Every inch matters if you’re hoping to become president.
Fewer than a third of all U.S. presidents have been shorter than the average man, who today is a little over 5-foot-9, even though most of them took office well before the advent of television. What’s more, an analysis of presidential races from 1789 to 2008 from researchers at Texas Tech University found that the taller candidate was elected nearly 60% of the time.
“A preference for taller leaders is a near-universal trait we see in different cultures,” explained J. David Schmitz, who co-authored the 2011 study with political science professor Gregg Murray.
So how do many of our current candidates measure up? Frankly, most come up short.
The majority of U.S. presidents have been at least 5-foot-11, but in the pool of candidates MarketWatch examined, just Donald Trump and Jeb Bush (both of whom are roughly 6-foot-3) were taller than that.
U.S. Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton is 5-foot-7 (she’s only taller than three U.S. presidents; our height figures were rounded) and Carly Fiorina is even less tall, at 5-foot-6, which means she’s only taller than one president. Of course, they are both women — and each is taller than the average woman, at that — so it remains to be seen how gender might play out in this race.
Among the men, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul all stand a mere 5-foot-8; only six presidents — James Madison, Benjamin Harrison, Martin Van Buren, John Adams, William McKinley and John Quincy Adams — have been less than 5-foot-8, and all were president well before the advent of television amped up the visual aspects of politics.
Of course, we say this with a smile, as there are many better ways to size up a candidate than his or her height. Still, you can’t entirely discount the effect that every inch has on voting preference. As the Texas Tech study puts it: “Caveman instincts still play a role in choosing political leaders.”
Note: On the chart, if a person was, for example, 5-foot-9½, we rounded down, making them 5-foot-9; if his or her height cleared that half-inch line, we rounded up.
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