Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Presidential Elections: An Observation

     The election-touts are thick on the ground these days. Each of them has a gimmick. None of them has proved particularly foresighted in the past. In the usual case, the best prediction that can be made of an upcoming contest for the White House is “We’ll have to wait and see.”


     (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

     Certain patterns in presidential contests since the Civil War are available for anyone to note. One that struck me rather powerfully some years ago – and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s noticed – is the predictive power of the lengths of the candidates’ last names. First, the twenty-four presidential elections subsequent to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

  • 1868: Grant defeated Seymour
  • 1872: Grant defeated Hendricks
  • 1876: Hayes defeated Tilden
  • 1880: Garfield defeated Hancock
  • 1884: Cleveland defeated Blaine
  • 1888: Harrison defeated Cleveland
  • 1892: Cleveland defeated Harrison
  • 1896: McKinley defeated Bryan
  • 1900: McKinley defeated Bryan
  • 1904: Roosevelt defeated Parker
  • 1908: Taft defeated Bryan
  • 1912: Wilson defeated Taft
  • 1916: Wilson defeated Hughes
  • 1920: Harding defeated Cox
  • 1924: Coolidge defeated Davis
  • 1928: Hoover defeated Smith
  • 1932: Roosevelt defeated Hoover
  • 1936: Roosevelt defeated Landon
  • 1940: Roosevelt defeated Willkie
  • 1944: Roosevelt defeated Dewey
  • 1948: Truman defeated Dewey
  • 1952: Eisenhower defeated Stevenson
  • 1956: Eisenhower defeated Stevenson
  • 1960: Kennedy defeated Nixon

     So we can see that prior to 1964, Americans tended to prefer the major-party candidate with the longer last name. Note the dominance of the candidate with the longer last name during those years: in those years, the candidate with the longer last name prevailed eighteen out of twenty-four times.

     Now begins the post-JFK-assassination regime. Here are the contestants:

  • 1964: Johnson defeated Goldwater
  • 1968: Nixon defeated Humphrey
  • 1972: Nixon defeated McGovern
  • 1976: Carter defeated Ford
  • 1980: Reagan defeated Carter
  • 1984: Reagan defeated Mondale
  • 1988: Bush defeated Dukakis
  • 1992: Clinton defeated Bush
  • 1996: Clinton defeated Dole
  • 2000: Bush defeated Gore
  • 2004: Bush defeated Kerry
  • 2008: Obama defeated McCain
  • 2012: Obama defeated Romney
  • 2016: Trump defeated Clinton

     The 1976 and 1992 elections were exceptional ones. In 1976, the incumbent had never before even run for president or vice-president, and had been selected by a badly beleaguered president soon to be impeached (Richard Nixon) to replace a disgraced vice-president (Spiro Agnew). In 1992, the incumbent had been badly damaged by having broken a key promise from his 1988 campaign (i.e., not to raise taxes). Of the other elections after the Kennedy assassination, victory went to the candidate with the shorter (or equally short) last name eleven out of twelve times.

     What accounts for the change in preference? Unclear. It might have had something to do with the space race, or perhaps with the Vietnam War. Alternately, it’s been proposed that voters are suffering from an epidemic of writer’s cramp, but surely in an age of machine voting that could be discounted. Research must continue. But whatever the cause, it’s plain that dominance has passed to the man with the shorter name.

     SO! Could it be that the Democrats’ otherwise inexplicable nomination of a demonstrably corrupt, deceitful, senile old man was founded on his short last name – no longer than that of his opponent? I’m not the only one who can count, and what other explanation is there for the Democrats’ decision to run a doddering old fool who’s afraid to face unscripted questions from a live audience?


Linda Fox said...

Oh, Fran! You are really reaching!

daniel_day said...

So you're saying it's really 50-50 this time, since their names are of equal numbers of letters?

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) Of course not, Dan! With that predictor tied, we must look at other historically predictive factors, such as the candidates' respective heights, how much hair they have, and what color ties they prefer. Expect President Trump to wear a red tie; that's his preference for serious encounters. But accomplishments in office? Fidelity to promises? A record for truthfulness? Would the Dems have nominated Biden if any of those things mattered?

YIH said...

What killed (politically) Bush 41 wasn't really "read my lips - no new taxes" but something that started rolling as Reagan was winding up his Presidency; Namely the bursting of the S&L bubble and the collapse of the economy due to that (and the spike of unemployment post-Gulf War) the implosion of Ross Perot's candidacy paved the way for Clinton's "I feel your pain" slogan (something that Hillary ignored - much to her chagrin).