One of the greatest assets of the American democratic machine is the freedom for individual voters to cast their respective votes based on whatever criteria they deem salient. This is also the system's greatest detriment, because people are unpredictable and in many cases are not willing to be critical of their own familiar thought patterns. That being said, what criteria are important? The fact that we have campaigns at all suggests that this is not an easy question to answer. Put differently: if we all agreed that a certain criterion was the only one that mattered, everyone would only discuss that criterion; we would do our best to quantify that criterion, and by the time of the election, whoever ranked more highly according to that quantification would be elected in a landslide. Assuming you have not had your head buried in the sand for the last three centuries, you no doubt realize that this is not how it works.
Of all the possible ways to choose one's vote, there are three criteria, in particular, that inform the most votes. This is not an exhaustive list, only a few chosen according to ubiquity. They are: party affiliation, issue evaluation, and character analysis.
A Poor Criterion
Party affiliation, the most pernicious of the three is discussed first. Those who have sworn an allegiance to a party have often done so with religious fervor. These are the people who have placed their unwavering trust in the hands of the elected. Parties change and people change and it is irresponsible to assume that the specific politics of your chosen party are set in stone. Benjamin Franklin said, on the matter "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority." In an ideal world, a party would be denigrated most by it's own electorate. But, of course, we do not live an an ideal world. Those who vote based on this criterion are the hardest minds to change. A task which I do not wish to undertake.
An Okay Criterion
The evaluation of issues is the touted promise of modern political campaigns. There is an important distinction to be made, however, between designing a campaign that puts issues at the forefront, and actually discussing those issues. This is a nuanced point, but it is of the utmost importance. In a system where politicians are only encouraged to scratch the surface, most people agree on most of the points raised. The reason for this is that wanting the best for America is a non-partisan viewpoint. Things like keeping Americans safe, reducing the national deficit, protecting our interests abroad, do not fall on only one side of the isle. But in The Age of Instant Gratification, Smart Phones, and the Internet, the depth, meaning, and intent which could inform our decisions are lost. There are many possible solutions for this issue, one of which is a total restructuring of the largely pointless debates. Solutions such as this, however, would require an overhaul on a grand scale, necessarily driven by those who benefit least from it. Which is why I would not expect it to happen anytime soon...
A Pretty Good Criterion
All of the above kept in mind, I strongly support the third criterion: character based voting. The truth is, even if our politicians were given the opportunity to show us the depth and intent of their proposals, there is no simulation we could run to see if such a change would operate as expected, and without costly side effects. The laws of sociology and economics are subject to the tenets of Chaos Theory, and as such are profoundly sensitivity to initial conditions (all of which we can never know for certain, and most of which have no reliable metrics). All of this is to say that lofty changes often do not work out as planned. So, then, if we cannot trust anything a politician says, what does analyzing character even mean? It means that the President of the United States, for a minimum of four years, will be making decisions on a daily basis that we, The Electorate, must stand behind as our own. Are you willing to stand behind someone perceived as dishonest or racist, or worse, just because they promised you something they have exceedingly little control over?
The President, in the end, is a human being, limited by physiology, memory, and conscience. We can only reasonably expect, that when an unforeseen situation arises, they will make the choice seen by them to be in the best interest of our country. The voters are choosing someone to make decisions for them, and after four or eight years, the decisions made on a daily basis will heavily outweigh the handful of policies promised during the campaign.
It is not the party or the platform that makes the candidate; it is a career of individual decisions made while subject to the crucibles and tribulations of life, in short: the evidence of character, that we truly cast our vote for.