When Pew Research asked voters what they wanted in their presidential campaign news, “candidates’ positions on the issues” was the leading answer (77% wanted more, 17% wanted less). All other issues, such as “candidates personal backgrounds and experiences” (55% more, 36% less), ranked much lower.
This doesn’t surprise me. People at the water cooler who say “I just want hear about their stands on the issue” come across as more thoughtful than those of us saying “I just want to see how they hold up on the Daily Show.”
Yes, stands on the issues obviously matter. A lot. So, why don’t we just call off the rest of the campaign, pull up one of those presidential candidate calculators, peck in our answers, and cast our ballots based on what the calculator tells us? You know, the wonk version of match.com.
The issue calculators are instructive and fun, and I’d encourage folks to give one a whirl. The feedback it gives you might surprise you.
But the implication behind the candidate calculator is that issue stands are the whole enchilada, and that’s a dangerous way to think about voting and news coverage. After all, just because my crazy Uncle Louie agrees with me on 100% of the issues, doesn’t mean he would be my best choice for President. Trust me on this.
Moreoever, some of the most important issues the next president will encounter are not listed on the candidate calculators, because we don’t know about them yet. Before President Bush was elected, we didn’t expect terrorists to fly jets into office buildings, New Orleans to be underwater, scores of middle class families to lose their homes to foreclosure, or $95 per barrel oil.
We need to guage what kind of person and leader the candidates are to try to learn how they will handle the unknown issues on the horizon. Are they an engaging enough personality to rally support behind their positions nationally and internationally? When you look at their body language, which of the issues seem to be passionate priorities and which seem to be obligatory after-thoughts? How likely are they to get caught up in scandals that prevent them from doing their job well? When it comes to negotiating with opponents, are they more stubborn/resolute or flexible/wishy-washy?
I’m probably more interested in public policy positions than most, but I hope the news coverage never gets too issue-centric. I still want to see the fluffy debate questions, up-close-and personal profiles, unscripted candid camera moments, and Oprah/Letterman/Stewart/Babba Wawa gab fests. Because brief glimpses of unprogrammed candidate humanity informs our guts, and our guts should guide our votes at least as much as the issue calculators.