A Proposed Math Quiz for Presidential Candidates

ByABC News
December 2, 2003, 2:18 PM

Jan. 4 -- Watching political debates, I sometimes find myself hoping that the moderators will pose a simple arithmetical question or two.

Queries about the war, taxes, and cultural issues usually elicit rhetoric and canned answers that most of the candidates could recite in their sleep, but even very simple arithmetical questions would require a bit of thought and calculation that they couldn't easily evade.

Professional myopia may be part of the reason for my writing about this topic again, perhaps, but I do believe that some feel for mathematics (not algebraic topology or partial differential equations, but arithmetic) is essential to being an effective president. After all, almost every political issue has a large quantitative aspect: medicare and social security, the environment, military spending, tax and service cuts, social security, crime, and education, to name a few. A candidate who could answer, or at least reasonably respond to most of the following questions would, I think, be sufficiently numerate to hold the job.

To help insure this end, I hereby urge future debate moderators (both during the primaries and the general election) to announce that no candidate will be left behind, that each will be asked at least one basic numerical question during each debate. The answers the candidates provide might be more telling than their latest "bold new program" or inconsequential anecdote. They might even be amusing.

Below are just 10 of the many politically neutral questions that might be asked. The answers follow.

1. A crucial number to know is the population of the country of which you want to be president. What is the approximate population of the United States? of the world? What percentage of the latter is the former? Answer

2. A news article claims that 15 percent of all strokes occur sometime between noon and midnight on either Friday or Saturday, perhaps because of increased celebrating on the weekends. Do you check with the Centers for Disease Control? Do you stop campaigning on weekends? What's your reaction to this statistic?Answer