Voters may not care a whit about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's cleavage, former Sen. John Edwards' coif, former Sen. Fred Thompson's film career or glib sound bites from anyone, no matter how much such things are bandied about in the press. They pine for traditional leadership instead.
"Voters don't care if the 2008 presidential candidates are ugly, boring, uninspired or verbose. What they want more than anything else are leaders with integrity," said a survey released yesterday by Alma College in Michigan.
"Honesty and integrity were the highest valued traits. Being able to see the big picture, listening skills, intelligence and morality form a second tier of desired attributes. Charisma and physical attractiveness ranked the lowest," the survey found.
Indeed, only 1 percent said they valued appearance and charisma.
"These findings suggest a desire by many Americans to return to the core values of individual character and compassion toward others that Americans have relied on during other tough times in our country's history," said John Leipzig, director of the school's Center for Responsible Leadership, which conducted the research.
"These traits of character and compassion are really about 'thinking beyond self' — some might say that our country has become self-indulgent — and about a positive can-do attitude, a confidence which some say our country is rapidly losing," Mr. Leipzig added.
Noble traits don't get heavy coverage, though. After a Washington Post article last month suggested that Mrs. Clinton displayed "unnerving" cleavage during a Senate floor speech, the press went ballistic over that fashion detail, rather than the New York Democrat's latest moment of compassion or thoughtfulness.
Cleavage or not, Democrats are trumping Republicans in terms of visibility, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted July 23 to 27. When asked who made the news most frequently, 67 percent of respondents named a Democrat while 8 percent named a Republican. Correspondingly, 40 percent of Republican respondents said there was too much election coverage, compared with 19 percent of Democrats.
The Alma College survey, meanwhile, revealed a tepid political outlook among its respondents. Twenty-five percent characterized national political leadership as good or excellent, while 74 percent ranked it fair or poor. The Pentagon fared better, with 67 percent rating military leadership as good or excellent and 29 percent fair or poor.
Still, President Bush was at the top of a list of 75 "superior" leaders cited from any field, including politics, business, religion and education. Mr. Bush was followed by former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Billy Graham, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, "my dad," Microsoft founder Bill Gates, former President Jimmy Carter, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton. Leadership may be a family matter as well. "My spouse" was at No. 13 and "my mom" at No. 15.
The poll of 1,200 adults was conducted Feb. 3 to March 13 and had a margin of error of three percentage points.