The human mind is amazing in it’s abilities to find patterns. We have a deep-seated need for predictability, to spot the “trend” in the past to predict the future. This is especially true in any form of contest, where we cheerfully toss aside the “any given Sunday” principle from football (that states that any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday, regardless of what the statistics say) and try to see what *ought* to happen.
This is especially true in politics, especially presidential politics. I’ve discerned two trends in presidential elections, though, that I think might be germane.
The first is this: most of the time, Americans will choose to vote someone coming from an executive position over someone with a legislative background. Going back 72 years:
1932: Governor Roosevelt defeats President Hoover
1936: President Roosevelt defeats Governor Landon
1940: President Roosevelt defeats private executive Wilkie
1944: President Roosevelt defeats Governor Dewey
1948: President Truman defeats Governor Dewey
1952: War hero General Eisenhower defeats Governor Stevenson
1956: President Eisenhower defeats Governor Stevenson
1960: Senator Kennedy defeats Vice-President Nixon
1964: President Johnson defeats Senator Goldwater
1968: (former) Vice-President Nixon defeats Vice-President Humphrey
1972: President Nixon defeats Senator McGovern
1976: Governor Carter defeats President Ford
1980: Governor Reagan defeats President Carter
1984: President Reagan defeats (former) Vice-President Mondale
1988: Vice-President Bush defeats Governor Dukakis
1992: Governor Clinton defeats President Bush
1996: President Clinton defeats Senator Dole
2000: Governor Bush defeats Vice-President Gore
And that brings us to 2004: President Bush versus Senator Kerry. As shown above, only once has a Senator won the presidency, and that was by defeating a sitting Vice-President. Only governors have beaten incumbent presidents.
And that election – 1960 – brings up another trend. When given the chance, Americans will choose the happy candidate over the angry one, the likable one over the stern. That was reinforced in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1992, 1996, and 2000. Each time the candidate who came across as more affable and relaxed defeated the somber, angry, or grim candidate. Bob Dole has a wonderful sense of humor, but he let himself be portrayed as more mean-spirited than genial in 1996, and that was a large element in his defeat.
Both these trends favor the re-election of President Bush over Senator Kerry. Of course, events can change this, and the “Any given Sunday” principle still applies. The race may not always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet.
Author’s Note: Corrected to change McCarthy to Humprhey in 1968. My apologies for the brain fart, and thanks to JFH for catching it.
And later corrected to give Humphrey his due as sitting Vice-President in 1968. Thanks, McGehee. In my defense, I was barely 1 year old when that election was held.