one of the most powerful tools being used to undermine our electoral system. This is why the Courage California Voter Guide offers recommendations of the specific candidates and ballot measure positions to support. Our position is that it is not enough to provide information, we also have to provide guidance on how our votes can combine for maximum positive impact.
Our fifteen-year history in the progressive movement in California politics means we can tap into grassroots and progressive networks that have been working for decades to protect and empower Californians. We use our networks and our expert knowledge of the political system and how it works to do the hard work to figure out where advancing progressive goals is possible -- and where basic rights are under attack. This is the foundation of the recommendations in this voter guide.
Not yet! We guarantee that you’ll have coverage of your Congressional representative, your state senator, and your assemblymember. There are 58 counties in California, which all have lots of local races, from county boards of supervisors to mayors to city council members to school boards to judges and more. We have picked a handful (over 50) local races where we feel confident we have enough information and guidance from local partners to make an informed recommendation. We’d love to expand to cover more local races across the state for November. Help us make that happen by contributing to the Courage California Voter Guide!Offering comprehensive statewide coverage in:
- Congressional Races
- State Senate and Assembly Races
- Down-the-ballot coverage for all races in the city of Los Angeles
- Judicial Races in Los Angeles County, San Francisco County, and Alameda County
- School board races in Los Angeles County
- City Council races in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose
- Mayoral races in Fresno County, San Joaquin County & San Diego County
- County Board of Supervisor races in Los Angeles, Alameda, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Butte, Santa Clara, Solano, Contra Costa, Napa, and Yolo Counties
- District Attorney race in Los Angeles County
We gather information from a variety of sources to develop our recommendations. In no particular order, we consult:
- Courage Score report card of CA state legislature
- Endorsements by Courage California and other progressive groups
- Endorsements by state and local media
- Recommendations by other CA voter guides
- Websites that track candidate fundraising
- Campaign websites and social media channels
- Campaign coverage by state and local media
- Insights from our partners with working knowledge of a candidate
- Local experts with working knowledge of a district or office
The March 3, 2020 election is a primary which, in many races, decides which candidates will appear on the ballot in November’s general election. In California, our “top two” primary system pits all candidates of all parties against each other and lets only the first- and second-place finishers move on to the general election. In some races, the top two finishers are likely to be one Republican and one Democrat, setting up a typical partisan general election contest. But in other races, the top two are likely to be two candidates from the same party. This impacts how we make our recommendations since we want to make sure that at least one Democrat or progressive candidate makes it onto the general election ballot in November.
This methodology was developed specifically for the 2020 primary. You’ll see that we have a different recommendation strategy for when the general election rolls around. Remember to check back with us before November for our updated recommendations!
Broadly, we look at how candidates align with our priority areas, listed below. But before we even get there, we look at the question of: Can they WIN? We call that “candidate viability,” and we dig into this concept in our next question.Priority Areas
- Do they inclusively REPRESENT their district?
- Will they MAINTAIN OR INCREASE POLITICAL POWER to achieve progressive priorities?
- Will they actively push California in a PROGRESSIVE DIRECTION?
If a candidate or ballot measure we recommend supports one or more priority areas, you'll see one of these badges on their profile.
We’re glad you asked! Candidate viability is where we start our assessment, by understanding if a candidate has a chance of winning the specific office they are running for, and the specific district they’re in.Viability Criteria
We look at a candidate’s endorsements from progressive partner organizations. An organization’s endorsement often carries with it organizing and canvassing resources that can help make the difference in a race. Sometimes, progressive organizations cluster around a couple of candidates. In other cases, they aren’t willing to endorse anyone in a particular race.
The reason why these endorsements matter so much is because these progressive organizations work closely with legislators to propose, promote, and pass progressive legislation. They often can provide a local, grassroots perspective, since tthese organizations exist in every part of the state, and work directly with leaders at every level of government, from state senators to city council members to local school board members and every other elected position in between. We deeply trust their guidance about whether an elected official listens to their constituents, works collaboratively to design policies, and is open to new ideas -- or not. That said, partner organizations can sometimes disagree strongly in their analysis, and in those cases, we have done our best to listen to the various perspectives and make a recommendation that incorporates the differing points of view.
We look at the composition and recent voting history of the district. Districts vary greatly by geography, climate, demographics, and population density. These factors and more lead to blue, purple, and red districts. Some districts flipped from red to blue in the last election cycle. In these districts, we’re taking care to support Democratic incumbents who may not be as progressive as we would like, but help keep those districts in Democratic hands, thus helping secure Democratic majorities that make progressive change more likely.
In more conservative districts, the most viable candidate to replace a Republican may not be particularly progressive. But again, if we don’t unite behind that non-progressive Democrat, the most likely outcome is that the seat will go to a right-wing conservative. In those cases, we back the non-progressive Democrat, but strongly encourage more progressive candidates in the district to run viable campaigns in future cycles.
We look at a candidate’s fundraising numbers. Like it or not (and, let’s be honest, we don’t), money is currently a strong factor in whether a candidate can win. We look at any candidate who hits a minimum benchmark. These benchmarks look different for different types of races. It’s also encouraging when we see candidates with lots of smaller donations. Until we get money out of politics, we have to maintain this consideration. We are particularly excited about efforts like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s newly launched PAC: Courage to Change, which she will use to support progressive candidates, both running for open seats and challenging incumbents. There are similar efforts here in California that are helping more progressive candidates have a level playing field when it comes to bringing in enough dollars to have a chance at winning.
We look at a candidate’s party affiliation. Again, like it or not, holding the line against a Republican right-wing majority in any legislative body is a serious consideration. If a non-progressive Democrat has a Republican challenger, we recommend the Democrat. If a non-progressive Democrat has no challenger, we may make no recommendation. If a non-progressive Democrat has a large field of challengers, both Republican and non-Republican, we rely on endorsements by progressive groups to guide us, in large part to make sure we avoid having no Democrats on the ballot in the General Election due to the top-two primary system, which we explain below.
First released in 2016, the annual Courage Score Report Card assesses the political courage of each California state legislator to identify which representatives stand up and fight — and which ones don’t — against the corporations and lobbyists seeking to exploit their constituents. This is our best tool to evaluate the track records of California State Senators and Assemblymembers for recommendation. Where it’s available, we use it to evaluate candidates. Sometimes candidate viability concerns outweigh a legislator’s weak or poor Courage Score. In those cases, we highlight issues in our recommendation identified by the Courage Score analysis and also explain why we think it’s still important to vote for this candidate.
In some races, there are multiple viable candidates with strong progressive values. If we see endorsements from progressive organizations clustering around more than one candidate and the district is safely going to be won by a Democrat or other non-conservative, we may split the recommendation.
I SEE A LOT OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR NON-PROGRESSIVE CANDIDATES OVER WHAT I THINK ARE PROGRESSIVE CANDIDATES. WHAT’S THE DEAL?
While overall we are pushing for a more progressive California, we also need to meet districts and their residents where they are, and work to bring them along with us bit by bit. This is why even though we use (and create) measures like Courage Score, which can tell us about how strongly a candidate will support progressive legislation in office, we also understand that Courage Score is just one measure of a candidate’s impact on their district.
Absolutely not. We look at all types of candidates from any party. But because of the dominance of party politics in both candidate viability and our goal of building political power, we do end up recommending mostly Democrats. As party politics change, you will see corresponding shifts in the recommendations we make.
Nope! An incumbent, who is the person currently holding a certain office, often gets recommended because they have fulfilled the duties of their office responsibly and effectively. In conservative or recently flipped districts, we may support non-progressive incumbent candidates who are at risk of losing to a more conservative candidate. But in deep blue districts, we will support viable, strong, progressive challengers where we see the opportunity to make change for the better by voting an incumbent out of office. In those cases, you’ll see a description of why we recommend NOT voting for the incumbent and instead backing a specific challenger who has a viable shot at winning.
- In California’s Congressional races, one in five of our recommendations is for a strong progressive challenger. If all of our recommended candidates are elected, 20% of California’s open Congressional seats will be filled with more progressive legislators than the current incumbents!
- In the California State Senate, we’re recommending nine challengers across 21 races. If all of our recommended candidates are elected, nearly 50% of the open seats in the Senate will be filled with more progressive legislators than the current incumbents!
- In the California State Assembly, we’re recommending 19 strong progressive challengers. If all of our recommended candidates are elected, over 20% of the open seats in the Assembly will be filled with more progressive legislators than the current incumbents!
WHAT ABOUT LOCAL RACES? HOW DO YOU MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS ON OFFICES LIKE CITY COUNCILS AND SCHOOL BOARD POSITIONS?
We’re learning a lot about what makes a strong candidate in judicial races, school board races, and other local races like county boards of supervisors, city councils, and water boards. In the Guide, you’ll see recommendations in just a few of these races to start. We’re piloting how we select candidates in partnership with other progressive groups and other allies. As we start to solidify the criteria for different types of races, we’ll be expanding this section of the methodology. Please get in touch if your organization would like to weigh in on local races in your area.
WHAT ABOUT JUDGES? HOW DO YOU MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS OR DECIDE TO SIMPLY PROVIDE BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION?
To evaluate the open judicial seats in select counties, we had to go beyond our standard research practices, as there is often little public information available about candidates (be it news, public writings, or social commentary or profiles.) When possible, we searched cases they were involved with, misconduct or ethics complaints, and sought input from those that interacted with them. When available, we also incorporated the county bar association’s rating of the candidates, as this is the best evaluation of their competency in the legal field. In many rases, we opt to simply provide those ratings and a short biographical description of all candidates rated "Qualified" or above. You can find the overall ratings and methodology for the San Francisco Bar Association here and the Los Angeles County Bar Association here. The Alameda County Bar Association does not provide public ratings of candidates.