They are asked such questions as, "How do you want to die?" or "Would you like to be guest host on 'Saturday Night Live?' " or "What is the most important issue facing the national economy, and how would you deal with it?"
It's questionnaire time for the presidential candidates of both parties, with each getting four or five a day in the mail, an estimated 250 or 300 or more by now.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), for example, has entered 86 into his campaign computer -- the ones he considers the most important. He has returned, filed or otherwise disposed of probably more than 200 more, according to campaign aides.
Some are from publications from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to Dynamic Chiropractic: The Publication of the Non-Profit Motion Palpitation Institute and Biblical Scorecard.
Others are from organizations such as Citizens for Tax Justice or the National Association of Letter Carriers, Parlor City Branch 373, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Some are from individuals of all ages and persuasions.
Candidate questionnaires on issues and personal preferences and habits have almost always been part of presidential campaigns. But like the proliferation of candidate debates, there is a greater volume of curiosity about the candidates this year -- above and beyond their sex lives and drug habits -- at least in questionnaire form, according to campaign veterans.
Dynamic Chiropractic indignantly informed the candidates that the American Medical Association, the chiropractors' bete noire since the beginning of "motion palpitation" nearly 100 years ago, changed the name of its Committee on Chiropracty to the Committee on Quackery. It asks the candidates if they favor having chiropractors on the boards of the Department of Health and Human Services, the surgeon general's staff and as commissioned officers in the armed forces.
Successful Farming magazine asks, "What is integrated pest management?" (Answer: biological controls, including natural predators such as good bugs that eat bad bugs, crop rotation and so on.)
Some present a combination of specialized, parochial interests and "the big picture."
"How would you increase access to the service of nurses under Medicare and third party payers without payments first going to physicians or employers?" is a bread-and-butter question from the American Nurses Association.
This is sandwiched between big-picture questions: "As a presidential candidate you will be communicating your vision for this country to the nation's voters. How do you believe nurses could assist you in the fulfillment of that vision?" and "What would you do to remove the remaining obstacles to the achievement of economic equality for women?"
Some don't fool around. They step right up to the plate and swing.
"Do you favor reducing the federal budget deficit?" Citizens for Tax Justice demanded.
"What is your plan for disarmament and the conversion of the industrial economy from military to peacetime production?" asked the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Some, such as Life and Washingtonian magazines, appear to be trying to determine what sort of style the new president would bring to the nation's capital.
Gephardt's favorite food, for instance, is "hot dogs -- preferably eaten at Busch Stadium" (the St. Louis Cardinals' ball park). Like Bush, his favorite drink is milk. The rest opt for iced tea, soft drinks or orange juice (Alexander M. Haig Jr.) with only former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt expressing a taste for anything stronger -- Tecate beer, a possible reflection of his interest in Latin America.
Most, responding to the Life magazine questionnaire, said they wanted to be professional football or baseball players at age 12. Most, when asked the earliest age they wanted to be president, said the idea struck them in the last four years, except for Babbitt (age 16) and Vice President Bush (age 18).
Some questions are tendered in the hope that the candidates will display a little originality.
The Wall Street Journal, for instance, asked, "Which U.S. president would you least like to resemble?" and only Babbitt surprised with William Henry Harrison. Most of the Democrats responded with Herbert Hoover or Richard M. Nixon, the Republicans with Jimmy Carter.
The most imaginative questionnaire, which most didn't respond to, was one from the Political Society of the Politics Department of Queen Mary's College in London.
"How do you want to die?" it asks, along with "What would you consider heaven on earth?" "What is your motto?" and "What do you consider your greatest failing?"
The Wall Street Journal asked a question similar to that last one.
Albert R. Hunt, the Journal's Washington bureau chief, said, "Most cited their tendency to work too hard or to care too deeply about their constituents."