A Generational Analysis of the Potential 2016 Presidential Candidates

Several years ago, William Strauss and Neil Howe presented a theory on generational cycles in American history. Without going into that theory in depth, suffice to say I have done an analysis of the current crop of suspected candidates for President of the United States.

Strauss and Howe have identified 15 generational “cohorts” in the history of the US. A cohort is one generation which spans, roughly, 20 years, and is comprised of members who share certain characteristics that either mold the times are or molded by them. Those cohorts are:

Awakening 1701–1723
Liberty 1724–1741
Republican 1742–1766
Compromise 1767–1791
Transcendental 1792–1821
Gilded 1822–1842
Progressive 1843–1859
Missionary 1860–1882
Lost 1883–1900
G.I. 1901–1924
Silent 1925–1942
Boom 1943–1960
Generation X 1961–1981
Millennial 1982–2004
Homeland 2005-Present

By identifying each US President with his cohort, an interesting pattern emerges.

PresGen1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of 43 individuals who have been President, with the title changing hands 43 times (remember Cleveland’s terms were nonconsecutive), only twice has the new president not been of the same or the succeeding generation. That is to say, presidential succession in the US has been generationally progressive with younger generation taking over from older ones, except twice.

The first was Zachary Taylor, an older Compromise generation member who was elected after James K. Polk, a member of the Transcendental cohort. But Polk was forced to accept an agreement to only serve one term in order to secure nomination and was the country’s first “Dark Horse” presidential candidate. Taylor was not late, Polk was early.

The other also involved the Transcendentals and the Compromise generations. Franklin Pierce, Transcendental, was followed by Compromise member, James Buchanan. Buchanan’s successors were Abraham Lincoln, and the crisis that he did little to prevent.

My thesis then, is that the next President is most likely to be a member of the Generation X cohort. Some chance exists that Barack Obama was “early” like Polk, but as he was elected, I think less likely. Also possible that the next President could be a Millennial, the oldest members of which are just old enough to be eligible, but there are no Millennial in the list of probable candidates, at least not yet.

Looking at all 57 US Presidential elections, there are somethings we need to be clear on.

First, it is not at all certain that a candidate from a younger cohort will beat an older one. The older generational candidate has prevailed in 14 elections or just over 50% of generational challenges and preserved the older Generation’s place in every case but the two mentioned where they managed to push the younger generation out.

The difference has been that the younger generation prevails, except for those one election, Buchanan (Taylor died in office and was replaced by his Transcendental VP, Millard Fillmore, what’s more he ran against another Compromise cohort Candidate, Lewis Cass), once they have had a member attain the Presidency. The younger generation has successfully defended the White House from a bid by the older generation in 13 other generationally contested elections–slightly less than 50%. One of those to restore Transcendentals when Lincoln succeeded Buchanan (he defeated the Compromise cohort member Breckenridge).

In addition, two Presidents defeated challengers that were two generations different than themselves. First the Missionary FDR defeated the G.I. Thomas Dewey in 1944 (same Dewey that lost to Lost President Truman in 1948). And then Barack Obama, the first Gen X President, took office against Silent cohort member John McCain in 2008.

The Silent generation is the only cohort that has not had an occupant of the White House, though they have lost three contests, Reagan v. Mondale (1984) and Bush v. Dukakis (1988) were the other two.PresGen2

The figures:

Number of US Presidential elections to date: 57
Number of US Presidential elections between candidates of the same generation: 30
Number of Presidential elections won by an older generation candidate: 14 *
Number of Presidential elections won by the younger generation candidate: 13 **

*
Adams v. Jefferson (1796)
Buchanan v. Fremont (1856)
McKinley v. Bryan (1896, 1900) –First Progressive
Taft v. Bryan (1908)
Wilson v. Hughes (1916)
Harding v. Cox (1920)
Roosevelt v. Landon (1936)
Roosevelt v. Willkie (1940)
Roosevelt v. Dewey (1944)
Truman v. Dewey (1948)
Reagan v. Mondale (1984)
Bush v. Dukakis (1988)

**
Jefferson v. Adams (1800) –First Republican
Jefferson v. Pinckney (1804)
Madison v. Pinckney (1808)
Monroe v. J. Q. Adams (1820)
Polk v. Clay (1844) –First Transcendental
Pierce v. Scott (1852)
Lincoln v. McClellan (1864)
Grant v.Seymour (1868) –First Gilded
Grant v. Greeley (1872) –Greeley died during the election.
Hayes v. Tilden (1876)
Clinton v. Bush (1992) –First Boom
Clinton v. Dole (1996)
Obama v. McCain (2008) –First Gen X
Obama v. Romney (2012)

Extra: Presidents who inherited office and never stood for election:
John Tyler -1841
Andrew Johnson -1865
Chester Arthur -1881
Gerald R. Ford -1974 (was not on the ticket as Vice President–appointed after the resignation of Spiro Agnew)

The list of current possible Democrat candidates:

Bernie Sanders b. 1941
Joe Biden b. 1942
Ed Rendell b. 1944
Jim Webb b. 1946
Hillary Rodham Clinton b. 1947
Jeanne Shaheen b. 1947
Al Franken b. 1951
Luis Gutiérrez b. 1953
Mark Warner b. 1954
Brian Schweitzer b. 1955
Jay Nixon b. 1956
Andrew Cuomo b. 1957
Janet Napolitano b. 1957
Maggie Hassan b. 1958
Tim Kaine b. 1958
Rahm Emanuel b. 1959
Amy Klobuchar b. 1960
George Clooney b. 1961
Tammy Baldwin b. 1962
Martin O’Malley b. 1963
Steve Bullock b. 1966

Eliminating all but the Gen Xers, we get (D):

George Clooney–Actor
Tammy Baldwin–US Senator (WI)
Martin O’Malley–Gov. Maryland
Steve Bullock–Gov Montana

The list of current possible Republican candidates:

Peter King b. 1944
George Pataki b. 1945
Herman Cain b. 1945
Donald Trump b. 1946
John R. Bolton b. 1948
Jim Gilmore b. 1949
Mitch Daniels b. 1949
Rick Perry b. 1950
Ben Carson b. 1951
John Kasich b. 1952
Rick Scott b. 1952
Jeb Bush b. 1953
Carly Fiorina b. 1954
Lindsey Graham b. 1955
Mike Huckabee b. 1955
Michele Bachmann b. 1956
Bob Ehrlich b. 1957
Rick Santorum b. 1958
Rick Snyder b. 1958
Mike Pence b. 1959
Susana Martinez b. 1959
Chris Christie b. 1962
Rand Paul b. 1963
Sarah Palin b. 1964
Scott Walker b. 1967
Ted Cruz b. 1970
Bobby Jindal b. 1971
Marco Rubio b. 1971

The Gen Xers (R):

Chris Christie–Gov. New jersey
Rand Paul–US Senator (KY)
Sarah Palin–Former Gov. Alaska
Scott Walker–Gov. Wisconsin
Ted Cruz–US Senator (TX)
Bobby Jindal–Gov. Louisiana
Marco Rubio–US Senator (FL)

This is not to say that either party would not nominate anyone from the list, but historically speaking, the ones identified are the ones with the best chance.

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