Wanted: President w/ Experience — Not Necessarily Washington

Students celebrate after U.S. President Barack Obama was projected the winner of the presidential election inside the Kennedy Forum at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Nov. 6, 2012.

Photograph by Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

Students celebrate after U.S. President Barack Obama was projected the winner of the presidential election inside the Kennedy Forum at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Nov. 6, 2012.

What’s it going to take to run for president?

Military service is a big plus — the biggest in the Pew Research Center’s survey of what attributes American voters are seeking in a candidate.

Yet none of the major contenders considering campaigns for the White House in 2016 — not Democrat Hillary Clinton, not Republicans Jeb Bush, Rand Paul,  Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio nor Chris Christie — has served in the military. Only two of the last four presidents — both Bushes — were veterans.

Being a governor is rated more highly than many years of Washington experience — with 33 percent saying they’d be more likely to consider a governor. That bodes well for Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who, as it happens, never graduated from college after attending for four years. (Fancy schools don’t impress voters, the survey shows.)

Christie is the second-term governor of New Jersey — though there’s no mention in the poll about the impact of government-ordered traffic jams on voter attitudes. Jeb Bush was a governor, for two terms, so possibly he gets extra credit in this category as well — traffic jams are a way of life in South Florida.

Being a business executive carries as much weight as being a governor, which suggests that voters just may be looking for some leadership next time around.

Prestigious schools don’t help much — so much for Cruz’s Ivy credentials.

Being a woman doesn’t matter to 71 percent of those surveyed, which can be seen as a good thing for Clinton, inasmuch as only 9 percent say her gender would make them less likely to support a candidate.

One of the biggest disqualifiers, it turns out — second only to being an atheist — is never having held public office. More than half — 52 percent — of those surveyed say this would make them less likely to support a candidate. None of the above-mentioned has to worry about that.

All of this does suggest that experience is important, especially a particular kind of experience — executive leadership — and preferably not Washington experience. Almost half of those surveyed — 48 percent — say Washington experience doesn’t matter, and 30 percent call it a problem.

Take this as an extension of the anti-Washington sentiment that seems to have taken hold in recent years. “By contrast,” Pew notes, “early in the 2008 presidential campaign, more than twice as many saw lengthy Washington experience as a positive than negative trait for a presidential candidate…”

“Separate measure dating back to the late 1980′s shows an even larger decline in the perceived value of Washington experience. The question asks which better prepares someone to be president – serving as a senator or member of Congress or as a state’s governor – and mentions possible advantages of each position. ”

trend line graph showing preparation for presidency congress governor

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