Campaigns and Elections: Campaign Insider: Scoring points in tonight’s foreign policy debate
Truman Fellow Michael Moschella writes about his prediction for the final presidential debate in Campaigns and Elections:
Foreign policy has always been a challenge for challengers. They usually start with no record, and polling these issues can be particularly tricky because the public has a significant knowledge gap.
When we look at domestic issues like education, health and taxes, there’s a strong likelihood that a voter has an education, goes to the doctor and works. Compare that to how many folks have been to Syria or Libya or have any sort of expertise on these topics, and you’ve got a message-testing conundrum. It’s kind of like a corporate marketer asking someone who has never had soda whether he or she prefers Coke or Pepsi.
As a result, skillful pollsters can get the public to say really whatever they want. If we ask, “Should the President work to end the war in Afghanistan?” people will overwhelmingly say, “Yes!” But if we ask, “Should the President do what it takes to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan?” people will also overwhelmingly say, “Yes!” Those two things don’t go together in real life.
This muddled issue environment on foreign policy, national security and defense means that candidates need to up their game. Instead of being able to score points on issues by being pro-choice or supporting small business tax cuts, candidates need to clear different hurdles.
First, does the candidate connect with the emotions of the electorate? If people are scared, does he understand why? If people are angry, does he connect with that sense of anger? Second, does the candidate exhibit steady leadership? Is this a person you want handling nuclear launch codes? Sometimes we call this the “commander in chief test”. Third, do the key validators agree with the politician? What does the military think? How about our intelligence community? Do real experts agree with the candidate, or is he just trying to sound good for the dial test?
The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Truman National Security Project or Educational Institute