Observing the U.S. presidential election from a safe distance is like coming across a road accident. You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t stop yourself from gawking at the carnage.
Elections are like extended job interviews, with voters cast in the role of hiring managers. While voters and interviewers may listen to the candidates’ promises, it is important that they examine the candidates’ track records. What have they done in the past in situations similar to those that they will encounter if hired or elected?
As anyone who is familiar with behavior description interviewing will tell you, “Past performance is the best predictor of future performance.”
Last fall, during Canada’s most recent federal election campaign, leaders of all the parties ran in part on their party’s track record in government, either federally in the case of the Conservatives and Liberals, or provincially in various provinces for the NDP.
Track Record vs. No Track Record
In this fall’s election, American voters face an unusual circumstance. One candidate has decades of political experience, while the other has no track record of having served in public office.
Hillary Clinton spent eight years as America’s first lady, and several years prior to that in a similar role when her husband was the governor of Arkansas. After the Clintons left the White House, she was elected to the U.S. Senate, where she served eight years before becoming the Secretary of State for four years.
Throughout the campaign, she has pointed to what she has accomplished in those roles as positive examples of what Americans can expect of her in the Oval Office. Her detractors also point to her track record (citing the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans and her use of a private email server while at the State Department) as evidence of why she is undeserving of voters’ support.
By contrast, beyond the past year spent securing the Republican nomination, Donald Trump has no political experience. He has never held political office. As a political outsider—something which many of his supporters feel is his greatest asset—Trump has no political history.
Without a political track record to consider, all voters have to go on are his promises to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, to ban Muslims, and to cancel NAFTA and other agreements so jobs will return to America.
A dilemma for voters (and hiring managers)
Trump’s lack of a political track record and Clinton’s extensive record of good and bad political decisions places voters in a position similar to that of managers who must decide between two job candidates—one with experience or one who can only offer promises of what he would do.
If the manager likes how the experienced candidate has responded to specific situations in the past (and if what the candidate says is confirmed by reference checks), the decision is pretty simple. A track record of doing things the right way should always trump (no pun intended) the promises of even the most enthusiastic of candidates lacking experience.
On the other hand, if the manager doesn’t like what he/she heard about the experienced candidate’s past performance, he/she has options—to risk hiring the inexperienced person or to start over, hoping that this time around the recruiting process will attract candidates with track records that demonstrate that they have responded to situations in a manner which is consistent with what the manager would want an employee to do—or voters would want their president to do.
Of course, the option of pushing the reset button is not available to voters. On November 8, they must choose between a candidate with a track record of which they may or may not approve, or a candidate with no track record at all in public service who promises to “Make American Great Again.”
If you can’t stand blood and gore, it may be a good idea to look away for the next couple of weeks.
Nelson Scott offers workshops that prepare leaders to examine candidates’ track records before making a hiring decision and to engage and retain the potential top performers they hire.