Test Study: Why Are Politicians Afraid To Tell You Where They Stand?

Every election year, political candidates are asked one simple question: “Are you willing to tell the citizens your positions on the issues?”

Most answer “No.”

The Political Courage Test, a survey administered by Project Vote Smart, asks candidates—from presidential hopefuls to your neighborhood representative—to tell the voters where they stand on a range of serious policy options facing the nation.

But candidates fear that the information will become one-stop shopping for opposition research–because it’s happened in the past.

As Nintzel explained a few months ago in a Tucson Weekly article on Project Vote Smart:

…the percentage of politicians willing to complete the survey has been falling in almost every election cycle. In 1996, 72 percent of congressional candidates completed the survey; in 2006, only 48 percent did. Almost three out of four incumbents ignored the request in 2006.

Why the reluctance to take the Political Courage Test? Because the Project Vote Smart survey has become one-stop shopping for campaigns to do opposition research. As a result, political strategists discourage candidates from completing the survey, warning that it could come back to haunt them.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who refused to fill out the survey for her 2006 campaign, says she’s concerned that her responses would be used against her.

“I applaud what they do, because they do provide a pretty good scorecard,” Giffords says. “But most often, those scorecards get used against you. … I want to make sure I’m not giving my opponent ammunition to be used against me.”

Giffords has only filled out Project Vote Smart’s state-level survey once, in her first campaign for the Arizona House of Representatives in 2000.

That’s a slightly better record than her presumptive GOP opponent this year, state Sen. Tim Bee, who has never filled out the survey in his legislative races. Bee campaign spokesman Tom Dunn said he didn’t know if Bee would fill it out this year.

They’re not alone in side-stepping the survey: Fewer than half of Arizona’s congressional candidates had the courage to take the test.  Three out of four candidates in Arizona’s legislative races refused to take the survey. That’s an all-time low of only 41 of the 186 candidates filling it out. Just two years ago, the state had an all-time high of 78 candidates participating in 2006.  (The total number of candidates was close to 200 in both years).

Legislative candidates in Southern Arizona did slightly better than the state average (30 percent turned in the survey, compared to 22 percent statewide). Our congressional candidates did slightly worse, with four out of 10 filling it out, compared to 47 percent statewide).

With an average like that, the AIMS scores are starting to look pretty good.

So who passed and who failed the Political Courage Test in Southern Arizona?

Congress

-Passed-

Raul Grijalva (D) D7

Joseph Sweeney (R) D7

-Failed-

Gene Chewing (R) D7

Tim Bee (R) D8

Gabrielle Giffords (D) D8

SENATE

-Passed-

Cheryl Cage (D) LD26

Jorge Luis Garcia (D) LD27

Paula Aboud (D) LD28

Linda Lopez (D) LD29

Gorgette Valle (D) LD30

-Failed-

Manuel Alvarez (D) LD25

Mary Ann Black (R) LD25

Pete Hershberger (R) LD26

Al Melvin (R) LD26

Bob Westerman (R) 27

Johnathan Paton (R) 30

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

-Passed

Tim Davies (R) LD25

Patricia Flemming (D) LD25

Trent Humphries (R) LD26

Phil Lopes (D) LD27

David Bradley (D) LD28

Steve Farley (D) LD28

Daniel Patterson (D) LD29

Tom Prezelski (D) LD29

Frank Antenori (R) LD30

-Failed-

Richard Boyer (D) LD25

David Stevens (R) LD 25

Donald Jorgensen (D) LD26

Vic Williams (R) LD26

Nancy Young Wright (D) LD26

Marilyn Zerull (R) LD26

Olivia Cajero Bedford (D) LD27

John Kromko (D) LD27

J.D. Schnechter (R) LD27

Kent Solberg (Green) LD27

Eric Carbajal Bustamante (D) LD29

Juan Ciscomani (R) LD29

Ephriam Cruz (D) LD29

Gil Guerra (D) LD29

Matt Heinz (D) LD29

Pat Killburn (D) LD29

Patricia Puig (D) LD29

Sharon Collins (R) LD30

Andrea Dalessandro (D) LD30

David Gowan (R) LD30

Doug Sposito (R) LD30

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2 Responses

  1. …and why SHOULD they feel obligated to tell you where they stand? Or even bother to be on the same side of any given issue when speaking to different media outlets or voter groups for that matter? Dodgy behavior is rewarded.

    The Weekly, and other media outlets endorse the ones who don’t give their views or change positions. What’s the downside for the candidate here to be shifty?

  2. Speaking as someone who DID respond to the NPAT, I am not sure that it is fair to assume some sort of character flaw in those who do not. As candidates, we are inundated with questionaires and surveys, some of which are quite extensive and some of which come from organizations with almost no constituency in our districts. The time we spend answering these is time not spent talking to actual voters. Besides, I have a five year record of votes and my stand on various issues should be clear by now.

    This year, in trying to balance legislative service, a full time job, and a campaign, I ignored most of the questionaires. I made an exception of the NPAT largely for sentimental reasons. The first political campaign I worked on was Richard Kimball’s U.S. Senate race in 1986, and did some early volunteer work for an early version of Project Vote Smart that he created shortly thereafter.

    However, I ignored the questionaire from the right-wing Center for Arizona Policy. This one is a complete waste of time and is used largely as an excuse to harass candidates who do not agree with them.

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