Politics, Research

Good Hair and the Presidency

Bernie Sanders has nutty hair. It has long been receding, but the wispy white hair he has left is even more unrestrained than his politics. It leaves one to wonder, how important is good hair to being elected president? I’m sitting in my lab with a depressing lack of promising biochemical data, so I figured I’d tackle this question first, while I wait to take my next timepoint. Therefore, I present my first original Reason Bound research: How important is good hair to being elected president of the United States?

Methods

I wanted to focus on only presidential candidates from the two major parties during the era of TV, so I went no further back than the election of 1960, the year of the first televised presidential debate. That gives us a sample size of 14 elections and 20 candidates. I calculated the ages of each candidate at the time of the election simply based on year of birth, so the age may be off by up to a year.

I subjectively rated candidates’ hair based on the first page of google images returned by “(Candidate’s name) + (year of election)”. I ignored pictures that were especially unflattering or satirical. The rating was made on a 5-point scale, “5” being the best, “1” being the worst. “3” is considered to be neutral, neither hurting nor harming a candidate. I tried to take popular hair styles of the time into consideration. For example, Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis have rather big, corny hair for modern times, but they were fashionable at the time. I remember an episode of SNL from 1976 that characterized Carter as having good hair. I also considered the relative quality of a candidates hair compared to their opponent. For example, Carter’s hair changed little from 1976 to 1980, but running against Ford make him look much better than running against Reagan. I did not consider general physical appearance, just hair in both quantity and quality.

Results

Year Winner Winner’s Age Winner’s Hair Loser Loser’s Age Loser’s Hair
2012 Obama 51 3 Romney 65 5
2008 Obama 47 3 McCain 72 1
2004 Bush 58 3 Kerry 61 5
2000 Bush 54 3 Gore 52 4
1996 Clinton 50 4 Dole 73 2
1992 Clinton 46 4 Bush 68 2
1988 Bush 64 3 Dukakis 55 5
1984 Reagan 73 5 Mondale 56 4
1980 Reagan 69 5 Carter 56 4
1976 Carter 52 5 Ford 63 2
1972 Nixon 59 3 McGovern 50 3
1968 Nixon 55 3 Humphrey 57 2
1964 LBJ 56 2 Goldwater 55 3
1960 Kennedy 43 5 Nixon 47 4

The first thing I noticed is that the losers had a much more diverse range of hair quality. Losers ranged from excellent to poor, while the winners tended to be more middle of the road. Winners and losers had a standard deviation of 1.01 and 1.33 respectively.

If we look simply at the average hair rating of winners v. losers, there appears to be the slightest of correlations in favor of good hair. Error bars reflect standard errors. This slight edge is maintained if I control for incumbency by removing incumbent presidents or men who had previously run for president.

Hair Chart

If we look at hair differential, we see a similar, though insignificant, edge to good hair. The guy with better hair won 8 times and lost 6 times. Whether or not the guy with better hair won also appears to be random. There doesn’t appear to be a time when hair was more important than others.

Hair Diff

Of course, hair quality is influenced strongly by age, but is a difficult factor to control for. When plotted against each other, (below) You see what you might expect in the general population. Older men tend to lose hair and style, with the exception of a lucky minority that keep great hair into their 80’s.

Hair Age

If we look at age as a simple predictor of success, we find a much stronger correlation than hair.

Age Chart

Discussion

Is good hair an advantage in presidential campaigns? Maybe a little. It can’t hurt. However, being younger than your opponent is a much bigger advantage. Good hair may simply be one way of judging age, or it may simply correlate with voters’ independent judgment of age.

Of course, the sample size is much too small, and the external factors much too large and consequential to draw conclusions from any analysis like this. Even more importantly, they are based on one asshole’s subjective opinion of hair quality.

As a Bernie Sanders fan, I find these data a bit disappointing. Bernie is fighting against the grain, both in terms of hair and age. Bernie is 73, and I would have rated his hair a 1. It doesn’t help that Hillary Clinton and virtually all of the many GOP candidates have pretty good hair.

Future Directions

I would like to perform a similar analysis for primary campaigns and collect a larger data set of hair ratings from voters. However, you’ll have to pay me to do that crap. Back to chemistry!

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