Should Candidates Answer the Questionnaires?

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Lots of buzz in the news today about Florida candidates refusing to answer questionnaires. Governor candidate Charlie Crist made headlines with his refusal to answer several queries. Crist told the Times' Joni James,

“I’m running on my agenda. … I don’t like to be pigeonholed into what

the box may say. It’s more honest and its better for the voters to have

the information that’s in my heart and in my head.”

Then, this morning, Project Vote Smart weighed in with outrage that 79 percent of the candidates in Florida refused to answer its National Political Awareness Test. (Among those responding was Ronda Storms; go figure.) I can't take as much issue with the NPAT as I used to when I was a consultant. The Vote Smart folks have refined the questionnaire with lots of choices that are, for the most part, unbiased.

But overall, I still dislike these questionnaires, as they are almost entirely used as "gotchas" for opposition research or to misrepresent a candidate's nuanced or complex beliefs. I know voters want a simple yes or no answer; unfortunately, almost all of Florida's problems of growth management, economy and education don't call for black-and-white solutions.

Finally, the glut of these questionnaires is astounding, take my word for it as a former campaign manager who got several dozen a week across my desk. No campaign could ever think about answering them all, and almost no candidate running a statewide race even fills one out himself or herself. It is low-level staffers who try to turn their candidates' stances into fill-in-the-box questionnaire answers.

How about this instead: more debates, more forums, more media coverage, and more free time on TV for the candidates.

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