Reality check: Clinton might not be the most experienced candidate


Of the remaining presidential candidates, who has the most experience? It’s a question many voters will be asking themselves – not least the one in 10 Americans who say they haven’t decided who they’ll vote for in November.

It’s a question the candidates often raise during the mud-slinging debates of the primary season. During the Democratic debate last week, Bernie Sanders mentioned accusations by Hillary Clinton’s campaign that he was “unqualified” to be president. In response, Sanders said he believed that Clinton had the experience for the job, but said: “I do question her judgment.”

Here, we check the candidates’ résumés to see how their experience compares.

Elective government experience

Bernie Sanders: With 34 years of experience under his belt, Sanders would be the clear winner of any of the candidates if this were the sole criteria for entering the White House. Roles have included eight years as mayor of Burlington, 16 years in the House of Representatives and, most recently, 10 years as a US senator. Between 1972 and 1988, Sanders unsuccessfully ran for political office on six separate occasions.

Bernie Sanders, mayor of Burlington at the time, greets presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1988.


Bernie Sanders, mayor of Burlington at the time, greets presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1988. Photograph: Toby Talbot/AP

Hillary Clinton: Often thought of as the candidate with the most experience, Clinton has only served in elected office for eight years as a US senator from 2001 to 2009 – far less than the 15-year average among all candidates who have run for the presidency in this election. However, if one expands political experience beyond years in elected office, Clinton’s four years as secretary of state are highly relevant. And, as the wife of former president Bill Clinton, she also has eight years as first lady (and another 11 years as first lady of Arkansas while he was governor). Even if those roles are included, Clinton has a total of 31 years of experience, still less than Sanders.

Donald Trump: 0 years of political experience.

Ted Cruz: The past four years, when Cruz has served as a US senator, are the candidate’s only elective political experience. Cruz could however also add on the year that he spent as a domestic policy adviser for the Bush presidential campaign between 1999 and 2000.

Ted Cruz leaves the Senate chamber after a marathon attack on Obamacare.


Ted Cruz leaves the Senate chamber after a marathon attack on Obamacare. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

Other potentially useful experience

It could be argued that the experience required to be president of the world’s largest economy and third most populous country is about more than years in elected office. Here are some other résumé notes that may prove relevant.

Bernie Sanders: In 1977, a 36-year-old Sanders founded the American People’s Historical Society (APHS) with Nancy Barnett, an artist who lived next door to him in Burlington. The APHS produced filmstrips for schools with Sanders doing the male voices and Barnett doing the female ones. But Sanders eventually produced a documentary about the life of Eugene Debs, a union leader who ran for president from prison in 1920 as a socialist – and won almost a million votes in the process.

Sanders was also a lecturer in political science at Harvard University in 1989 and a lecturer at Hamilton College in 1990 (teaching two classes, one on cities, the other on democratic socialism).

Hillary Clinton: For 16 years from 1976, Clinton was an attorney at Rose Law Firm. In 1979 she became the first woman to be made a full partner at the law firm, and in 1986 she was the first woman to be on the board of Walmart.

Clinton also has significant experience in the not-for-profit sector, focusing on helping children. Her roles have included chair of the Arkansas educational standards committee, co-founder of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and being a board member of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Defense Fund.

Hillary Clinton hosts a meeting on Hispanic youth at the White House while serving as first lady.


Hillary Clinton hosts a meeting on Hispanic youth at the White House while serving as first lady. Photograph: Manny Ceneta/EPA

Donald Trump: In 1968, Trump officially joined the company his grandmother and father had founded in 1923. In 1971, Trump was given control of the business, a role he continues to hold. In addition to his 48 years of business experience, Trump has written and published 16 books including Think Big and Kick Ass, How To Get Rich and Crippled America.

Trump also co-produced a Broadway comedy titled Paris Is Out! in 1970, which was unsuccessful.

Donald Trump with his parents.


Donald Trump with his parents. Photograph: Alamy

Ted Cruz: For 14 years before his candidacy, Cruz worked in the legal sector. He was a law clerk first in the US court of appeals in 1995, then in the supreme court the following year, as well as solicitor general of Texas between 2003 and 2008 (the youngest, longest-serving and first Hispanic person to hold the role). Cruz was also an adjunct professor of law at the University of Texas for almost five years.

In addition to his five years as a partner in a law firm, Cruz’s time spent as director of the office of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission may be considered relevant to the private sector.

What voters value

Clearly these are presidential candidates with very different résumés, but voters don’t all look for the same attributes when choosing who to support. A poll by YouGov last month found that Republicans were more likely to say that they trusted Trump than any other candidate to handle an international crisis.

More detailed data from CNN/ORC in December 2015 found that Trump was the most trusted candidate among Republicans to handle the economy, illegal immigration and Isis. The same pollsters found that Democrats placed more faith in Clinton on every issue – although the gap between her and Sanders varied from 13 percentage points on climate change to a huge 57 percentage points on foreign policy.

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