Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evaluating Presidential Candidates

Every election cycle, I see several questionnaires or surveys circulated that tell you which presidential candidate you are most like, or which one you are most closely aligned with, or where you fall on the political spectrum.

While a candidate's ideology is an important consideration when judging candidates, there are two other areas that are often overlooked.

Overall, there are three areas of criteria a voter should consider when judging candidates in general:

This includes the candidate's stances on issues, specific policy positions, political philosophy, etc. Where do they stand on the Right-Left spectrum? Or the libertarian-authoritarian spectrum? Have their positions changed over time. If so, why?

What are their key traits? Looks for traits such as honesty, integrity, and commitment. How do they treat others? What kind of language do they use - not just their words, but their tone and attitude, even their body language?

Skills and Experience
These include their management and leadership experience, their domain knowledge in areas such as governance, law, legislation, foreign affairs, economics, etc., and also their education level and background. It also includes their life experiences - where did they grow up? What unique perspectives can they bring to the office? What life experiences (public or private) most shaped their life?

Many more examples from each area could be given. How are their communication skills? Can they set goals, investigate problems and new ideas? Can they appropriately structure a problem in order to solve it, and communicate those solutions?

Can they ask good questions, and interpret and evaluate new information? Can they share, critique, and test ideas at different levels?

You get the idea. There's much more to a candidate than their ideology. And, these three criteria are really broad. In fact, they overlap a lot.

For example, their ideology often stems from their skills and experiences. The more one knows about a subject the more informed their position will be. But, unfortunately, we have seen too many candidates form opinions that are not backed up by authoritative evidence or based on research and reliable data.

In some ways, one's character can be reflected in their skills or experience. An experienced candidate will be more likely to have the integrity to consider issues objectively, listen to others, be considerate, passionate, bold, and and firm on certain issues. They know when to act impulsively and when to slow down and work rationally.

One's ideology can be influenced by their character. It can take character to take a particular policy stance. One's character can often be judged in part by their stances - what is important to them, their goals, and vision for society or the way they think things "ought to be."

Good decision-making skills often require good character and knowledge of a topic. But, good leaders don't always have to be the experts. Rather, a trait of a good leader is to be a judge of character in others, and to know how to seek out the experts in order to make an informed opinion.

Now, some may say that it isn't really fair to judge someone on their character. Isn't it unfair to judge them on such a personal level? After all, do we really know the person? Have we sat down with them face to face?  How can someone really say they know a candidate's character? Well, we can't; but the best evidence of their character is their prior actions and performance.

When it comes to weighing these three areas, one's character is most important. Their skills and experience are next, and ideology is the last consideration of the three. For example, I would rather elect someone who was honest and trustworthy than someone I agree with 100% on policy issues. In fact, there has never been a candidate that I agree with 100% on every issue. But, there have been candidates who I can trust to make appropriate decisions.

One last thought - it takes character to be a judge of good character. I think as our society in general declines in moral standards and conduct, we'll see a proportionate amount of decline in the moral character of our elected officials. Keep that in mind as you vote this election season.

Now, take a few moments to judge the following candidates based on these three criteria. How do they measure up? What additional information do you need to effectively weigh them against these criteria?

  • Jeb Bush*
  • Ben Carson*
  • Chris Christie*
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Ted Cruz
  • John Kasich
  • Martin O'Malley*
  • Marco Rubio
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Donald Trump
  • Jim Webb*
*Dropped out since first declaring candidacy