A Sinister Alternative to Polls of the 2020 Democratic Primary

Pollsters are working furiously to tell us who leads the pack when it comes to Democrats that are considering a presidential run in 2020. But this far out, their predictions are abysmally inaccurate, if not misleading. Most voters aren’t paying attention and are more likely to give the nod to the person with the highest name recognition—which explains why Biden and Sanders generally come in at #1 and #2.

If you really want to know who is most likely to become the nominee, Keith Humphreys goes where other pundits fear to tread and proclaims that Beto O’Rourke has a “towering advantage in the 2020 Democratic primary.” As a scientist, Humphreys doesn’t rely on inaccurate polling to make that prediction.

Voters like to think that they rationally assess political candidates entirely based upon policy positions, character and abilities. But more-primitive forces also shape political judgments, including a bias in favor of taller candidates. At a height of 6 feet 4 inches, O’Rourke stands (sorry couldn’t resist) to benefit.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, no major political party has nominated a shorter-than-average man for president…And over the course of U.S. history, the taller presidential nominee has won the popular vote two-thirds of the time.

There you have it. Historical data tells us that the tallest man usually wins.

But Humphreys acknowledges the problem with using this data point in 2020: “there are far, far too few data points to draw any conclusions about height and female nominees…”

For those of you who simply must know who is leading the pack among all of the potential candidates, I have another sure-fire data point that is an even better predictor. By way of introduction, I’d ask you to consider what one thing Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all had in common. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with their position on capital gains taxes. Of the last eight presidents, five of them have been left-handed. That is even more astounding when you consider that only 10 percent of the human population shares that trait.

It’s not just recent presidents. The pantheon of famous left-handed people is large—even though the Latin word for the phenomenon is “sinister.” There is even a growing body of scientific evidence that left-handers excel in “divergent thinking, or the ability to generate new ideas from a single principle quickly and effectively.” But then, as a left-hander myself, I’m not biased about any of that at all.

I know that by now you’re all waiting with baited breath to learn what that means for the field of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Drumroll please…the nomination is going to come down to a contest between Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown—both of whom are left-handed. If you add in Humphreys’ data point about height, it’s still pretty much a draw between the two.

There you have it folks. Forget policy positions, charisma, messaging, race, gender, home state advantage and all the rest of the things pundits will be talking about endlessly for the next year and a half. You can also proceed to ignore all polling on the Democratic presidential primary and remain confident that it will eventually come down to a contest between Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker. Or maybe not (but you can still ignore the polls anyway).

I hope you all appreciate my lighter touch as we head into the new year. But time is running out, so please remember that we are in the midst of our annual fundraising drive here at Washington Monthly. Click on the banner below and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar. Thank you!

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .