Does the taller guy always win?

  We’re all guilty of repeating myths and politicians of all colours are more guilty than most.

Everything from smaller class sizes to weekend death rates in NHS hospitals are subject to some element of exaggeration. Sometimes these myths take hold and become the generally accepted view.

One of my favourite radio programmes More Or Less brilliantly debunks some of these by looking carefully at the statistics behind press releases, speeches and news items.

But I’m also guilty of repeating a myth beloved of politicos – that height is a decisive factor in US presidential elections.

Yes, I would knowingly tell friends, you’ll be elected president if you’re tall and the more statuesque candidate usually wins the White House.

This is obviously because of some long-hidden biological preference we have for tall people – we recognise height and we automatically think ‘leader’.

If only it were this simple – but a quick internet search reveals a far more complex truth. Height appears to matter, but not as much as you might think.

Since 1900 the taller man has won the presidency 19 times – which is impressive – but the littler guy has still racked up eight victories. In two elections both candidates were the same height.

Last time out in 2012, Barack Obama (6ft 1) beat Mitt Romney who is half an inch taller. John Kerry at 6ft 4 towered over GW Bush (5ft 11) but still lost in 2004.

And there’s no real evidence that US presidents are particularly tall. They are getting taller, but then so is everyone else. Abraham Lincoln was freakishly tall for the mid 19th century coming in at (6ft 4) but many US occupants of the White House have been below average height.

The same applies to world leaders. Vladimir Putin, the Russian ideal of a strong leader, measures in at a diminutive 5ft 7 while Angela Merkel – one of the most powerful figures at any G8 summit, is among the smallest at 5ft 5. 

Our own PM is 6ft 1, but I suspect victories over Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband (both 5ft 11) had more to do with factors relating to economic competency rather than height. 

Relative size may have worked more when more of us saw our politicians in person, perhaps at town hall meetings or standing on soapboxes, but in an age of carefully-staged TV debates I’d argue height isn’t as much of a factor, certainly not a decisive one.

And the welcome feminisation of politics means our leaders may start to get shorter. Women, after all, still tend to be smaller than men.

And on that note, how do the current front runners for the White House compare? Hilary and Bernie don’t trouble six feet while current front runner Donald Trump towers (geddit?) over them at 6ft 3.

However, if I were a Democrat strategist I wouldn’t let relative height worry me too much.

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