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What Qualifications Do Americans Want in the U.S. President?

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Ecoggins has an MBA in global management from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from CSU.

Which of these candidates was most qualified to become president?

Which of these candidates was most qualified to become president?

Snapshot From 2012–16

From November 2012 to November 2016, an informal survey was taken in an article titled 7 Important Qualifications to Become President of the United States of America. The survey asked respondents to consider what qualities they think are most important for presidential candidates to have. This follow-up article discusses the findings of that survey.

The minimal qualifications to run for U.S. president are outlined in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The president must meet these criteria:

  • Natural-born citizen
  • Minimum age of 35
  • Resident within the United States for at least 14 years

Yet one can imagine that the U.S. citizens would look for other qualifications or life experiences that would make a man or woman uniquely qualified to be president. Initially, the poll featured seven categories including:

  • Political experience
  • Business background
  • Education level
  • Military experience
  • Community volunteer service
  • International experience
  • Leadership experience

In October 2016, an eighth criterion was added to the beginning of the article labeled "proven character" due to the unique focus on the character flaws of the two main presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

Altogether the original article with the survey had over 30,000 hits from the time it was first published in November 2012 until November 2016. Yet 13,000 of those hits occurred in the last month leading to the 2016 election. Its seems qualifications for president became a hot topic in the last days of the campaign.

Important note: The original survey was not by any means scientific in nature and there was a possibility that some respondents could have voted more than once. Moreover, the article in which the survey was taken had been accessible to potential readers from outside the U.S., and thus a number of respondents might have been from other countries than the U.S.

Political Experience

The first poll in the original article asked about political experience. Exactly 1,309 people responded to this poll with 78% indicating that a presidential candidate should have at least some political experience at the state governor or federal government level (i.e., vice president, senator, or member of the House of Representatives).

The office of the president is first and foremost a position at the very center of American politics. It is thus by and large a political position through which the person in the Oval Office has to negotiate policies and budgets with other politicians. The other politicians with whom the president has to engage include representatives from states and territories including members of the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, various cabinet department heads, state governors, party leaders as well as those from national security and intelligence agencies from the military and special policing organizations. As foreign policy is a major concern for the president he also has to be able to entertain and negotiate with heads of state and diplomats from other nations around the globe. Thus, the need for political experience is likely a must, the win of Donald Trump notwithstanding.

Business Experience

The second poll taken in the article about qualifications for president asked about a candidate's business experience. The number of respondents to this question was 1,014, with 80% indicating that a potential U.S. president should have at least some business experience; 34% believed a person commanding the White House should have had much business experience.

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For much of the latter half of 20th into the first two decades of 21st century, the U.S. developed and maintained the largest economy in the world. Total nominal rate U.S. GDP as of October 2016 was $18.5 trillion which was nearly as much as the next three nations combined. Given the amount of business taking place in the American experience, one would expect that a candidate for the highest office in the land would need to have some understanding of economics and business. In fact, President William Clinton narrowed his 1992 campaign down to the catchphrase "It's the economy, stupid." Ironically it seemed as if Donald Trump focused on this reality of the economy first more than President Clinton's wife Hillary by tying the problem of illegal immigration to lost business and jobs for American communities and ordinary American citizens.

Education Level

A third poll in the article about qualifications asked about the education level of potential American presidents. The number of respondents to this question was 1,099, with 82% voting that a presidential candidate should have at least a bachelor's degree or higher and 66% preferring a Master's degree or higher.

The U.S. president is often referred to as the leader of the free world. Accordingly, the person sitting behind Resolute desk in the Oval Office will entertain and make decisions on a broad range of issues related to both domestic and foreign affairs. This means he will need to read as well as listen with eyes and ears of wisdom in order to understand what is being said and how what is being said will impact the issue(s) at hand. The power of an education goes beyond gaining information to developing a process of critical thinking by which a person may understand how that information impacts all related stakeholders both in the U.S. and the world at large, both for the near term and for the future. It is not unreasonable that a person seeking to be the leader of the free world should be well educated and attuned to a broad range of subjects.

Should a president have military experience?

Should a president have military experience?

Military Experience

As Commander in Chief of the American armed forces, the survey also asked about whether a potential president should have some level of military experience. As of November 2016, 1,002 responded to this question with 56% preferring the potential Commander-in-Chief having at least some military background.

Commander in Chief is the first duty of an American president listed in Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. At the time of the construction and ratification of the Constitution from 1787 to 1790, it was self-evident that General George Washington would be the first president and thus it was natural to make the president commander-in-chief. Now the U.S. commands the most sophisticated military in the world and the issues relating to national security have become even more complicated. Thus, it could seem to be a matter of importance that the man heading the armed forces would have at least some level of military experience. In all only 25 of the 45 men who were elected to be president of the U.S. served in some branch of the military.

Volunteer Community Involvement

Another question asked in the poll was whether it is important that future presidents spent time volunteering in the their local communities. 906 site visitors voted on this criteria with 85% indicating that they prefer a candidate who has had at least some volunteer experience and 49% wanting him or her to have much community service involvement.

What kind of international experience is important?

What kind of international experience is important?

International Experience

The U.S. president is not only Commander in Chief, but he or she is also America's Diplomat in Chief. Officially that honor may seem to belong to the secretary of state, but practically the person in the Oval Office sets foreign policy and is the face of that policy. 877 people responded to this question about international experience with 87% indicating a seeker of the highest American office should have at least five years of foreign experience and 59% preferring 10 or more years overseas.

Leadership Experience

The person occupying the American presidency had often been referred to as "the leader of the free world." Regardless of whether this has ever been true, there is no position in any organization that requires more leadership and leadership skills than the president of the United States. The number of respondents to this question was 860, with 72% preferring a candidate with over 10 years of leadership experience.

Proven Character

The final question in the survey was added in October 2016, nearly one month before the American people went to the election booths to cast their votes. As noted earlier, this criterion was added because the character of the main presidential candidates was under near-constant review by the campaigns of the other candidates as well as the print and televised news media. Due to its late entry, only 392 people responded to this question with 78% of respondents indicating that proven character was highly important for a future U.S. president.

Notably, at least some semblance of positive character was a given in almost all past presidential elections. Not since 1992 when questions came up about not yet elected president William J. Clinton's private life had a candidate's character been under such strict scrutiny. Yet, in the 2016 election, both the characters of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton were under constant examination. Trump's character came under attack due to alleged cheating on taxes as well as racist and sexist remarks and actions made before or while on the campaign trail. Clinton came under review due to a long-enduring controversy overusing her own private server to store emails while working as Secretary of State. Due to these questions about the character of the two candidates both had unfavorable ratings of 55% or more and one poll showed that over 70% of eligible voters were disgusted by tone of the election campaigns from both major political parties.

What kind of experience is most important?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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