Where have the presidential candidates spent their careers? (Heat Map)

Modified on by Andrew Cohen

Where have the presidential candidates spent their careers? (Heat Map)
While watching the Republican primary debates the other night, I silently wished that there could have been some way for me to compare the candidates’ professional backgrounds side-by-side, using some kind of visual tool.  After all, evaluating how much you agree with a candidate’s formal positions is only one part of the equation.  The other huge part of your decision is whether the candidate has the experience that you believe is necessary to execute the most difficult job on the planet.

Soooooo . . . . being a Brainscaper who loves data-based decision-making, I worked with one of my new interns to compile an Excel spreadsheet tracking how many years the candidates each spent across seven professional categories : Government Executive (e.g. governor, agriculture chief, etc.), Legislative, Military, NGO/XGO (e.g. nonprofit, managing the Olympics, etc.), Business Management, and Academic/Medical.   I then divided the candidates’ years of experience into terciles for each category and plotted them onto a heat map.  The top third of candidates in each category were represented in dark blue, the middle third in light gray, and the bottom third in blank white (see below).

Before you take a look at the infographic, I should note that this heat map is in no way intended to make a statement about any particular candidate’s qualifications for being president, as different categories of experience may be more or less important to different voters.  But hopefully it can help show you a clearer picture of how the candidates have spent their professional lives.Also note that I have included some notes about my background calculations below the image.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.NOTES

  • All years of experience are considered equal.  For example, each year of Mitt Romney’s Business Management experience running Bain Capital counts equally to a year of Herman Cain’s experience running Godfathers Pizza, regardless of which company was larger or more successful.
  • “Experience” credit is only given where actual positions (or formal consulting responsibilities) are assumed.  So, Newt Gingrich does not get Government Executive experience credit just because he had many years of experience dealing with the President while he was in Congress.  Mitt Romney does not get Legislative experience credit just because he has ample experience financing or dealing with lobbyists.
  • In years when a candidate held more than one formal position or had a position that spanned more directly across multiple categories, the years were reasonably weighted between the categories, rather than adding up the positions’ years to a sum greater than the number of years worked.  For example, Newt Gingrich’s eight years as a strategy consultant to multiple organizations & companies (2003-11) – as well as a prolific author – were weighted equally (0.33 each) between NGO, Business Management, and Academic.
  • Years in which formal “work” did not take place are not given any weight.  So Michele Bachman’s half-decade as a stay-at-home mom, while a very noble and wonderful service to her family, does not give her credit in any of the professional experience categories mapped above.  (That said, if character & family values are important to you as a voter, then you should still definitely consider that, independently of this experience-only infographic!)
  • Academic/Medical credit was given for all years spent pursuing a post-graduate degree, teaching at a university, operating as a doctor, or writing as a full-time non-fiction author.
  • Michelle Bachman’s years as a government attorney (at the IRS) counted as 50% Legislative and 50% Business Management.
  • Because no candidate served Military terms beyond the 4-year minimum enlistment, all those who served in the armed forces received only a light gray coloring on the heat map.  No candidate really stood out in years of Military experience.
  • The comparisons with Barack Obama and George W. Bush consider their years of experience before running for President.  For the 2012 election, Obama will naturally have an incumbent advantage of having four years of the most grueling Government Executive experience that one can have.  This is not reflected on the heat map.

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