To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE.

The following was written by Boyd Matheson.

In major election years it is important to realize that as voters, we don’t get what we pay for. We actually end up paying for what we get and generally get what we deserve. With such high stakes in 2016, voters should not be pulled by the latest polling or swayed by political spin. Instead, voters should ask tough questions and demand real answers. But not of the candidates. Voters should ask themselves these five questions.

Question One: How is this candidate positioned to show real courage? Another way to think of it would be to ask whether or not this candidate would be OK not winning election or re-election based on taking a firm position on an issue that was unpopular. The challenges of our time are going to require elected officials with real courage.

Question Two: When you listen to this candidate where does it lead your thoughts? When you listen to the candidate do you find yourself thinking just about the candidate and their story or do you find yourself thinking about your life, family or future? Do your thoughts go toward feelings of fear, frustration and conflict, or toward positive solutions and possibilities? A candidate whose words lead your thinking to negative places or solely into the candidate’s world is not the one to lead you, the state or nation toward a better, brighter future.

Question Three: What is this candidate for? You know what the candidate is against – starting with their competitors for the nomination and the opposing party. While the candidate has to be willing to fight against the kind of government they don’t want, they must also be able to articulate the kind of government they do want. Do they have an agenda they can point to, expressed in principles and policies, that describes what kind of government they intend to foster?

Question Four: Does the candidate talk in generalities or in specifics? In business the rule is always: when you talk about things in generalities you very rarely succeed, but when you talk about them in the specific you very rarely fail. The same applies to politics. One-liners and bumper-sticker slogans are nice, but they don’t produce real results. Beware of the candidate who uses sweeping generalities in their responses. Also anger should never be confused with an actual agenda, and we should also remember that hope, as important as it is, is simply not a strategy. Candidates should be talking about specific policies, strategies and tactics – there is no substitute for real, concrete and detailed solutions.

Question Five: Is the candidate more concerned about making friends or keeping promises? Many Americans complain about the conflict in politics. I can tell you from experience that conflict is not the problem in government – collusion is the problem. You do not get nearly $19 trillion in debt through conflict. It comes from way too many elected officials being way too eager to get along, go along and make deals that are good for them, not necessarily good for their constituents. If you want a friend in office, remember that real friends tell you the truth, even when it is hard; they tell you what needs to be done to solve your problems without sugarcoating it; and demonstrate to you by their actions that they will stand with you no matter what.

As we all prepare to cast important votes during 2016, remember we are going to pay for what we get in elected officials, so taking some time to ask ourselves a few questions about candidates is going to be time well spent. Debates are interesting, forums can be fun, commercials can provide comic relief, and even a chat with a candidate can provide some clarity – but nothing is more important than the answers to the questions we ask ourselves. If as voters we do not find ourselves this election cycle, we will never find people who can lead us where we hope to go as a community and as a country.

Boyd Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute.