For me, the survey says Obama, then Huntsman

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:

  1. Obama — 69
  2. Huntsman — 58
  3. Bachmann — 47
  4. Perry — 47
  5. Roemer — 47
  6. Romney — 47
  7. Santorum — 47
  8. Gingrich — 42
  9. Cain — 39
  10. Johnson — 33
  11. 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.

27 thoughts on “For me, the survey says Obama, then Huntsman

  1. Doug Ross

    As I would expect…

    Paul 74%
    Johnson 69%
    Cain 61%

    All other Republicans in the 50% range probably because I fit their economic policies but not their military/social policies.

    And trailing the pack, as I would expect…

    Obama 35%

  2. Doug Ross

    Yes. All the traditional Republican candidates.

    The questions were too broad in my opinion. I’d rather see 100 questions than a dozen. Also the whole rating of the questions’ importance is not easy to quantify.

    Here’s what I’d like to see for an ideal system to evaluate candidates – for each question, get each candidate to provide a paragraph with a brief response and a link to any additional details. Then let the responder read the response and rate it from 1-10.

  3. bud

    I’ll play along. Here’s how I stack up:

    Obama – 76%
    Huntsman – 47%
    Romer – 37%
    Johnson – 29%
    Cain – 17%
    Gingrich – 10%
    Bachmann – 10%
    Romney – 10%
    Santorum – 10%

    Not sure the Romney score means much. He’s changed so much it’s unclear what he’d really do.

  4. Karen McLeod

    Obama 100%
    Huntsman 76%
    Gingrich 52%
    Perry, Bachman 15%
    Cain, Paul 5%

    I agree that the questions are too limiting, but that’s the nature of a poll. That’s why one reason why I don’t pay too much attention to them.

  5. Brad

    The only way to treat Romney fairly is to give him a point no matter what you say. Because at some time or other, he’s probably agreed with you. 🙂

    Now, don’t look at me like that, Mitt! I put a smiley face on it!

  6. SusanG

    Hmmm — I thought I would score with Obama and Huntsman closer together. Other than that, It came out pretty much like I though it would.

    Obama – 81%
    Huntsman – 53%
    Romer – 44%
    Gingrich – 33%
    Bachmann – 29%
    Romney – 29%
    Santorum – 29%
    Johnson – 25%
    Cain – 22%
    Paul – 21%

  7. Karen McLeod

    Brad, I assumed that the questions allowed the for varient interpretations. For example: it asked if I agreed that we should continue to hunt terrorists on foreign soil (like bin Laden). I agree. That doesn’t mean that I think we can go on a hunting spree, or that we should endanger civilians in doing so (attack the compound;don’t bomb the city). I’m also sure there are also multiple foreign relations considerations. I also didn’t do a couple of them, because I didn’t see that they were on the forefront just now. All of those questions were so general that I could have agreed or disagreed with most of them (eg. do I approve of abortion for sex selection? No). I think, overall, that Mr. Obama has been a good, pragmatic president. The only problem I’ve had with him is that he’s kept trying to compromise with Republicans after it became clear that they had no intention of compromising. I hope to see a change there.

  8. bud

    Cain is trying his best to make everyone forget Bill Clinton’s indescretions. Not sure why he continues. With 4 accusers now it seems unlikely he’s as pure as he claims. But the bigger question is why the party of so called “family values” supports him in such high numbers. I suspect they won’t much longer. Not sure the “blame the media” strategy can work to overcome this tsunami of a scandal.

  9. Doug Ross

    Where do you think John McCain would end up in the rankings? His flip-flops make Romney look like the Rock of Gibraltar.

  10. `Kathryn Fenner

    What a thoroughly annoying website–way overdesigned, music comes on automatically when you land–and it took me several tries to figure where the survey actually was. Oy!

    Obama 100%

    and no way in heck I’m voting for anyone else, so why bother?

  11. Bart

    Some of the questions did not allow for any nuances that most of us allow for when making decisions on most issues.

    For instance. I am in favor of reducing military spending but only after an in-depth analysis of our military needs based on a realistic evaluation of what is going on in the real world, not the world of politics inside the Beltway. These people live in another universe as far as I am concerned.

    I am in favor of changing the tax codes and making them more balanced and fair across the board. I understand that everyone does pay taxes, depending on what tax revenue is being discussed. Taxes on purchased goods or taxes on earnings. Different set of circumstances and considerations. I believe a definitive scale should be established and leave it at that. If someone is fortunate enough to earn billions under a fair tax code, so be it. If another person loses their behind under the same tax code, again, so be it. As long as it is fair and does not set out to punish those who take the chance at grabbing the gold ring and end up wealthy. Taking away from one just to “make it fair” for the other guy just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Healthcare should be reformed and a standard set of regulations should be established at the federal level with enough leeway for states to impose stricter regulations if they choose to do so. I do not believe in restricting competition for any insurance company due to intrastate rules.

    The list goes on and on when it comes to how we interpret issues that we have allowed to pigeonhole us in a certain demographic depending on answers to a predetermined set of questions.

    I went through the questions a couple of times as an exercise. The first time, I answered based strictly on the face value of the question and where I stand on the issue without going into the possibilities and how the question could be interpreted depending on a particular circumstance.

    Federal spending to stimulate the economy. Yes or No. Initial responose – No. Circumspect and reasoning – yes, if the spending is directed at private industry with the intent of spurring growth and investment in new jobs via loan guarantees and other incentives that ADD private sector jobs, not more money to add to the public sector payroll. As private sector jobs grow and tax revenues increase, then add public sector jobs when and where needed.

    This is why I pay no attention to Q&As like this one. They never get to the heart of the matter for anyone who takes time to think things through.

    FWIW – as much as I dislike the man, on the second go around, I actually come closer to Newt Gingrich in my thinking. Not going to share the first one. Except for the fact that Obama increased in the second one.

  12. bud

    Folks, don’t take this so seriously. It’s a tool, not a panacea. I found it marginally useful and it pretty much confirmed what I already knew. Not sure why all the over analysis. But that’s just me. I simply can’t look at things in any other way than to put numbers to them. Could have this study been better? Yes, but it was not bad.

  13. Norm Ivey

    Obama 77%
    Huntsman 50%
    Roemer 46%
    Johnson 37%
    Paul 32%

    All the others were in the 20s or so small I couldn’t read the number.

    [Wonder why Brad used a smiley–thought they were taboo here.]

  14. Jeff Morrell

    87%- Paul
    77%- Cain
    72%- Perry
    70%- Bachmann
    70%- Romney
    70%- Santorum
    65%- Gingrich
    65%- Roemer
    55%- Huntsman
    10%- Obama


  15. Phillip

    Obama 86%
    Huntsman 41%
    Roemer 31%
    Gary Johnson 30%
    Ron Paul 23%
    Rick Perry 22%
    Bachmann & Romney & Santorum 19
    Cain 17
    Gingrich 15

    Random thoughts: Who the heck is Buddy Roemer? Not surprised that outside of Huntsman my favorite Republicans are the libertarians Johnson and Paul. Am surprised I scored Romney lower than Perry and no higher than the lunatic Bachmann and the medievalist Santorum. Extremely proud, however, to find that Newt Gingrich is nearly at the absolute polar opposite of everything I stand for.

  16. Brad

    Only if you’re single-issue. And if you define “pro-life” only as opposition to abortion. I lean more toward the Bernardin ethic.

  17. Bart

    The way the campaigning is going on the Republican side, Obama can be personally responsible for a 15% unemployment figure, double digit inflation, starting a war with Canada, and caught in a compromising situation with the entire female Kardashian clan and still win by 10 percentage points.

    I have never seen anything like this in my life. For a while, I was willing to give Cain the benefit of the doubt, very little but the benefit anyway. Now, after his denial that he rememered her from their NRAssociation days and most recently, having their photo taken together at a Tea Party meeting and were seen together, talking in private and her whispering something in his ear has wiped out any benefit of the doubt – period. Don’t like to prejudge but if his recall is that bad, he has no business running for the presidency. Or, he is just another lying politician, trying to use the old line, “do you believe me or your lying eyes?”

  18. Doug Ross

    “trying to use the old line, “do you believe me or your lying eyes?””

    Worked for Clinton, didn’t it?

  19. David

    66% Johnson
    55% Paul
    54% Obama
    52% Huntsman
    42% Cain
    40% Roemer

    Everyone else is below 40%.

    Interesting. I don’t dislike Johnson or Huntsman. But they won’t win and I don’t see myself voting for any of the rest.

  20. Brad

    Fascinating, David. Everybody else had Obama at the extreme top or extreme bottom, and you have him right in the middle.

    Based on some of the earlier results, I was thinking that maybe what this test actually is is a test of partisanship. If you have the more ideological Republicans over, say, 80 percent, and Obama at the very bottom, or vice versa, you were a partisan. And if you had them all kinda grouped in the middle, you were UnParty material.

    But then comes David, with Obama in the middle… which I think means he is iconoclastic…

  21. Brad

    Oh, and how does Obama being at the top square with being UnParty?

    Because this is a weird year, one in which Republicans are running from anything that smacks of moderation.

    To me, the two greatest pragmatists in the field are Obama and Huntsman, and Obama outpaces Huntsman because he’s the blamed incumbent and has to deal with reality rather than just rhetoric, which makes him look more pragmatic (to me, anyway).

    You economic libertarians are doubting me on that, but remember — Obama is the most hard-core hunter of terrorists (and proven; he’s made his bones) in the field, which in my book is pragmatic.

    Some would say that, with his extreme flexibility, Romney is the most pragmatic. But I’m not terribly impressed by that kind of pragmatism.

  22. bud

    Because this is a weird year, one in which Republicans are running from anything that smacks of moderation.

    Maybe historically it’s wierd but going back 10 years or so the moderates in the GOP have pretty much left the building.

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