Candidate height and perception of leadership

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Candidate height and perception of leadership

#1 Post by highdesert » Wed Jul 17, 2019 10:29 am

When a 5'9" political science professor (that would be me) talks with his 6'7" co-author (that would be Dave Schmitz), it is not surprising that the conversation can turn to the “weird” fact that the taller candidate has won the popular vote in 67% of all U.S. presidential elections. While interesting water cooler conversation and often a tidbit dispensed by prognosticating political pundits, this oddity seems to be more than a statistical fluke and worthy of some explanation.

But first, how do our current contenders measure up? Barack Obama is 6'1", and challenger Mitt Romney is 6’2”. Our argument, which is grounded in evolutionary theory, does not say that Romney will win because he is the tallest candidate. It suggests that we voters prefer our leaders in general to be tall. And the fact that both of these candidates are taller than the average U.S. male citizen, who is my size at 5'9", is completely consistent with this argument. Also consistent with this argument is the fact that Romney’s major Republican challengers Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul each are 6'0" or taller.

So why would we prefer taller leaders? Our explanation relies on evolutionary psychology, which suggests that human behavior is the result of not only people's environment, such as things they learn from their parents, but also long-term evolutionary forces, such as psychological mechanisms that evolved to solve our ancestors' problems regarding survival and reproduction. Although it may seem irrational in the modern context, we may prefer taller leaders because our ancestors who selected more formidable allies (height is a common cue for physical formidability) were more likely to survive and pass on related genes in their violent environment. In other words, when our ancestors had a big, strong friend who would help them acquire and protect resources (e.g., food, shelter, and territory), they had a relative advantage in terms of living longer and producing more children.

Studies of all kinds of animals show that greater physical size and higher social rank go together. This relationship has been found in a wide range of nonhuman animals, from our closest relatives, chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons, to African elephants, Red Deer, and even to varieties of birds and fish.

In the realm of human animals, anthropologists measuring skeletons in pre-classical Greek and ancient Mayan graves found a clear association between greater physical stature and "political control" (those anthropologists have all the fun). Further, modern humans tend to perceive individuals with greater authority status as taller than they actually are and, conversely, to perceive taller individuals as having higher professional status. (This study was based on rating professors, and yes, as an average-height professor, this worries me a little). Research in a variety of countries also shows, among other advantages, that taller males make more money and get more job promotions. And finally, in politics specifically, winners of elections are perceived as being taller after than before the election, while losers suffer yet another indignity and are perceived as shorter. ... -elections

We focus on issues among candidates, but voters decide based on perceptions and non verbals. In presidential debates, the candidates walk out and shake hands and any difference in height is quickly apparent. Our candidates stand at podiums, perceived to be more action oriented than sitting but it also is a reminder of height differences. It's not right but that's one way that people perceive leadership. ... ted_States
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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Re: Candidate height and perception of leadership

#2 Post by Stiff » Wed Jul 17, 2019 12:41 pm

It's easier to look up to a taller candidate.

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