Size matters: why history suggests Donald Trump is heading for the White House
No presidential candidate in living memory has generated quite as much media attention as Donald Trump. His controversial campaign has been slammed by many high profile figures, with Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton labelling him “racist and dangerous”. But millions of Americans have endorsed Trump and his larger-than-life personality. He stormed to victory in the Republican nominations and now his presidency is a very real possibility.
Love him or loathe him, history suggests he’s already got one foot through the White House’s front door. Why? Because he is seven inches taller than rival Hillary Clinton. It’s a strange phenomenon, but researchers believe there is a genuine correlation between a candidate’s height and how many votes they receive.
The White House’s tall history
At 6ft 4in, Abraham Lincoln was the tallest US president in history. He would have towered above the incumbent Barack Obama, but even he is around 3 inches taller than the average American. At 6ft 2in, Trump would become one of the tallest men to have occupied the White House.
Predicting an election victory by height alone may seem ludicrous, but a recent study found that taller candidates do indeed tend to receive more votes. In fact, the taller candidate has won the popular vote in more than two-thirds of US elections since 1950.
The phenomenon has not gone unnoticed. In the run-up to the 2008 election, an article headlined “McCain’s tiny problem” was published by the Guardian which discussed how the Arizona senator’s small stature gave him a disadvantage against the taller Obama – an argument which was ultimately proved right.
It’s not just a coincidence – Americans really want to know how their candidates measure up. This time around, questions about the height of White House hopefuls have been among the most popular candidate-related queries according to Google.
Why do Americans want a tall leader?
The answer may lie in evolutionary psychology. Human behaviour is not only a result of nurture and environment, but also of psychological mechanisms dating back to our ancestors. In the modern context it may seem irrational, but our ancestors considered taller men to be formidable leaders who, as hunters and warriors, were paramount to survival.
This extends to the animal world, where the relationship between greater size and higher social rank is found in a range of species including our closest relatives. Sized-based hierarchies are found in bonobo, chimpanzee and gorilla colonies and scientists believe this is just one of the many primal instincts we share.
Beyond the race for the White House, there is significant evidence to suggest tall people are more successful than short people. A study found that the average person considers taller men and women to be more dominant, healthy and intelligent. They are also more likely to be successful in applying for jobs and even earn more money on average.
Height is becoming such an important aspect of many people’s lives that limb lengthening surgery has become normalised. This type of body enhancement is particularly popular with athletes seeking a longer stride and models hoping to grow into their industry’s target height range.
Such measures are not always necessary – history proves that not all high achievers are giants among men. Sir Richard Branson has built his multinational Virgin empire, becoming a billionaire in the process, despite being just short of 5ft 9in. Winston Churchill was famed for his short stature yet became one of the most influential British leaders of all time. And at just over 5ft 5in, Martin Luther King remains one of the most quoted activists of all time.
This should give Hillary Clinton supporters cause for some optimism. It’s also worth considering the fact that Clinton is the first female to run for presidency – the height advantage has only been tested on male candidates before. There is no evidence to suggest the correlation remains true when candidates of opposite sex compete against each other. But, if the American public votes in a similar manner to previous years, Trump’s extra inches will give him the victory.