what is wrong with this campaign, in a nutshell

We will field a survey immediately after the election that will assess, among other things, whether people voted knowledgeably and in synch with their own values and beliefs. We will ask them their top policy issue, followed by a policy preference about that issue, followed by some questions about the candidates’ stances on that issue. We want to know whether voters can pick an issue, know where the candidates stand on it, and voted for the one who shared their opinions.

We are having one heck of time choosing or writing questions that fairly and validly assess citizens’ knowledge of the candidates’ policy stances. On practically every issue, both candidates say inconsistent or fuzzy things or deny reasonably neutral characterizations of their positions. For example, is Romney in favor of Medicare vouchers? He says he isn’t. Even if one disagrees, it seems wrong to assess voters’ knowledge by asking them which candidate advocates Medicare vouchers. The fact that the candidate in question denies it is a pretty good excuse for not being sure.

Speaking emphatically for myself alone and not for the CIRCLE team–I think this is a lousy presidential campaign. The incumbent can’t say: “Vote for me so that I can veto Republican efforts to undo some of the unpopular but beneficial things I achieved in my first four years, but I will not be able to do much else.” And the Republican cannot say, “Vote for me so I can cut upper-income tax rates and raise the national debt even though I said I would reduce it.” So they spew a lot of Malarkey, and even if you worked for 15 years in a graduate school of public policy (as I did), you cannot write survey questions that reasonably assess their positions.

Lest I be accused of false-equivalence, I didn’t say that they spew equal quantities of malarkey and buncombe. I think the Romney campaign is substantially worse. But if you think the president is being straightforward, try writing survey questions that assess citizens’ understanding of his positions.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.