SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Forget political ideology and partisan oneupsmanship, the American public is looking for its next president to be — first and foremost — an honest man of integrity and intelligence who will lead the nation by example through the tumultuous times ahead, a new Capps Center/Zogby survey shows.
This in the wake of Tuesday’s arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, on federal corruption charges. Nearly one in five likely voters — 18 percent — said they most wanted Obama to be an honest president, while 12 percent said they most wanted a president with integrity. Another 12 percent said they wanted Obama to be an effective leader emphasizing, in the words of one individual, a “sense of personal responsibility to his leadership of the country.”
“Intelligence” was the most frequently cited quality in the descriptions people offered overlapping “honesty,” “integrity” and “leadership.” While a case could be made that the American public would always choose honesty and integrity in their newly elected officials, co-author of the study, Wade Clark Roof with the Capps Center observes, “The responses point to a deep, underlying concern for trustworthy leadership.” Co-author Jim Lichtman agrees. “In my 2006 study on ‘Honesty and Trust in America,’ the public rated President Bush with 69 percent ‘low’ numbers of ‘trustworthiness.’ Congress rated even lower at 75 percent.
“Despite concerns for the economy, healthcare and the war in Iraq,” Lichtman says, “most people can handle the truth. What they can’t handle — what they will not accept — is being misled, deceived or lied to.”
The findings are particularly striking because they are the result of open–ended questions offered to respondents — not the results of adults responding to a list presented to them by the pollster.
The analysis showed that the top priority by far for Barack Obama and the new Democratically–controlled Congress is to repair and stabilize the U.S. economy — 65 percent said they want Washington to act to put the economy back on stable footing. In a distant second place was a desire among likely voters nationwide to bring the Iraq war to an end — 19 percent said that should be the top priority for our national leaders.
The online poll using Zogby’s leading interactive panel was commissioned by the Walter H. Capps Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The survey involved 3,357 likely voters nationwide from 11/05/08 through 11/06/08 and generated more than 10,000 responses. The margin of error is +/- 1.7 percentage points.
With the economy clearly the top issue, concerns about the Iraq war have receded but still remain important to one in five adults. Some have voiced concern over U.S. spending on the war in recent years, and it became a political issue earlier this year when Obama complained that the U.S. continued to spend billions there while the Iraqis had built up an $86 billion budget surplus.
While the Iraq war may be winding down, the nation’s economic troubles are far from over. Concern that Obama and Congress deal with healthcare came in at Number Three — as 15 percent said they want that to be an actionable priority.
Considering the economic troubles the country is facing, the vast majority said they want Washington to lower taxes to relieve the burden on workers. Nearly two in three respondents — 62 percent — said President Obama could best get the country back on track by cutting taxes. Another 13% said that cutting government spending would also help.
Americans Offer Advice The open–ended polling offered respondents the chance to express their opinions, and many offered interesting and noteworthy advice to the incoming President Obama: “...common sense, not party politics” “Honesty and balls” “Bipartisan — needs to be able to effectively work with Republicans” “Wisdom to protect America” “Complete honesty, unquestionable integrity”