Presidential Candidates Failing at Prior Commitments

I remember being surprised to learn that U.S. senators maintain their positions even when their time is heavily consumed by other activities, like campaigning for president. I had naively assumed that any senator in this position would resign, since their heavy travel schedules and appearances at town halls and debates would surely prevent them from continuing to provide good representation for their constituents. Yet in the current campaign, at least, no resignations have occurred. Well, how much senatorial activity have Clinton, McCain, and Obama been able to muster over the past year? Wonder no more! tracks congressional activity, including each senator’s vote (or missed vote) on each issue that is raised. And here’s what we find:

Senator Votes missed in 2007 (of 442) Votes missed in 2008 (Q1-Q3) (of 196)
Clinton 103 (23%) 103 (53%)
McCain 247 (56%) 160 (82%)
Obama 166 (38%) 124 (63%)

In each case, it seems that the senator was absent a significant amount of the time, presumably due to campaign activities. On a typical grading scale, the successful vote rates would give each one an F in 2008. And there’s more to being a senator than just appearing for a vote; there’s discussing issues with other senators, debating and discussing, interacting with the voters you represent, and so on. I’m curious as to whether the citizens of New York, Arizona, and Illinois find this at all dissatisfying. These senators aren’t anomalies, nor even the worst offenders; for example, John Kerry’s missed vote rate averaged 72% in 2003-2004, spiking to 100% in Q3 of 2004. In what other occupation can you consistently fail to perform your duties, over the course of a year or two, be absent up to 100% of the time, and still retain the job? Still get paid?

I would expect that the senators would in good faith attempt to be present for the votes that matter most to their electorate, but if it comes down to a choice between canceling a public appearance or missing a particular vote, which one wins? Do candidates for office, who have other existing obligations such as representing those who previously elected them, schedule their campaign activities around those prior obligations? Were the presidential candidate debates timed so as not to conflict with congressional roll calls? I’m guessing that this was not a consideration. Further, the problem is aggravated by our continually lengthening campaign period prior to an election.

Our earliest representatives frequently spent six months to a year away from their families, suffocating in humid Philadelphia to forge a national identity and independence. Family emergencies sometimes could not even call them away from their positions as delegates. John Adams, where are you now?