The majority of respondents—78 percent—to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say a candidate’s experience in government or military leadership are important when deciding which candidate to support for president in 2016.
Americans have never elected a president with no government or military leadership experience. But polls suggest it could happen in 2016.
For months, businessman Donald Trump has led national polls in the contest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson solidly in second place. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, for example, Trump was favored by 32 percent among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; 22 percent backed Carson. With business executive Carly Fiorina’s 4 percent added in, that means nearly 60 percent of the GOP electorate today prefers a presidential candidate with no government or military leadership experience.
Republicans appear to be less concerned about government or military leadership experience than Democrats. More than nine in 10, 93 percent, of Democrats say such experience is important, compared with 71 percent of Republicans.
Eight percent of Republicans say it is not at all important, and 21 percent say it’s not very important.
In 2008, Republicans made Barack Obama’s relative lack of experience, eight years as an Illinois lawmaker and three years as a U.S. senator, a campaign issue. But that was undercut when Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee, chose as his running mate Sarah Palin, whose only government experience was a year and a half as Alaska governor and two terms as mayor of Wasilla (which has a population of 7,800).
Some argue that experience is an essential ingredient of presidential leadership. Others say experience, separate from factors such as temperament and character, is overrated as a predictor of success.
Nearly 640 readers participated in the poll, conducted Dec. 7 and 8. Of those who responded, 34 percent are Republican, and a quarter identified themselves as Democratic.
In deciding whom to support for president in 2016, how important to you personally is a candidate’s experience in government or military leadership?
Very important : 41%
Somewhat important: 37%
Not very important: 16%
Not at all important: 6%
Very important: 34%
Somewhat important: 37%
Not very important: 21%
Not at all important: 8%
Very important: 60%
Somewhat important: 33%
Not very important: 5%
Not at all important: 2%
What is your political affiliation?
For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.
I’d much rather have a president with business experience than a career politician. Let’s face it, the government is a huge business. My concern of having another career politician is their focus is to get re-elected as soon as they are elected. Military experience would be great to have, especially in today’s world. But listen to the military leaders and surround yourself with great people. I want someone who is decisive, has a strong record of accomplishments and is not afraid of making tough decisions that, frankly, may make some enemies. They have to be able to “do right thing.”
—Gary M. Baker, CEO, Cochran Cochran & Yale
The party establishments have way too much baggage and strings attached. A good leader knows what areas s/he is not good at, and surrounds themselves with subject matter experts and advisers. We need a leader who will not be swayed by party politics and special interest groups. It’s time to send a message to the cronyism that is so well entrenched in our government.
While I have been—and continue to be—a supporter of President Obama, I have to ask if more experience in the mechanisms and uses of power could have helped him better deal with opponents both domestic and foreign. I do know that it is not an experiment that I would like to try a second time! The modern American presidency is certainly not an entry-level position. There is no prior experience that can prepare someone for its full responsibilities but we don’t need candidates who also require basic training in governance.
Professional politicians have to go. They have lost touch with normal people. They are puppets of their parties and their sponsors. Not that Trump is in touch with reality, but once the pendulum starts it seldom stops in the center.
Government experience in not necessary. Military experience is helpful if only because part of basic training teaches recruits and officers about upholding the Constitution and defending this country. What is necessary is a track record of accomplishment and great communication skills. And add to that honesty and good moral character. So I guess we’ve just disqualified Hillary Clinton.
After Obama, I would hope we will never again elect a president with virtually no experience whatsoever. Unfortunately memories are short, and the next demagogue breathlessly promoted by the news media will likely win. We need to find the next generation of Eisenhowers, Trumans and yes, even Nixons, who (right or wrong) understand how government works and—just as important—the boundaries and what does not work. I’m just not sure they could get elected today.
Look at what no experience has gotten us! By the way, just what is a community organizer?
At first thought, one would surmise that it is very important! I do like the idea of having someone who is used to running a state government and has had to balance budgets, have direct reports and meet payroll. I like the idea of someone who has experience with foreign policy, but is transparent, bleeds integrity and without a doubt, always places the American people before themselves. I also like the idea of someone who has military experience or will openly work with the military and heed to those with successful military experience, and despite a few outlier, rogue cops, strongly support all of our law enforcement agencies. However, I believe we have people with experience in government and the military in the White House and the Pentagon now, don’t we? So what’s the problem? I just listened to a 93-year-old WWII veteran this morning who was at Pearl Harbor when it got bombed and just received the Chevalier Legion d’honneur from the French Consul for his service on the beaches of Normandy, who said, "… and today is the worst I have ever seen it! We were sleeping when we got bombed at Pearl Harbor, but then we came back and won. We were sleeping when we got hit on 9/11, and you better watch out because we’re sleeping now!" So what does that say about the importance of politicians with government and military experience? Lately from the sound of what we’re being told, maybe it should be a candidate pool of climatologists and meteorologists that we should be looking to help us come to grips with foreign policy and the economy.
—B. Moser, Canandaigua
The American public is so tired of corrupt, self-absorbed politicians we are willing to try someone who is outside. When a company falters, the board of directors frequently look outside for new leadership with a different cultural paradigm to transform that company.
—Joel Stauring, Cunningham, Stauring & Associates Inc.
The new president must be smart and use his or her education, life experiences, faith-based values, belief in founding fathers’ basis, to lead our nation. This is both as president and commander in chief. Additionally, he should seek the advice and counsel of his select cabinet at all times. All elected and appointed public figures are to be best of the best in their fields. A nation and world leader who is respected and forceful in negotiations for world peace.
—Ted Voll Jr.
Government experience is crucial. In particular, experience in foreign affairs is vital. Military experience much less so as there are very talented military leaders with far more experience than most any presidential candidate is likely to have.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster
What is important is the person’s ability to lead—to get people to follow and to work together. The last president who was not a politician (defined as someone who had held elective office previously) was Dwight Eisenhower. I graduated, married and we had our first two children during his eight years. They were good years.
—Robert Zinnecker, Penfield
Very important—is this not obvious from the past seven years?
—Al Kempf, Fairport
A good leader will surround himself with the right people to do the job. I believe it’s more important to have the skills to build a good team then to have years of experience yourself. A good team allows you to have trusted specialists to provide facts and options. Government as is today is broken and it’s time for a new approach.
—John Malvaso, president, PhoenixSentry Systems
Our government does not work only on the brains and intentions of the president/commander in chief. It also works through the three branches working in tandem and through the technocrats who work for the government. Let us be charitable and say that the final verdict is still out for our current president. Then, going back to the last president who came to the office with little or no experience—Carter, our military or our diplomats couldn’t get back hostages from a third-world country, the economy had record interest rates, high unemployment and more than six times the inflation which we have now, we called it stagflation, and our collective psyche was as low as I can remember. How important are those three things?
Let’s see, we’ve had horrible presidents with no experience (Clinton and Obama), horrible presidents with experience (FDR, Bush I), effective presidents with experience (Clinton) and great presidents with experience (Reagan). It’s not a matter of government or military experience that’s key, but rather relevant experience in a leadership role, forging consensus, drawing distinctions from a variety of points of views and positions and then executing a plan of action. And it certainly helps to have the best qualified, knowledgeable and capable people surrounding the president on staff.
—Keith B. Robinson, Diamond Packaging
Honesty, integrity, leadership, proven ability to care about the people of this nation (and the struggles we face within our country, as well as in connection with other countries) along with being able to make good decisions using all of these strengths.
I think your question should have been separated into two questions. I believe that a candidate’s experience in government is very important. He/she must have experience in knowing how the government system works; it’s nice to think it would work like the private sector but I don’t think that is realistic. I do not think it is at all important that the candidate have military leadership experience. In our day and age, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that they will. Even if they did, it is likely that experience is outdated, thus we should expect our future presidents to rely on military advisers.
—Faye Casey, retired
No matter what your political affiliation—experience is critical for the most important job in the world. In today’s world with many nuclear threats we can’t afford a president who learns on the job or lacks temperament and a strong understanding of other governments, leaders or cultures.
Our country is clearly on the wrong path. The established political parties have gotten us into this mess and it will continue as long as we elect establishment candidates. The nation needs someone who is not afraid to challenge Congress and the government bureaucracy. More important is the need to bring new thinking to government and return to the provisions of the Constitution especially as the limits of government power. The best solution is someone who can provide that new thinking and new and powerful leadership.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
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