We want our big politicians, who have to make big decisions, to be the ‘big men,’ literally speaking. Politicians blessed with height and physical prowess have a greater chance of having a successful career in power than their diminutive rivals, new research claims.

In a U.S.-based study published this week, psychologists suggest this "caveman" political leaning may stem from an evolutionary desire since ancient times for physically dominating leaders who could triumph over their adversaries.

“Some traits and instincts that may have been acquired through evolution continue to manifest themselves in modern life,” Professor Gregg Murray from Texas Tech University, lead author of the report, said.

“A near universal fear of snakes and a preference for fatty foods likely evolved from when snakes were a common threat and caloric intake was uncertain. We believe similar traits exist in politics,” he continued.


Murray’s team asked U.S. college students to draw an ideal leader and ordinary citizen. The majority of students (64 per cent) drew a national leader who was taller than their average citizen. Only 31 per cent sketched a regular Joe as the taller figure.

Murray also learned from the students there was a large association between height and perceived leadership qualities and interest in running for political office.

“Our research and the literature demonstrates that there is a preference for physically formidable leaders that likely reflects an evolved psychological trait, independent of any cultural conditioning,” Murray concluded.

The psychologist’s interest in physical attributes of politicians began after it became known that the taller candidate has won 58 per cent in U.S. presidential elections between 1789 and 2008, a pattern named the “presidential height index.”

By the Numbers

Short leaders:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – 157cm (5'2)

Kim Jong il - 160cm (5'3)

Dmitry Medvedev – 163cm (5'4)

Nicolas Sarkozy - 165cm (5'5)

Silvio Berlusconi - 165cm (5'5)

From history:

Josef Stalin – 165cm (5'5)

Winston Churchill - 168cm (5'6)

Napoleon - 168cm (5'6)

Tall leaders:

Barack Obama – 185cm (6'1)

Stephen Harper – 188cm (6'2)

Bill Clinton– 188cm (6'2)

David Cameron – 185cm (6'1)

From history:

Fidel Castro – 190cm (6'3)

Abraham Lincoln – 193cm (6'4)

Charles de Gaulle – 196cm (6'5)

Peter the Great – 201cm (6'7)

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