What Does Height Have to Do with the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election?

role of candidate's height in US preidential election in 2020
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It wouldn’t be a tall claim to say that Americans elect tall people. Apparently, the height of a U.S. president plays some role in getting elected, going by data.

Donald Trump, who is 6′ 3″, is the 3rd tallest President in U.S. history. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was 6 foot 1 inch. 

Abraham Lincoln was the tallest President, towering over his peers at 6 feet 4 inches. The first President, George Washington, was 6 foot 2 inches tall. The shortest President was James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”. He was 5’ 4”. 

Except for Obama, all the American Presidents have been white men. According to the U.S. National Health Statistics Reports (2018), the average height of a white American man over 20 years of age is about 177 cm, or about 5 feet 9 inches. 

The U.S. Presidents in Height Order

Data stories from elections bring out many insights. Given that there have been 45 Presidents in the U.S. since 1792, can you guess how many were above average height? 

About 58 percent of them, or about 3 out of 5 men who served as President were above average height! 

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Interestingly, every single President in the past 100 years (1920-2020) has been of average or above-average height. 

The shortest among them was Jimmy Carter, who was exactly of average height – 5’ 9”. A recent study pointed out that it has been 118 years since the U.S. elected someone of below-average height.

In the past 100 years, the average President’s height has been 183.75 cm or just about 6 feet. What’s even more interesting is that the Democrat Presidents are about 1 cm taller than their Republican counterparts. But what do these height measurements prove?

Why does the height of the US Presidents even matter?

A 2013 paper on Presidential heights shows that candidates who were taller than their opponents received more popular votes. Taller presidents were also more likely to be reelected.

In the past 100 years spanning 25 elections, Americans voted for the taller man about 3 out of 4 times. In the past 100 years, winners are on average 3.81 centimeters taller than their opponents. 

height of US presidential candidates
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Charted with Gramex Charts

According to the study in The Leadership Quarterly, “The advantage of taller candidates is potentially explained by perceptions associated with height: taller presidents are rated by experts as ‘greater’, and having more leadership and communication skills.”

The visualization above shows us that the general trend is that it is indeed the taller ones who get elected. 

There have been instances of shorter men winning in the recent past of course — George Bush won twice against taller opponents. Obama won once against a taller opponent (but he was up for reelection).

Now the question is, will Joe Biden, who is shorter than Donald Trump by 8 cm, be among the outliers? Let’s wait and find out!

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