As the Democratic dog and pony show ramps up, the media focuses on the question:  “Who’s gonna be the front runner?”  Every debate performance, impassioned speech, minor stumble or past peccadillo by any candidate is forced through that filter. Among friends, what’s discussed at the bar is: “Who’s your candidate?”

My response to both questions is: “It’s way too soon to say.”

It’s important to stay engaged in the electoral process, but the first caucuses are six months away.  There’s more than a year before we’ll pull a lever for anyone.  A lot can happen in that amount of time. There’s no way the news media – or you – can credibly back any horse when the field is this crowded.  Events yet unknown between now and 2020 will necessarily play a role in shaping the choice.

Remember that most political coverage today is about keeping your eyeballs engaged, because media makes money by delivering those eyeballs to advertisers.  Creating competition is one way to keep you interested.

Poll results are another, and they can be disturbing if you don’t look into how the poll was conducted; for example, how large was the sample, how were the questions worded, and where were the respondents from geographically, economically, and socially?

Most news outlets also lean heavily on opinion, and the people who deliver those opinions are carefully chosen. On cable news, there are decisions made at the individual shows and at the network level about which talking heads will get air time, and in what context.  To properly filter the information they provide, you need to understand where they come from. Contributors are drawn from specific points on the political spectrum, and they have their own agendas related to those points of origin, even if they appear to share a party loyalty or a broad ideology. Factor that in as you listen to them speak.

The same formula applies to which candidates a news outlet decides to cover heavily, what questions they’re asked, how those questions are framed, and how their answers are spun to advance a desired perspective. A casual viewer or reader might be swayed by a compelling sound bite without realizing that the moment has been choreographed for just that purpose.

When choosing a candidate your decision must be based on facts, and you must be the sole interpreter of those facts.  Independent critical thinking is important.  Allowing the media – including “alternative” media – or your social group to frame an issue for you means that you’re seeing it through their filter, not yours.

There’s a lot of information out there that can really screw with your head. Stay cool and remember that you don’t have to decide anything right now.