In the 20th and 21st centuries there has been a combined total of 6 Senators who have ascended to the Presidency. Harding, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Obama. Only 1, Harding in 1920, breaks the trend detailed below without caveat.
My argument is that for whatever reason, modern Americans don’t like Senators as Presidents. Specifically, when they’re old.
We can cross off Truman and Johnson, who assumed the office after FDR & JFK died. Both Kennedy and Obama were young and energetic.
Nixon would be an anomaly if it were not for the fact he ran against two old Senators. Let’s look at the scorecard of those who meet our criteria:
There’s an unavoidable conclusion, the only time Senators win is against other Senators! And really most of the examples come from the last 60 years. Without fail no Senator over that timespan has won the Presidency unless they faced another old Senator.
If you weighted this data set for both recency and % match of the old Senator profile, it would be even more damning.
There are degrees to these inputs. Nixon was only 4 years older than Kennedy in 1960, but he sure seemed older and more Senatorial. Same dynamic with Nixon and Humphrey in 1968 but reversed. Gore was only 52, but ran against a Governor. Both Nixon and Jonhson have wins as incumbents, which materially changes the equation.
My guess here is that Americans want leaders who take action, not professorial or gladhadding political figures. This isn’t a political argument, it’s an observation relevant to this year’s election. With a pandemic and an incumbent outside the tradtional mold, this rule may be voided.
First published on May 23, 2020