Report from Purple America: Can the Top 'Values Candidates' Predict Who Will Be the Next President?

Co-authored by Patricia Frost-Brooks and John Wilson.

Many Republican politicians call themselves "values candidates."

What does that really mean? In the past two presidential elections, GOP candidates have focused on values that are aligned with being pro-life, pro-individual freedom, anti-immigration and pro-guns. Despite this designation, in the past two election cycles, Republicans have lost.

Is there another way to talk about "values" that expands the definition and lends more predictability to the success of the 2016 presidential election?

Purple America, a part of Values-in-Action Foundation, is a non-profit organization with no ties to political parties or candidates for any political office. Its only agenda is to increase civil dialogue through an ongoing discussion about America's shared values and how Americans can better live those values.

In the past, the group conducted interviews with one thousand Americans in eight diverse communities as to two questions: "What are the values that connect Americans?" and "What do Americans stand for?"

The values that all the communities shared were: Equality, Family, Faith, Freedom, Love and Respect, Self-expression, Community, Giving Back, The Good Life, Opportunity, Success, and Doing the Right Thing.

You can see definitions of these values as well as the community videos at www.PurpleAmerica.us.

How did the Republican candidates' statements and positions stack up against these values?

Without endorsing any candidate, the top values candidates in last week's debate, based on their direct or indirect reference to the twelve shared values, were: Bush (10), Kasich (10), Rubio (8), Pataki (8); Carson (7) and Santorum (7).

Bush referred to equality, family, faith, freedom, love and respect, community, giving back, the good life, opportunity, and doing the right thing. He spoke about preserving entitlements, "fix(ing) things so that everybody can rise up," and uniting people so that we can lift them up.

Kasich urged that Americans "love and accept people who are gay;" also, "... giving everyone a chance, treating them with respect and allowing them to succeed." He
spoke about creating opportunity, uniting the country, helping those less fortunate, and listening to others' voices.

Rubio, Pataki, Carson and Santorum spoke about the dignity of human life, the opportunity for prosperity and success, treating each other equally and with respect, and protecting community. One of the most memorable lines of the debate was Carson's story about taking out half a brain and realizing that skin color really makes no difference -- our brains develop who we really are.

The other Republican candidates scored as follows, based on how many values they referred to in their comments: Graham (6), Walker (6), Trump (5), Christie (5), Huckabee (5), Fiorina (5), Jindal (5), Perry (5), Cruz (4), Gilmore (4), and Paul (3).

Democrats running for president have yet to have their first debate so we cannot measure their words in that format against the values expressed in the Purple America survey.

But based on the focus of the early campaigning by the Democrats, a key question will be how they define "community." How actively do Democrats want government to be involved in helping people succeed vs. people succeeding on their own? How great are the interventions and are they necessary? What are acceptable limits on freedom when government gets into the mix?

If Republicans and Democrats shape their conversation around our shared values, they ultimately still may not agree. But they can have conversation, nonetheless. In poll after poll, Americans want this civil dialogue to happen, as conversation trumps conflict!

For example, Republicans espouse the value of opportunity. To use Ben Carson's words, "America became a great nation because it was flooded with personal responsibility, hard work, heart, and innovation." Democrats may not agree that opportunity is so easily determined just by those factors. They can agree, however, that opportunity is important. And the conversation can, then, begin.

Our Founding Fathers left us with principles and images that tilt America toward equality, compassion, community, inclusion, freedom, happiness, opportunity and success. These values are reflected to this day in the nation and they are evident in the Purple America interviews. Without referring to them in words, themes, or images, it's unlikely that either a Republican or Democrat can win the presidency.

It's well worth noting that, using the same methodology in the last two presidential elections, McCain's campaign themes addressed 8 values while Obama's referred to 10 in the 2008 election; Romney's campaign spoke about 9 while Obama's referenced 11 in the 2012 election.

In a recent column, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni said that, based on past elections data, the presidential election will be determined by voters in a few swing states, of which Ohio is the most prominent. And within Ohio, he said, the President will likely be determined based on the numbers of Democrats voting in Cuyahoga County.

Cuyahoga County is a community of deep faith and values. Recently the host of the RNC Debate, it also was the venue for the first Purple America Cleveland Civility Summit, where community leaders came together to define core values to better shape consensus on police, racial and community issues. It's noteworthy that the top issue raised on Facebook chats during the debate was race, followed by the economy.

The core values defined in the Cleveland Civility Summit were love, family, education, transparency, equality, trust, community, standing up for each other, safety, respect, restoration, healing, victory, justice, honesty, freedom, values that start at home, self-respect, fairness, acceptance, giving back and faith.

Eleven out of the twelve Purple America values correlate. Cuyahoga County is spot-on with the Purple America values that were distilled from interviews across the country!

Can these shared values be a predictor of who is both appealing and electable in the general election of 2016?

It will be consistent with American political tradition if our shared values take center stage so that constructive conversation can happen. Depending on if this values conversation happens, civility or incivility -- the elephant that's always in the room -- will result.

Frost-Brooks, Past President of the Ohio Education Association, is National Co-Chair of Purple America; Muszynski is Founder of Purple America and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation/Project Love; Wilson, former Executive Director of the National Education Association, is National Co-chair of Purple America. Purple America is a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation in partnership with the National Education Association to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. www.PurpleAmerica.us