Tall claims? Sense and nonsense about the importance of height of US presidents


According to both the scientific literature and popular media, all one needs to win a US presidential election is to be taller than one's opponent. Yet, such claims are often based on an arbitrary selection of elections, and inadequate statistical analysis. Using data on all presidential elections, we show that height is indeed an important factor in the US presidential elections. Candidates that were taller than their opponents received more popular votes, although they were not significantly more likely to win the actual election. Taller presidents were also more likely to be reelected. In addition, presidents were, on average, much taller than men from the same birth cohort. 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. We conclude that height is an important characteristic in choosing and evaluating political leaders.

In The Leadership Quarterly