The 2016 Candidate Evaluation Series Finale

by Benjamin Studebaker

Now that Joe Biden has finally made up his mind and decided not to run for president, I can conclude my candidate evaluation series. This series finale post will provide you with a number of election-related resources:

  1. My thoughts on Biden’s decision
  2. Links to all the extant candidate evaluation posts along with all the additional election-related content I have written so far.
  3. A full league table of the presidential candidates in which they score points for supporting policies that would benefit the country and lose points for supporting policies that would harm the country.
  4. Mini-Evaluations of some of the third party candidates and marginal figures (e.g. Jill Stein, Lawrence Lessig, etc.)
  5. Statistics on how popular the different candidates’ evaluations have been with blog readers

Biden Decision

According to the polling projections, Biden would have taken more support from Clinton than from Sanders. Indeed Sanders sometimes polled slightly higher when Biden was included in the race:

Biden might have won outright, but if he didn’t, he might have made it more possible for Sanders to win. So by staying out of the race, he primarily benefits Clinton. This is regrettable, because as a candidate Joe Biden is much better than Clinton on foreign policy issues. Biden opposed troop increases in Afghanistan, he opposed the Libyan intervention, and he opposed arming the rebels in Syria. Clinton was on the opposite side of all three issues. By declining to run, Biden makes it less likely that Clinton will be challenged effectively on foreign policy, and that is a great shame.


Here are all the candidate evaluations:

Here’s everything else I’ve written about the 2016 election so far:

League Table

This is my attempt to synthesize everything I’ve learned about all the candidates over the past few months into one easy to use table that offers you a ranking of the candidates. To do this, I necessarily have to make some simplifications and assumptions. The key thing is that I have to decide which issues I think are most important to the country and weigh that accordingly. Many people are particularly invested in one key issue or kind of issue (economic, social, foreign policy, environmental, etc.). So I should do some explaining of how I’ve gone about this methodologically.

For me, the most important issues in this election are issues of long-term socioeconomic sustainability. This means that I tend to care more about candidates whose policies boost long term economic growth, regulate dangerous kinds of economic activity, redistribute wealth to reduce economic and social inequalities, invest in education and infrastructure, want to curtail the role of money in political campaigns, and recognize and combat climate change. I care about other issues as well, but I tend to give these issues priority because failures in these areas have the potential to seriously threaten the survival of the state and of our society.

Here’s the full list of what policies score points:

Policy Points Scored
Supports Concrete Action Against Climate Change 100
Supports Tuition Free College 100
Supports Medicare for All 100
Supports Campaign Finance Reform 75
Supports New Glass-Steagall 75
Opposed Iraq War in 2003 75
Supports Breaking Up Banks 50
Supports Collective Bargaining Rights 50
Opposed Financial Deregulation 40
Opposed Welfare Reform 40
Supported 2009 Stimulus Package 40
Supports Raising the Minimum Wage 30
Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform 30
Supports Enhanced Dodd-Frank 30
Supports Debt Relief for Students 30
Wants to End Mandatory Minimum Sentencing 30
Supports Iran Deal 25
Supports Paid Family Leave & Vacation Time 20
Supports Estate Tax 20
Supports Gun Control 15
Supports LGBT Rights 15
Supports Abortion Rights 15
Supports Net Neutrality 10
Wants to Legalize Marijuana 10
Did Not Sign Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge 5
Recognizes the Existence of Climate Change 5
Opposes Net Neutrality -10
Supported Afghan War -15
Anti-Vaccination -20
Opposes Abortion Rights -20
Opposes LGBT Rights -20
Opposes Gun Control -20
Supported Iraq War -25
Opposes Iran Deal -25
Opposes Immigration Reform -30
Opposes Estate Tax -30
Did Austerity While Governor of a State -40
Opposes Raising the Minimum Wage -40
Supports War on Drugs -50
Voted to Shut the Government Down -50
Supported Libyan and/or Syrian Interventions -50
Opposed 2009 Stimulus Package -50
Supports Variant of Romney Tax Plan -50
Wants to Build a Wall and Make Mexico Pay -50
Signed Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge -50
Supported Welfare Reform -60
Supported Financial Deregulation -60
Wants to Repeal Obamacare -60
Crushed Unions While Governor of a State -75
Supports Privatizing Entitlements -125
Supports Balanced Budget Amendment -125
Supports Flat Tax or Fair Tax -150 (additional -10 for each point any proposed flat rate is below 20%)
Denies Climate Change -200

Candidates with mixed records got partial points. Here’s how all the candidates do using this scale:

  1. Bernie Sanders (960 points)
  2. Lincoln Chafee (475 points)
  3. Martin O’Malley (425 points)
  4. Jim Webb (360 points)
  5. Hillary Clinton (310 points)
  6. Donald Trump (-460 points)
  7. George Pataki (-605 points)
  8. Jeb Bush (-765 points)
  9. Lindsay Graham (-780 points)
  10. Chris Christie (-835 points)
  11. Carly Fiorina (-840 points)
  12. John Kasich (-850 points)
  13. Ben Carson (-865 points)
  14. Mike Huckabee (-940 points)
  15. Jim Gilmore (-950 points)
  16. Rand Paul (-1030 points)
  17. Bobby Jindal (-1095 points)
  18. Marco Rubio (-1115 points)
  19. Rick Santorum (-1135 points)
  20. Rick Perry (-1185 points)
  21. Ted Cruz (-1275 points)
  22. Scott Walker (-1300 points)

Here’s a chart, if you like visuals:

Candidate Issue Scores

Personally, I still don’t think that this scoring system sufficiently penalizes Carson and Paul for having extremely unworkable and regressive tax systems. Their relatively moderate foreign policy views have made them look less harmful on economic issues than they really would be.


I could do piles of these, but I’ll just take care of a few of the ones that I’ve seen people talk about on the web.

Lessig, Lawrence: he’s a single issue candidate running as a democrat. Lessig is a Harvard law professor. He wants to pass what he calls the “Citizen Equality Act”, which would take big money out of politics, eliminate Gerrymandering, and ensuring voter access. Initially he promised to resign once this act was passed, but he changed his mind when this promise received very poor reception. On other issues, Lessig’s positions are very similar to Martin O’Malley’s. He’s less interventionist than Clinton on foreign policy, but he doesn’t go as far as Bernie Sanders on domestic issues. If he won, he would do just fine.

Istvan, Zoltan: he’s the Transhumanist Party candidate. Istvan has a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Columbia University. Istvan wants to increase government support for science with the aim of “overcoming human death and aging within 15-20 years”. Their platform is a mix of some of Sanders’ best ideas (e.g. free college tuition) and some of Ted Cruz’s worst (e.g. flat tax).

Steel, Robert David: he’s currently the likely nominee of the Libertarian Party. Steel has a BA in Political Science from Muhlenberg College and an MA in International Relations from Lehigh University. The Libertarian Party has a horrific platform featuring turbo-charged versions of all of the worst economic policies proposed by the most extreme republican candidates.

Stein, Jill: she’s the Green Party candidate. Stein has a medical degree from Harvard. She wants to enact what she calls a “Green New Deal”, which would feature Sanders-style financial regulation coupled with a large government stimulus package with spending focused on green technology to combat global warming. She might be more radical than Sanders and would do at least as well.

Candidate Evaluation Series Statistics

I’ve kept track of how popular the various different candidates’ evaluations have been among blog readers. It’s interesting on two levels–it tells me more about what my audience finds interesting, and it tells me which candidates have the most pull on the internet.

Here are how the various democratic candidates are stacking up against each other:
Democratic Candidate Eval Views

Sanders’ post is more popular on the web and with my blog audience than he is with the general public, easily taking the majority of hits. This shouldn’t be unexpected, given the consistent enthusiasm I’ve expressed for his campaign.

For the republicans, things are much more muddled:

Republican Candidate Eval Views

Trump and Carson are the leaders on the blog as they are in real life, but their margins are much smaller and there are many others in the mix. Rand Paul retains a modicum of his father’s ability to draw internet hits–his post has the 5th most hits among republicans even as his campaign languishes in 9th in the polls.

The republicans’ posts have gotten more total hits than the democrats’ posts:

DNC vs RNC Eval Views

But this is only because there are so many more republicans running than democrats–on average, each democrats’ evaluation draws more than twice the audience of the average republicans’:

DNC vs RNC Average Eval Views

Here are both parties on the same chart:

President Candidate Evaluation Views

This concludes the 2016 Candidate Evaluation Series. I anticipate that I will continue to write about the US election from time to time, but hopefully this will signal a general shift in content away from US presidential politics and back toward discrete ideas, policies, and problems. I’m not sure if I will do this again for the 2020 election–while I have received many compliments on this series, it was not a particularly fun series to do. The candidates were largely underwhelming, there were way too many of them, and by focusing on evaluations I probably distracted myself from doing posts on other topics that might have been more rewarding for me. I also wonder if by focusing on individual presidential candidates I may have distracted both myself and my audience from deeper underlying issues with the political and economic system. I know that I get more readership when I focus on personalities and current issues, but by allowing the blog’s content to be carried around by whatever is popular in the press, I allow chronic issues and big picture ideas to be pushed out. This is one of the problems with democracy–elections masquerade as serious politics when in reality they are more often than not a distraction from the ideas and issues that are really important. I have tried to keep this series focused around the ideas of the candidates, but even that feels insufficient. There are many great ideas and policies that none of these candidates have proposed, and many of the more ambitious proposals offered by these candidates are unlikely to be enacted even if they are elected due to hostility from the opposition party in congress. Even if Bernie Sanders is elected, he is not likely to get a super-majority in both houses of congress, and without that he is unlikely to succeed in passing climate change legislation, free tuition for all, or single payer. The presidency is not that powerful an office, and speculating about its future occupant ought not to command so much of this blog’s attention. So unless there is a policy issue or argument at stake that is truly important, I am going to try to shift the blog’s focus back more toward its roots in political theory, political economy, international relations theory, and Sophiarchism.