GOP Debate: Does height matter in presidential politics?

Forget tonight's GOP presidential debate. Grab a tape measure and let's see who's going to win the 2012 election.

By , Staff

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    If height is so important, how does the GOP presidential candidates measure up? Why hold a debate?
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Height matters when choosing presidents.

At least that's what Gregg R. Murray of Texas Tech University and graduate student J. David Schmitz say. The two created the "presidential height index," which observes that taller candidates have won 58 percent of US presidential elections between 1789 and 2008.

Really? Are American voters really that image conscious? Do American voters subconsciously chose the taller candidate, regardless of their position on the issues? Does this voter height bias extend to women? If so, what chance does (the 5-foot-2-inch) Michele Bachmann have? Are these researchers suggesting that the 42 female heads of state who took office in the last two decades worldwide tended to be taller than their male or female opponents?

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By this theory, we can skip the two-hour CNN debate in Las Vegas tonight. Let's just grab a tape measure and declare former Sen. Rick Santorum (6 foot 4 inches) the winner.

Trivia note: If Santorum did become president, he would be tied for Abraham Lincoln as the tallest-ever US president.

Schmitz, according to a LiveScience article, blames the bias toward tall candidates on "caveman" instincts. The hypothesis is that evolutionary psychology – "the study of universal human behaviors related to psychological mechanisms that evolved based on ancient humans' interactions with their physical and social environments" – is responsible for a height bias among voters

In other words, taller means stronger, even though physical strength isn't considered much of prerequisite for running a modern nation.

LiveScience says ...

To test their theory, the authors asked 467 U.S. and international students from both public and private schools in the United States to describe and draw a "typical citizen" and an "ideal national leader." They were then asked to draw the citizen and leader meeting each other. The findings showed that 64 percent of the participants drew the leader as taller than the citizen.

In a second study, the researchers asked participants to complete a questionnaire about their height and perceptions of their own leadership characteristics. For example, the participants rated how likely they would be to run for an elected position in an organization on a four-point scale. The results showed that the taller participants were more likely to think of themselves as capable leaders and were more likely to express an interest in pursuing a leadership position.

What does US history show? Yes, a tendancy toward the tall guy. But less than what the research suggests.

You can see a good statistical breakdown of the heights of US presidents through history here. And the numbers indicate that when two major US parties compete, 53 percent of the time the taller candidate wins. So, the odds are slightly better than a coin flip.

But those winners are based on the results of the electoral college. The taller candidate preference is stronger when measured by the pure popular vote, with the taller candidate winning 59 percent of the time. And eight percent of the time, the two candidates have been the same height.

Of course, there have been plenty of exceptions in recent years. Sen. John Kerry (6 foot 4 inches) and Al Gore (6 foot 1 inch) both lost to a shorter George W. Bush (5 foot 11.5 inches). And Jimmy Carter (5 foot 9.5 inches) towered over Ronald Reagan (6 foot 1 inch) at the polls in 1980.

Who knew, that politics, like football, was such a Game of Inches?

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