I refuse to attach much importance to this, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless.
Project VoteSmart has long been a wonkish thing, an organization that gets answers to issue-related questions from candidates for all sorts of political offices, and posts them for voters to see. Of all my friends and acquaintances who care deeply about politics, my one friend who is really, really into Project VoteSmart is Cindi Scoppe. This proves my point. About the wonkishness.
But now they have a little toy that might bring in a broader group. Just in time, too, because it seems that all the candidates for president are blowing off Project VoteSmart and refusing to answer its questions. Which is a shame, because it actually was a good source, if you’re the issue-oriented type.
I am not, relatively speaking. As I’ve gotten older, character and judgment have come to mean more. You might think that “judgment” is the same as positions on issues, but not really. The “issues” that tend to end up on surveys often have little to do either with what I’m looking for in a candidate, or what that person might actually face in office. And even when it’s an issue I care about, in order to get simple “yes/no” answers (which are rare in real life, in terms of the decisions leaders have to make), the issue is dumbed-down to where a completely honest and accurate answer is impossible.
Take, for instance, one of the questions on VoteSmart’s new “VoteEasy” mechanism: “Do you support restrictions on the purchase and possession of guns?” That’s a tough one for me. Do I advocate further restrictions on the sale of rifles, shotguns and handguns? Not really, but mainly because I see it as a political impossibility. And I believe that even if you restricted the sales, there would still be way too many millions of guns already in circulation to lessen much the ill effects of their presence among us. (Also, I’m more ambivalent about guns than unequivocal gun controllers. I don’t hunt, but I enjoy shooting at targets from time to time.) I believe that any operable gun that exists is quite likely to someday fall into the hands of someone who will not handle it responsibly. That seems almost inevitable to me. And I know we’ll never go out and round them up, however much the more extreme 2nd Amendment defenders may fear that. So I’m not inclined to spend political capital on the issue — there are so many other things to be done in our society. But… I think the question is asking me philosophically, do I believe restricting the sale of guns is a permissible thing to do under our Consitution? And I believe it is; the Framers wouldn’t have put in that language about “militia” otherwise. So, keeping it simple, I said “yes.”
I can quibble that way over every other question on the survey. And many I can answer any way. Say, take “Do you support federal spending as a means of promoting economic growth?” I don’t know. When do you mean? Now, or two years ago? What kind of spending — tax rebates, filling gaps in agency budgets, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, what? But because I assumed it meant “ever, under any circumstances, I said “yes.” But you see how misleading that is, right?
And you can see how my willingness to leave things on the table for consideration would tend to push me toward the pragmatic Barack Obama, seeing as so many of his opponents are of the “never, ever” persuasion (or so they say, now, while not in office).
But it didn’t start out that way, as I took the survey. The first question was about abortion, and that pushed Obama way to the background, while every Republican was with me 100 percent. At one point it appeared that Gingrich was moving to the front of the pack. Obama stayed to the background until about halfway through, after which he pulled steadily to the fore and stayed there. And sometimes for reasons that are counterintuitive to people who follow government and politics only casually. For instance, Obama and I both say a big, emphatic “yes” to “Do you support targeting suspected terrorists outside of official theaters of conflict?” Some still, against all reason, see Obama as a dove. Yet he is far more aggressive in this regard than George W. Bush.
Anyway, here’s how it ended up:
- Obama — 69
- Huntsman — 58
- Bachmann — 47
- Perry — 47
- Roemer — 47
- Romney — 47
- Santorum — 47
- Gingrich — 42
- Cain — 39
- Johnson — 33
- Paul — 31
Notice how the differences aren’t all that stark. I’m not a 100 percent this guy, 0 percent that guy kind of voter. That the candidate I agree with the most only gets 69 percent, and the one I disagree with least gets a 31 (and five of them tie for just under 50 percent) says a lot about why I can’t subscribe to either political party. Parties perpetuate the notion that everything is one way or the other, and act accordingly. That worldview is not me.
I’ll be curious to see where y’all end up. You can to try it at this address. Click on the “VoteEasy” box at the right.
Since I look at candidates more holistically, I don’t expect something like this to predict how I will vote. I’m not a check-off box kind of voter. And yet, my own mushy methods have reached similar conclusions up to now — Obama’s looking better to me than he did when I voted for McCain in 2008, and out of a weak Republican field only Huntsman has stood out positively to me, while no one is less likely to get my vote than Ron Paul.
So I found it interesting. Perhaps you will, too.