CWU News

CWU Professor Says a Tall Person Likely to Win the White House This Year

Many people are wondering why political newcomer—entrepreneur Donald Trump has become the Republican front-runner in the 2016 presidential race. A Central Washington University biological sciences professor may have the answer: Trump’s height.

Lixing Sun has written, “When Democracy Meets the Ghost of Evolution: Why Short Presidents Have Vanished,” an article comparing the heights of presidents. This year marks the 30th time since 1900 that voters have cast presidential ballots. Sun’s article notes that, in presidential campaigns between the two major parties during the period, the taller candidate has won 69 percent of the time.

Sun points out that height may have added significance because of increasing media scrutiny, beginning with the use of images, especially after the inception of televised debates in 1960, which has led to—and allowed for—increased public analysis of the candidates’ physical attributes.

“Behavioral economists will point to the halo effect, where a perceived strength—here, the height of a candidate—eclipses all weaknesses,” said Sun, who added that evolution could be the reason for such bias. “Research shows that, from insects to mammals, body size can predict winners when resources and mates are at stakes. Even in modern tribal societies, tall men are still preferred as chiefs.”

Sun determined that, of presidents elected before 1900, 11 of 20 were shorter than five feet nine inches tall. Since then, with the exception of William McKinley, who was five feet seven inches, 18 of the 19 president’s have been above that threshold. 

Trump is six feet two inches, which happens to be the same height as Bill Clinton, and, if he ultimately wins the election, would tie him as the fourth tallest president in history. That list also includes the nation’s first Commander in Chief, George Washington.

Barack Obama, who is six feet one inch, defeated both the smaller John McCain, five feet eight inches, and Mitt Romney, who is only half-an-inch taller, in his successful White House bids. Height is not always the deciding factor, as George W. Bush won against a pair of taller rivals in Al Gore, six feet one inch, and John Kerry, six feet four inches. Had Kerry won, he would have tied Abraham Lincoln as the nation’s tallest president.

The 2016 Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton is five feet seven inches in height, which would make her taller than three former presidents, including James Madison who, at just five feet four inches, has been the nation’s most diminutive leader. However, Sun states that whether height plays a role in the voters’ minds when it pertains to women presidential contenders is not known at this point, simply because of there have been so few female candidates in past years.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487,

February 23, 2016