The Politics of Compassion

Karlyn H. Bowman
Content Type
Working Paper
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
In 1976, for the first time as far as we can tell, a pollster asked people about various qualities that were important for a president to have and included “compassion” as an option people could choose. Seventy-four percent chose “placing the country's interests above their own,” 73 percent “intelligence,” 68 percent “sound judgment in a crisis” and, separately, “competence or ability to get the job done,” and 67 percent “compassion, concern for little man/average citizen.” [All questions discussed in this introduction appear below.] At about that time, Gallup asked several questions that compared Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford on this quality. Since that time, in every election, pollsters have compared candidates (and rated presidents) on being compassionate. The National Election Pool exit pollsters compared the Democratic candidates on it in the 2004 primaries. In January 2004, Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek interviewers asked whether George W. Bush and, separately, John Kerry cared about people like you. In February, Harris, CNN, and Time asked whether each man cared about the average American. Also in February, Gallup, CNN, and USA Today interviewers asked which candidate was more in touch with the problems of ordinary Americans.
Economics, Government, Human Welfare
Political Geography
United States, America