Government

Political Courage Test: Federal candidates in Iowa among the 'least cowardly'

“I voted” buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine in Coralville, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/Gazette-KCRG)
“I voted” buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine in Coralville, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/Gazette-KCRG)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa candidates for federal office are among the least cowardly in the nation, according to Vote Smart, which has been conducting its Political Courage Test for 26 years.

Nine of 17 candidates — 53 percent — for the U.S. House in Iowa responded to the Vote Smart questionnaire that addresses abortion, the budget, education, the economy, guns, health care, immigration and more issues.

Nationally, participation in the Political Courage Test peaked at 72 percent in 1996 but has fallen steadily to 26 percent this election cycle.

Vote Smart President Richard Kimball said the “demonstration of political cowardice by candidates of both major parties is unparalleled in history.”

The courage test measures each candidate’s willingness to answer questions about the top concerns of the American people and that are likely to come up in the next legislative session, according to Vote Smart’s website. Candidates who respond to the questions “pass” the test.

Based on their response rate, Iowa candidates ranked third, tying with Oregon, out of all candidates in all 50 states. Candidates in Delaware were most courageous with 83 percent responding. At the other end of the spectrum, only 8 percent of federal candidates in Alabama responded to Vote Smart, and no candidates in North Dakota and Alaska completed the questionnaire.

“There’s something cuckoo about it,” Vote Smart Senior Adviser Adelaide Kimball said Monday about the low response rate from candidates for public office. “In today’s political climate this probably sounds way too goody-two-shoes, I’m sure, but it’s still the fact that candidates are applying for jobs, applying to us, the voters, for these jobs. We have a right to ask them how they might handle it if they’re hired. We have a right to expect them to show up for the job interview and act like someone who isn’t above all of that, like someone who is responsible to the voter.”

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In Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, neither Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Blum nor his Democratic challenger State Rep. Abby Finkenauer took the Political Courage Test. Neither did Libertarian Troy Hageman.

In the 2nd District, neither Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack nor his GOP challenger Christopher Peters completed the questionnaire. Libertarian Mark Strauss and no party candidate Daniel Clark “passed” the courage test.

Four 3rd District candidates participated in Vote Smart’s questionnaire: Republican U.S. Rep. David Young; Mark Elworth of the Legal Marijuana Now Party; Joe Grandanette, no party; and Paul Krupp, Green Party.

In the 4th District, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, Libertarian Chuck Aldrich and no party candidate Edward Petersen took the test. Democrat J.D. Scholten did not.

All of the results are available at VoteSmart.org.

Every candidate, including third-party candidates, was tested over a 10-month period. They were contacted by phone, email and written letters up to 14 times asking them to respond.

The excuse most commonly given for refusing to answer was fear of opposition research and that their opponents may use their answers in attack ads against them.

“They don’t want opponents to see how they might handle these issues, therefore they can’t really tell the voters, who are the people who are hiring them, whose votes they are asking for,” Kimball said.

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Nationally, there’s really no difference between the response rates of Republican and Democratic candidates, she said.

“What that says is that although they have different positions, their tactics are the same and their behavior is the same,” Kimball said. “They are doing the prudent thing by spending all of their time raising money and using that money to tailor their image by doing polling to determine their strengths and weaknesses. And they use that money to plaster the airwaves and put mailers in mailboxes in order to get the upper hand.

“The candidate who does that best is likely to win,” she said.

Kimball fears that non-participation in the Political Courage Test — political cowardice, in the view of Vote Smart — is the new norm.

“The problem is ... that people are not just tolerating, but accepting of candidate behavior like this,” she said. Unless the public collectively demands their answers, “there no incentive for them to answer.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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