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We Need a Caveman Candidate

When it comes to voter preference, the issues count. But some may pull the handle for a more primal reason: Physical fitness and stature against an opponent.

Possibly hailing from our caveman instincts to ensure survival, two researchers suggest that physical formidability affects preference in political leadership. and J. David Schmitz Evolutionary psychologist Gregg R. Murray says, "Some traits and instincts that may have been acquired through evolution continue to manifest themselves in modern life, seemingly irrationally. A near-universal fear of snakes and a preference for unhealthy fatty foods likely evolved from when snakes were a common threat and caloric intake was uncertain. We believe similar traits exist in politics."

His interest in the physical strength of political leaders stems from the popular observation that taller candidates have won 58% percent of US presidential elections between 1789 and 2008, a trend known as the "presidential height index" by political pundits. In order to test this theory, Murray and his co-researcher J. David Schmitz first reviewed the literature to establish concepts of the "big man" in tribal leadership of ancient societies, as well as the impact of physical strength on rank and status in the animal kingdom. They then asked students to describe and draw a figure which represented their concept of a "typical citizen" and an "ideal national leader" before being asked to draw both figures together. The results showed that 64% of them drew the leader as taller than the citizen.

Murray says, "So while at 6'1" Barack Obama towered over the 5'8" John McCain in 2008, perhaps he'll meet his physical equal in one of the 'big man' governors in the 6'1" Rick Perry or the 6'2" Mitt Romney in November 2012."

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