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Presidential Greatness and Political Experience

- March 1, 2009

A couple weeks ago, I posted on the new ranking of presidential greatness. As a follow-up, John Balz sent along this short paper. His take-home is that prior political experience has very little to do with presidential greatness:

bq. Overall, there is no evidence that political experience improves the chances of extraordinary presidential performance, and some weak evidence that certain political positions, most importantly U.S. Congressional member, lead to poorer performance. In the end, great presidents are not great simply because they spent their lives in politics and learned important lessons.

And it’s not just members of Congress who perform less well:

bq. Time spent as a mayor, as a member of Congress, a state administrator, or a soldier leads to a lower ranking….The largest of these eff ects is for mayoral service, with each year in office lowering one’s ranking by more than three spots. Since only three mayors ever became president, these findings should be interpreted cautiously. If these results are correct, though, Republican voters did the country a huge service earlier this year by not selecting “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani as their presidential nominee.