Tuesday, February 26, 2008

McCain has the left stuff

Because presidential elections are held every four years and there have only been 55 in our nation's history, one can find all sorts of trends of who gets elected how that aren't particularly statistically significant.

In that spirit, I've learned of two such trends concerning the physical attributes of presidents.

The first is a surprising trend towards left-handedness. The election of George W. Bush -- who was beaten in the popular vote by lefty Al Gore -- broke up a string of four straight southpaw presidents. With John McCain and Barack Obama both being lefties when it comes to their hands, there is an extremely good chance we will soon be five for six. What makes this streak noteworthy is only 12 percent of the United States population is left-handed, and, before Gerald Ford, there had only been two left-handed presidents in US history.

Could this be a function the television age? Maybe lefty candidates look smoother than right handed ones -- just like a left-handed baseball player or golfer is often perceived to have a "sweet swing." It seems a stretch, but why not? The phenomenon needs to be explained somehow.

A trend that long pre-dates moving pictures is that of presidential eye-color: 38 of our 43 presidents have had green, blue or grey eyes. Of the five dark-eyed presidents only Richard Nixon -- the last one-- was elected to a second term, and we all know how that turned out. In contrast to the men who hold the highest office in the land, only 16% of the US population has light eyes. While this low percentage is a reflection of shifting ethnic demographics, it was still only at 30 in 1950, and was probably never higher than 50.

President Barack Obama would break up the longest and starkest streak in presidential appearances but, running against a left-hander with blue eyes, he will have his work cut out for him.

1 comment:

Dr. Gordon Patzer said...


In terms of physical appearance ranging from left handedness to height to hair, election of John McCain to president would be/will be an exception to the rule akin to a hundred year flood.

With few exceptions, voters overwhelmingly elect the taller of the final candidates, which this election looks to pit 5’9” John McCain against 6’1-1/2” Barack Obama. Concerning height and the general population, during the past 170 years covering 42 Presidential elections, only once have voters elected a candidate shorter than the national average. That was 1888 when Benjamin Harrison stood one inch shorter than the national average at that time. (Today’s adult male average is 5’9”.)

Voters also overwhelmingly elect well-haired presidential finalists, which this election seems likely to pair McCain with a longish thin comb-over against Obama with a short thick full style. Historically, a bald president has not been elected the past 12 elections spanning more than 50 years, when voters elected Dwight Eisenhower to a second term over Aldai Stevenson—which pitted two bald men. Excluding Jerry Ford who inherited his presidential office, before Eisenhower, we need to travel back to 1836 when Martin Van Buren was elected minus a head of hair, possibly distracted by his over-abundant sideburns.

Dr. Gordon Patzer
author of "Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined"