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Andrea Calo 8th Feb 2008 - 11:28

Betting on the next US president? It’s not a tall order

There is an often-quoted argument that says that the tallest candidate in a US presidential election always – or nearly always – wins.

How convenient is that for anyone who wants to bet on the winner of the 2008 presidential election?

Barack Obama (6’1½”) will beat John McCain (5’7”) – after thrashing Hillary Clinton (only 5’6”) in the Democratic primary contests, and thanking his lucky stars that nailed-on certainty Mitt Romney (6’2”) dropped out of the running early.

Unfortunately for anyone thinking of placing a bet using this theory, or who has already done so, it’s not true.

Since 1888, when Americans seem to have decided that the heights of their heads of state might be something worth writing down, the taller candidate has won in 17 US presidential elections.

The shorter candidate has been voted into the White House on 11 other occasions, and at one election – the 1916 contest between Woodrow Wilson and Charles Hughes – there wasn’t the thickness of a hanging chad between the two.

George W Bush was shorter than Al Gore in 2000 – Democrats might still argue that the taller man won the election – and also John Kerry in 2004.

Bill Clinton was shorter than Bush’s father when he was voted into office in 1992.

So while the taller of the final two presidential candidates is more likely to win the election, it’s no more than a 60 per cent chance.

The best that can be said for the taller-candidate trend is that the loftier man won in all 11 elections between 1928 and 1968 – although four of those were won by the 6’2” Franklin D Roosevelt.

The myth was actually created by the marketing department of a US shoe company to promote “elevator shoes” – shoes with extra-thick insoles that made the wearer appear taller.

The company exaggerated the 1928-1968 run of tall presidents to persuade the American people to equate height with success.


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