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Is Hillary Too Short To Beat Trump?

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Throughout history, the taller candidate has had an advantage in presidential elections. Why is that? Does the advantage of taller stature make it more difficult for women to win national elections given that any female candidate will likely be shorter than all of the male candidates?

Right off the bat, it is worth mentioning that women do win elections for the highest office in many countries around the globe from Israel, to Germany, from Indonesia to Pakistan, from Malawi to Liberia, and from Brazil to Argentina. None of these women were unusually tall.

The Height Advantage As Dominance Signaling
Whatever about the rest of the world, height is an advantage in US presidential elections, although it is not nearly so big a factor as often claimed in popular literature. Early in US history, height may not have been very salient for the electorate because they were unlikely to see the candidates in person and there were few illustrations that presented candidates in a format allowing their heights to be compared.

Illustrated newspapers emerged in the middle of the 19th century and, by the end of the century, it is likely that much of the electorate would have been exposed to photographic representations of leading candidates and would have some impression of their height relative to other people depicted in newspaper illustrations.

For the 29 elections between 1900-2012, the taller candidate won 19 of the contests whereas the shorter candidate won 9 (with Bill Clinton and G.H.W. Bush tying at 6'2'' and being excluded, based on a Wikipedia compilation that adds the totals incorrectly). This looks like a big advantage for the taller candidate but it is just short of conventional statistical significance (5 percent probability of error).

Assuming that the difference is real, and not just statistical noise, why might being taller be an advantage? Evolutionary psychologists believe that greater masculine height is an evolved dominance signal, so that taller people enjoy unearned social advantages.

Developmental Advantages of Being Tall
Social psychologists, economists, and others have assembled plenty of evidence that being tall is a social advantage, particularly for men whose height contributes more to perceptions of sexual attractiveness. Moreover, if taller people are perceived as healthier, this might make them more desirable as leaders.

Tall people are better paid and attain higher social status. Political economists conclude that the income advantage from stature is due to the fact that taller people tend to be more intelligent (reflecting better nutrition at all phases of development) and that "it is cognitive ability rather than height that is rewarded in the labor market." Of course, this is true for women as well as men.

Handicapping a Clinton Victory
Based on height differences of past presidential candidates in races since 1900, Clinton's chances of victory are no better than one in three. Yet, we do not know whether the electorate makes an appropriate allowance for the fact that women are shorter, on average. Although there are far fewer female politicians in America compared to other developed countries, being female does not appear to work against electoral success and many of the most popular politicians are women.

Another important caveat is that stature as such may be relatively unimportant. The research on hiring and salaries finds that tall people are better paid because they tend to be more intelligent. If the election is an intelligence test, Clinton (5'7'') does not have much to fear from Trump (6'3'') who lurches from one damaging off-the-cuff mistake to the next.