Induce Presidential Candidates to Take IQ Tests

Many U.S. voters, I suspect, give significant weight to their estimate of candidates’ intelligences when deciding who to vote for. We currently guess the level of candidates’ intelligences by evaluating their past actions and judging debate performances. But surely a better way would be to have all the candidates take IQ tests or perhaps some standardized test such as the SATs. True, most candidates took the SATs when they were much younger, but their intellectual capacity might have deteriorated since then. We could induce candidates to take IQ tests by giving federal election funds only to candidates who take them in the year prior to the first presidential primary election.

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  • josh

    Sold, if only for the delightful side effect that people would end up far less in awe of politicians.

  • nelziq

    Is that really necessary? Between SAT scores and educational attainment, we can pretty accurately guess how smart various candidates are. I don’t think the problem is informational at all. The idea that voters are like an impartial jury selecting the best person for the job is completely at odds with reality. The various Special interests and political constituencies that comprise the electorate want candidates that will loyally promote their interests regardless of whether or not it is in the general interest of the nation to do so. Therefore, even if we did know their IQs, privileged ideologues will continue to be elected despite their lack of qualification.

  • JMG3Y

    More important a general knowledge test with an open pool (I posited this somewhere in the archives of a blog). It’s not just intelligence that is important but what you know! Wanna be a pilot? The test is from an open pool of questions so that those who have access to previous questions (that used to be a small industry) don’t have an unfair advantage. The actual test on a given occassion is randomly selected from sections within the pool so that its representative of all the aspects of knowledge. You want to be a private pilot (not able to fly for hire), the pool is small. You want to be an airline pilot? The pool is huge and the questions are harder.

    Tests are required for doctors, lawyers, CPAs, engineers. Why not for politicians, who arguably have greater total impact when summed across all affected people than the professions for which tests are usually required.

    You want to be a candidate? Show up at the appropriate time and place with the appropriate fee in hand and take the appropriate test. So, you want to be a candidate for city councilman? Small pool, cheap test. Candidate for state representative with more potential impact on more people’s lives? A bigger pool. Candidate for President? The really big pool with a really big fee. Senator? Not quite the really big pool and not quite the really big fee. Representative? Smaller yet (shorter term, thus less impact than a senator).

    What do the tests need to cover? What areas of expertise are needed for the position being sought? Using the income form the fees plus some taxpayer support, assemble panels of academic experts from across history, political science, law, economics, leadership, public health, science and engineering and so on to develop the tests. What went bad wrong and what went well in the past? What knowledge was missing and what knowledge served well? With an open pool, everyone can examine the questions. The public could even submit questions for vetting by the panel. Testing experts could evaluate the questions, throwing out the bad ones and so on.

    Publish the results. If a candidate for president doesn’t know a damned thing about leadership or foreign policy but people still want to elect them, so be it.

  • nelziq

    Such a test, especially with so much at stake, would reflect the makers of the test more than it would the takers. It would be impossible to make an unbiased test without devolving into a general aptitude test like the SATs or an IQ test.

  • grigory

    I don’t think it would work, if only because it would be too easy for them to buy a high score.

  • grigory

    From Wikipedia:

    The Imperial examinations (Traditional Chinese: 科舉; pinyin: kējǔ) in Imperial China determined who among the population would be permitted to enter the state’s bureaucracy.

  • We could induce candidates to take IQ tests by giving federal election funds only to candidates who take them in the year prior to the first presidential primary election.

    Who is this “we” that controls the disbursement of federal election funds?

  • tweedledee

    It seems to me that the standardized test scores of political candidates are already more or less common knowledge; it’s just that most voters don’t care. I know that Gore and Bush’s SAT scores are readily available for anyone who is interested. I doubt that any major political party candidate can attain office without having the examination scores that all educated people must have on their record published somewhere. These, I think, are accurate numbers for Gore and Bush:

    Bush | Gore
    Verbal: 566 (of 800) 625 (of 800)
    Math: 640 (of 800) 730 (of 800)

  • Rue Des Quatre Vents

    Only an intellectual would suggest this.

  • One Woodrow Wilson was enough.

  • Although I’m in favor of an educated electorate and government, I’m not sure we could accept this on the grounds that it’s prone to abuse. Aside from the obvious issue of rich candidates purchasing good scores, it also risks disenfranchising much of the population. And although I wouldn’t want someone dumb ruling the world, intelligence hardly assures us of good leader. I’d take a dim-witted, ethical leader over a smart, unethical one any day.

  • There is no evidence (AFAIK), that high intelligence makes a good politician. We may need an optimal level. Actually, along the lines of William Buckley’s comment “I would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by the 2000 members of the faculty of Harvard University”, we need a different process than elections to chose our representatives. The libertarian in me is conflicted over the idea that we should draft our representatives rather than elect them (sort of like jury duty). Still, there is a problem of bias in that anyone who would run for office is ipso facto not suited for the job.

  • I posted about a test for legislators last month on my blog(bottom of the post):

    … legislators should take a economics and law policy test before they can candidate. The test results will not prevent them from being voted into office–the voters have the final say. But the test results will be listed on the ballots. Think of it as American Legislator: American Idol for congress, without the ratings starved judges skewing the phone-in votes.

  • Paul Ferguson

    Nixon was supposedly one of our more intelligent presidents in modern times. Nixon’s character was the reason his presidency is often maligned. Perhaps a character test would be more appropriate?

    Different people would want candidates to take different tests. How would you decide which ones they should take? Vote? If a candidate thought her IQ score would help her get elected, I’m sure she’d publish the score. Since more candidates don’t do that, I’d wager “test scores” aren’t all that important for getting elected.

  • Scoop

    While I agree that many politicians fail for reasons other than stupidity or ignorance, those two qualities certainly handicap a large percentage of our elected officials, and I cannot understand how anyone can argue here that a testing system that discouraged the election of stupid/ignorant people would not improve the odds of better government.

    As to the argument that tests cannot accurately and fairly gage intelligence and knowledge, that, too, seems silly. The best intelligence tests work well people of all ages, all education levels and all cultures. And given how many professions construct relevant tests for their members, politics could certainly do the same.

    Would such tests eliminate the influence of the various rent-seekers who distort so many government decisions? No. Would they eliminate the tendency of those who devote their lives to government to overestimate the ability of government to improve life? No. But I have yet to see a convincing argument here or elsewhere that such tests, combined with enough publicity to drive out the idiots, would not greatly improve the odds of decent government.

    The only real question is how to get politicians and would-be politicians to submit to such tests. My only thought here is to sell the idea to one party or the other as way to win votes by “certifying” all of their candidates as intelligent and well-informed. I suspect, however, that both parties, dominated as they are by current elected officials, many of dubious intelligence, would reject any such idea. It would, however, be electoral gold for the party that adopted it, even if it devastated that party’s current stock of office holders.

  • TGGP

    I think voters should demonstrate some basic competence. I doubt variation in intelligence is going to matter much when it comes to Presidential performance, as there is already so much selection going on there and there will be advisers to pick up the slack. The Founding Fathers often took pains to avoid being labeled “democrats” (which is why they restricted the franchise and the powers available to it through government) and John Stuart Mill thought that the votes of the educated should count twice as much as others. Since I view voting itself as irrational I don’t expect to get a selectorate of reasonable people, but an understanding of the issues would be nice.

    Slightly off-topic, but Erik Ritter von Kuehnell-Leddihn’s 1943 book criticizing democracy and other mass-based forms of government “The Menace of the Herd: on Procustes at Large” has been released online in pdf form for free.

  • michael vassar

    It wouldn’t work because the voters are, for reasons which probably have some evolutionary validity, distrustful of and hostile towards those much smarter than themselves. They want to be lead by someone smarter than themselves, but not as much smarter as a person has to be to be even a remotely plausible candidate for high office.
    This is why GW sells himself on his stupidity.

  • Bad idea. The last thing we need is leaders who believe that they have been objectively proven to be the best for the job. Humility is the most important asset a leader can possess. Also politicians are already too professional, testing and validating them would only worsen that. We need our politicians as a body to be as diverse as possible with a broad range of experiences, knowledge and abilities, standardized tests would reduce those ranges.

  • sonya

    Pure foolishness. IQ does not indicate ability to lead. Talk about bias.

  • nick

    I think those tests a crude and unreliable , the best test is a good general knowledge test, i hear that Bush’s world knowledge is very poor and that is unacceptable in a leader of the free world.

    i understand that bush scored in the top 2% in his SAT i find that hard to believe. Anyway i have seen plenty of graduates who have no idea about the REAL world.

    in fact 20% of them believe in Noah’s arc


    LOOK AT THEIR REAL WORLD LEADERSHIP ACHIEVEMENTS. I hear that bush was a business failure.

    Plus their lifestyle, which attests to their character, because intelligence is not the only thing you should look at.

  • Let’s leave aside questions of whether IQ tests are fair and whether the intelligence they measure is true intelligence. Is intelligence the ONLY characteristic that is important? When we label a politician “dumb”, are we really talking about intelligence at all? Somebody with a 90 IQ cannot squeak through Harvard.

    Assuming (for the moment) that IQ is important, is there a straight linear relationship between IQ and capability for this job, or is it a matter of a threshold? If one candidate’s IQ is 140 and the other’s 150, can we really say that those 10 IQ points give candidate #2 “more” of something that is better in quantity?

  • I definitely think, as a passing nod to our present prez, a “No President Left Behind” screening test, checking for possible learning differences as well.