To be clear, I am not asking for which party you vote: I am asking about your process in deciding to vote.
Answer how you like, but these are questions to consider:
Provided this thread doesn't just fizzle and die, consider adding your voting region if you feel comfortable revealing that info.
Answering my own questions, voting in Vancouver, BC, Canada:
I think it would be helpful if those answering the questions here would state where they live. It would be interesting to see how voting strategies are affected by location. I live in the USA in the state of Oregon and city of Eugene.
1. I vote because even if it's only a fraction of a fraction of a percent my vote is worth something. At the very least it shows that I desire to have a say in how I and my society are governed.
2. I do a little bit of both. On the national scale I tend to vote more along party lines because even if my representative or senator isn't ideal at least I know what to expect from the party as a whole. I have thus far never voted anything other than democrat for president, senate, or representative. On the local scale I tend to base my decision on the candidate in question and the current local issues. I tend to vote Green Party, Democrat, or Independent in local elections.
3. I tend to vote strategically for the presidency. The presidential elections I have been able to vote in have been so close that I feel that my vote is best used in favor of the lesser of two evils. In all other elections I am willing to vote 3rd party if it's possible in the first place and if their positions on the issues are more like mine than the democrat. (In Oregon we tend to have pretty decent democrats as candidates.)
4. I've never bought a new car... but I feel I put a decent amount of effort into understanding candidates positions on the issues especially the issues that are important to me. To understand the candidates positions I tend to look at the candidates websites, listen to or read recaps of speeches/debates, read the local newspapers, watch PBS, and read random news articles online. I rarely watch or get any information from the big networks like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, ABC ect...
5. I'll spoil the ballot when I don't really care about the results of that particular election. I've only done this a few times in local elections where the difference between the two condidates was essentially negligible and the effort to find where they differed wasn't worth it.
6. My key voting issues are: health care, education, reproductive/women's rights, and the environment. I do take other issues into account too; I am certainly not a single issue voter.
7. I would be highly unlikely to vote for: A candidate who is too focused on their own religious views to be able to represent everyone they were elected to represent. A candidate who makes heinous statements (and therefore believes heinous things) about about women, the gay community, minorities, educators, the poor, or the non-religious. A candidate who thinks that health care and education are privilages and that government shouldn't ensure that people have affordable and reasonable access to them.
If I had to vote in an election such as the upcoming Presidential election, I would also end up voting lesser of two evils. I actually don't think it is a disastrous result either way -- life goes on --, but there are more proposals I would oppose on one side than proposals I would support on either side.
"I vote because even if it's only a fraction of a fraction of a percent my vote is worth something."
I agree. It seems many people despair at how small a single vote seems. While individual votes may not seem to determine elections, cumulative votes do. You can't have cumulative votes without individual votes. One person abstaining from voting because one vote doesn't make a difference... probably doesn't make a difference. The problem is, votes have uniform value. If that logic applies to one person's vote, it applies to everyone's vote. Thousands of people abstaining from voting under that same logic may very well make a difference.