In advance of the upcoming presidential debates, we gave Post readers a chance to play moderator. We received more than 3,200 submissions, almost all thoughtful and sincere. They touched on matters from personal character to potable water, from what the candidates see as the biggest mistake in the nation’s history to their understanding of patriotism.
There was no starker gap than that between questions directed only at Donald Trump and those directed only at Hillary Clinton. About 60 percent of questions were asked of both candidates. But of the remainder, only about 100 were solely for Clinton, while more than 1,000 were solely for Trump. There were also several questions about the exclusion of third-party candidates, particularly Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.
A quarter of questions to Trump concerned his refusal to release his tax returns — readers especially wanted documentation proving that he is under audit. Other popular topics for Trump included how he would deal with conflicts of interest, why he for so long fueled birtherism and “when was America last great?” — a response to his campaign slogan. Topics for Clinton were varied, although her “deplorables” comment and her email controversy made several appearances.
On issues of substance, foreign policy led the way with 365 questions. Topics included dealing with Russia, stopping genocide and the future of the Middle East. Questions about nuclear weapons were a particularly prominent topic, with 79 questions — almost as many as the 87 submissions on terrorism (a number not included in the foreign policy count). Most concerned Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs and the United States’ policy on using nuclear weapons.
Other popular policy areas included the environment (climate change in particular), immigration (about that wall) and health care (especially what the candidates would do about the Affordable Care Act). Of course, the responses should not be taken as a scientifically representative survey. Social Security was the third-most popular topic; almost all of those submissions came after the AARP’s advocacy arm featured The Post’s form on its Facebook page. Conversely, we received surprisingly few questions on gun control, abortion and same-sex marriage.
Post readers also submitted a number of considered, probing queries seeking to learn more about Clinton and Trump: how they make decisions, how they educate themselves and how they would work across the aisle. Below, we have included our favorites — and we offer our thanks to all who participated.
— James Downie
Military and foreign policy
Had you become president on Sept. 12, 2001, what would you have done differently than the Bush administration, and how do you think the world would look different today?
Victor Rortvedt, Washington
Many presidents leave behind a foreign-policy doctrine when they leave office (Monroe Doctrine, Truman Doctrine, etc.). What would the Trump or Clinton Doctrine look like?
Jay McCann, Landover
Do you see any geographic or legal limits to the war on terrorism?
Eleanor May, Atlanta
Mr. Trump, one of your goals if elected is to increase the size and strength of the military. To get the desired increase in manpower, would you reinstate the draft, and, if so, would both men and women be conscripted?
Chris Self, West Caldwell, N.J.
Ms. Clinton, have the real or perceived failures of the Russia reset humbled or chastened you enough that you will be wary in your dealings with Vladimir Putin if you are elected president?
Wesley Dearen, Midland, Tex.
Mr. Trump, you say that instead of allowing refugees from nations such as Syria to immigrate to the United States, you will build “safe zones” for them in their home countries. Please be specific about how you plan to build these safe zones in foreign countries, which the United States does not control and where open warfare is taking place. How will the zones be kept safe, and by whom?
Derek Wood, Los Angeles
In the past 50 years, which economic policy, initiative or law that was enacted by or credited to the opposing political party do you believe has had the most positive effect on America, and why?
Victor Rortvedt, Washington
Given that most education policy is already set at the state level, such as whether to adopt Common Core, what do you see as the primary role of the Education Department?
Alex Valencic, Savoy, Ill.
The Republican Party platform claims that Environmental Protection Agency regulations cost consumers financially, while not mentioning human health and financial costs associated with pollution, such as asthma and lead poisoning, let alone the potential long-term cost savings of increased energy efficiency. Do you believe an individual’s freedom to make a decision that is financially negative and collectively harmful is more important than the general public’s freedom from the effects of those decisions?
Robert Pierce, Washington
Much of rural America lacks access to affordable high-speed Internet for home or business. What will you do as president to help expand access to affordable high-speed Internet for everyone in America?
Marty Newell, Caroga Lake, N.Y.
Cities such as New York and San Francisco have many of the best opportunities for finding high-paying jobs. Those same cities also have skyrocketing housing prices. Keeping in mind that many of the laws that determine housing prices, such as zoning laws or rent control, are enacted at the local level, what will you do to help make housing in these cities more affordable?
Mark Doss, New York
There is a growing question about how ethical and effective interventions such as solitary confinement are in the U.S. prison system. Do you think solitary confinement is acceptable?
Stephanie Barwitz, Denver
Mr. Trump, do you support a federal gun law that would require background checks on private gun purchases made at gun shows? Also, do you support a federal law that would require all gun owners to store guns in lockable safes?
Paige Marshall, La Porte, Ind.
What specific actions should be taken to assure that science, technology, engineering and mathematics education will maintain U.S. preeminence in research and development?
John Webber, Melbourne Beach, Fla.
President Obama has created more national monuments than any other president. Environmentalists love for federal land to be protected from development. States, especially in the West where most of the federal land is, often oppose removing land from development opportunities. How do you foresee using your power to create national monuments?
Thomas Straka, Pendleton, S.C.
What is the best punishment for people who knowingly employ undocumented immigrants?
Nikko Schaff, Ithaca, N.Y.
To Ms. Clinton: If you legalize the illegal immigrants, what will you do for those who applied for legal immigration to the United States? We waited 10 years before we were admitted a long time ago; others still waiting may have been waiting even longer. Shouldn’t they get preference?
To Mr. Trump: Most illegal immigrants now come from overseas, not Mexico or Central America. Instead of building a wall, should we not concentrate on more effective ways to stop illegal entry and also adopt a national ID card?
Louis Simons, Midlothian, Va.
Name one Supreme Court decision that you agree with and one that you disagree with, and tell us why.
Diane Keafer, Pickerington, Ohio
What is the biggest mistake this country has made in its 240 year history, and why?
Lori Pelletier, Middletown, Conn.
Is the birther movement racist, as Colin Powell asserted, and does Mr. Trump owe President Obama an apology for his leadership role in the movement?
Joyce Bloom, Amherst, Va.
Mr. Trump, you stated that you sent a team of “experts” to Hawaii in 2011 to investigate the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth. Given your assessment of their findings as “incredible,” you certainly recollect what they were. What were they? Why haven’t you ever shared with the public what these findings are? And why keep the identities of these experts a secret?
Robert Swift, Westminster, Vt.
Through your husband, Ms. Clinton, and through your father, Mr. Trump, you accessed the power and influence that have gotten you to this position. Please counter the view that such accidents of birth and alliance may have distanced you from the plight of America’s common man by discussing an experience with the less powerful majority in this country that has informed your perspective on the job you seek.
Barbara Sherrod, New York
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career, and what did you do to rectify it once you realized the mistake had been made?
David Sutton, Marlton, N.J.
What is your definition of patriotism?
John P. Epstein, Holyoke, Mass.
If you were required to give up your personal and family wealth as a condition of becoming president, would you do it?
David Prensky, Arlington
Given the secularism debate currently engulfing Europe, where do you stand on America’s idea of separation of church and state? Some Americans in recent years have asserted that we are a Christian nation. Are we?
Jim Stevens, Honolulu
Where do you stand on congressional term limits and the modification of congressional benefits to put them in line with benefits for other public servants, such as the Secret Service, police officers and firefighters?
Christy Page, Bloomington, Ind.
Mr. Trump, what steps did you personally take at the Trump Organization to rectify the racial discrimination alleged by the Justice Department during the 1970s? After paying to settle the lawsuit, did you reevaluate any of your personal beliefs about African Americans?
Scott Lewis, Nashville
Mr. Trump, would you hire a chief executive for one of your companies who had no business experience? And, if not, why should the American people hire you as their president without any political experience?
Joe Penna, Dallas, Oregon
List five American novels you would recommend that every American read, and why.
John Metzger, Shingle Springs, Calif.
Mr. Trump, you have told us you are the ultimate dealmaker. When you are making deals, do you just base your decisions on the representations made by the other party alone? If they say the business is sound and successful, is that enough for you, or do you have your attorneys and accountants examine all their financial records? If you do the latter, shouldn’t the American people be able to do the same, by seeing your tax returns?
Chuck Guerriero, Charlotte
The two of you used to be friends. What happened?
Tony Costa, New York
Why is releasing tax information relevant or irrelevant to the process of evaluating political candidates?
Jennifer Vizzo, Irving, Tex.
Mr. Trump, while vetting Mike Pence, did your campaign ask to see his tax returns? Since you claim there is little that can be learned from a person’s tax returns, and often cite that as one reason not to release your own tax returns, why did your campaign find it necessary to review Mr. Pence’s tax returns before selecting him as your vice-presidential nominee?
Mark Crosby, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Please name an issue on which you are willing to break with your party. On what issue would you advocate your personal solution knowing that it would hurt your approval rating?
Jon Gottfried, Washington
The stalemate in Congress will likely be one of the biggest challenges our new president faces in getting things done. What is one policy initiative you’re confident you can work through both the House and Senate in 2017, and how will you do it?
Daniel Groce, Smyrna, Ga.
Obviously, the president cannot inform the public of every detail of the office. However, both of you have been accused of lacking transparency. What steps will you take to improve public disclosure, both in government and in your own affairs?
Collin Carroll, New York
You are two of the most divisive candidates in modern history. You are two of the most disliked candidates in modern history. However, come January, one of you will be inaugurated as the next president of the United States. What will be your strategy to win the hearts and minds of the voters who did not vote for you?
Carrie Smith, Oxford, Miss.
Spin out what’s behind each of your campaign slogans. Ms. Clinton, why is our country so divided now, and how will you be able to coax its citizens together on the major issues of the day? Mr. Trump, why do you think America is not great now, exactly when was it great before and what specifically made it great then vs. now?
Ellen Lambeth, Vienna
On election night, if you are defeated, will you call your opponent, acknowledge them and support them as the president-elect? What will you do to heal the polarization caused by the campaign?
Ray Strano, East Norriton, Pa.