The taller the candidate, the better his or her chances for success in the presidential election, according to history.
If Google search results are any indicator, Americans want to know how the presidential candidates measure up – literally. Among the most popular candidate-related queries plugged into the Internet search engine are ones about the heights of the White House hopefuls.
There's a bigger history to this curiosity, and it's been deemed the "Presidential Height Index" by political scientists, campaign reporters and the like. You see, since 1900, the taller guy has won the presidential election 19 times, while the shorter candidate has won just eight times – and that includes the year 2000 in which George W. Bush, the shorter candidate, didn't win the popular vote against the taller Al Gore. In two of these elections, candidates were the same height.
This phenomenon has led to headlines like "McCain's tiny problem," which appeared on a Guardian post in the run-up to 2008 that discussed how the Arizona senator's small stature could mean a loss against the taller Barack Obama. Similar stories were written in 2012 about how Mitt Romney might actually win because he was taller than Obama.
Now, in this cycle, pundits are already fretting about some of the candidates' heights. "Rubio and Paul are as tall as my iPod," conservative talking head Ann Coulter said on Fox News,according to the International Business Times. "You can't run a short candidate," she continued. Over at Bloomberg Politics, Paul was labeled as having a Michael Dukakis problem: Like Paul, Dukakis – a presidential loser – measured 5 feet 8 inches tall. Marco Rubio's a bit taller at 5 feet 10 inches, according to his campaign.
It seems that Americans have a bit of Goldilocks syndrome when it comes to height, too: Candidates must be not too short and not too tall, but just right.
Phil Reisman, a columnist for The Journal News in New York, tried out this theory when he opined that George Pataki, the former New York governor and current GOP candidate, is just too tall to be president. Pataki, by far the tallest candidate running, clocks in at a cool 6 feet 5 inches. Reismannoted the other giants that "(pardon the pun) fell short," including former Rep. Mo Udall, D-Ariz., former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., and Secretary of State John Kerry, whose 6-foot-4-inch stature couldn't beat the 5-foot-11-inch Bush in 2004.
Gregg Murray, an associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, has been studying physical components as they relate to political preference for a while now. Most recently he looked at height, weight and body mass index, or BMI, a measurement calculated from weight and height. He found there's an instinctual preference for leaders who are more "physically formidable," especially in times of strife.
"It's sort of this flash impression that people have," Murray says. Tallness is a factor, but also voters could be looking for candidates who simply look healthy and strong. "The BMI measure was right at the top end of normal weight – it was like right below being overweight," Murray explains.
This is good news for someone like former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who's 6-foot-1 and in good shape. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who recently shed major pounds, also could benefit. "My impression is that people do not perceive Christie as unhealthy," Murray says. The 6-foot-3-inch Jeb Bush has been slimming down to fit into this category, too. "He clearly realized he needed to clean up his appearance a little bit," says Murray.
On the flip side, if voters are drawn to the "formidable," it could hurt a candidate like Bernie Sanders.
"Because he's an old guy, let's face it," Murray says.
And then there's the elephant in the room – the women. Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina will look the most diminutive on the debate stages, standing at 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 6 inches, respectively. Since no woman has ever won her party's nomination, there's no true precedent to look at regarding height, but Murray gave it a guess.
"I think it's like issues – some issues are stronger for one party or the other, and the same thing for male versus female leaders. Sometimes the context of the race is better for women than for men," he says. "In a tough situation of international crisis, with people shooting at each other, I think women are going to be at a disadvantage."
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