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Does experience matter in the White House?

Last week, after the media hammered away at his lack of foreign policy expertise, Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson's soaring ratings finally fell from frontrunner status according to one poll. And this week, businessman Donald Trump's Iowa numbers took a dive, likely for similar reasons.

But should a foreign policy resume matter for a politician? Or even political experience?

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An examination of our nation's history shows we have sent presidents to the White House with limited political and public service backgrounds. In fact, voters have elected presidents with no public service or elected office experience five times: Presidents Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft were all elected president without having been elected anything else. They acquired leadership and administrative skills in government or military positions.

The former presidents were elected, based in part, on their "talent," "virtues," "merit," and "abilities," which are the background characteristics for our chief executive that the framers of the U.S. Constitution discussed in the Federalist Papers. Has Ben Carson acquired the "talents, virtues, merits or abilities" in his life and professional experiences to serve our nation as president? Dr. Carson has been a board member of Kellogg and Costco companies for more than a decade. He also runs the Carson Scholars fund since 1994, which promotes education and reading. His non-profit has chapters in 50 states and 130 reading rooms across the country. These positions should have provided him with leadership abilities, negotiations skills and a level of public service to the community to improve literacy rates nationwide.

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In the current election season, Republican "establishment" candidates have not fared well in the polls. A recent Maryland poll focused on conservative Anne Arundel County, and found Dr. Carson led other candidates overall in character traits and candidate choice. The poll looked at areas such as leadership competence, honesty, and independence. This modern electorate is more focused on the issues and ideological orientation of candidates rather than discrepancies about personal narratives or prior elected government experience.

Many studies by political scientists have also found no link between political experience and strong presidential job performance. And in the last quarter century, every seasoned politician running for president has lost the election to the least experienced candidate. In the 2008 Democratic primary, voters chose the freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, instead of Hillary Clinton. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore was defeated by the less experienced Texas governor George W. Bush. Voters in 1992 selected Bill Clinton over the more seasoned George H. W. Bush who was the vice president of our nation.

Dr. Carson — like candidates Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina — may not have a depth of experience in driving government but the reality is that presidents do not drive, they are chauffeured. Every president is surrounded by a group of experienced political operatives and inherits a corps of experienced senior civil servants. And a Ben Carson, whose ideological orientation is more aligned with the tea party conservatives in Congress, is likely to have a much easier time pushing policies through than the Obama administration, which has through the years seen a number of initiatives stalled or blocked — including the debt ceiling, funding Planned Parenthood, Immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Carson has said "our government was set up for citizen statesmen, not for career politicians." Whether that's true today or not is debatable, but history and the polls seem to suggest that a fair segment of the population is more comfortable with a Carson than a Clinton.

Herma Percy (herma.percy@mycampus.apus.edu) and Will Jones are political campaign strategists and were previously political science lecturers at Howard University. Ms. Percy is a strategist in the 4th Congressional District race in Maryland and was an advisory committee member of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College and author of Will Your Vote Count: Fixing America's Broken Electoral System. Mr. Jones is a contributing author in Democracy Destiny and the District of Columbia: Federal Politics and Public Policy and on the Board of Editors of the Journal of Race and Policy of Old Dominion University.

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