Presidential Election Winner? Apply the "Law of 14"

Categories: Thoughts

Written By

October 25th, 2008

Forget the polls, the pundits, the politics, the Presidential election is all about the "Law of 14" and Freshness.

This article from Jonathan Rauch in reasononline about who can and cannot win the Presidency, is 5 years old*, but just as valid today as ever. I love quantitative rules applied to non-quantitative situations, and I bet other readers of this blog may as well.

I am a bit worried about injecting politics into our site, but my feeling is that since the Freshness "Law of 14" is all about numbers, we can handle a single post. [Disclaimer: I'm not voting for either McCain or Obama, I've voted Libertarian for the last 20 years.]

Here's a summary of Rauch's "Law of 14", but I'd encourage you to read the entire article:

As every grocer knows, many products have sell-by dates. Bread lasts a day or two, milk maybe a week. Well, presidential aspirants have a sell-by date, too. They last 14 years.[...]

With only one exception since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, no one has been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president. [...]

"Major office" means governorship, Congress, or the mayoralty of a big city: elective posts that, unlike offices such as lieutenant governor or state attorney general, can position their holder as national contender.[...]

Let's handicap this year's race:

  • Obama (4 years after election to Senate in 2004) = Fresh.
  • McCain (26 years since election to Congress in 1982) = Not Fresh.

That indicates a win for Obama.

This is no consolation for the fans of Hillary Clinton. She was Fresh enough to have won this year (8 years since election to the Senate in 2000) or in 2012 were the Republicans to win this year, but a win by Obama this year puts her next likely chance off until 2016 when she will be Not Fresh.

Could Republicans have given themselves a Freshness chance this year? Yes. Mitt Romney (6 years since election to Governor in 2002) was Fresh enough to have won, so was Mike Huckabee (10 years since election to Governor in 1998). Either could be back to win in 2012, only Romney has a chance in 2016.

I know there are other quantitative rules out there about elections. I'd love to hear about them from commenters.

*Updating Rauch's article for the 2004 Presidential race, John Kerry was 20 years since his election to the Senate in 1984, Not Fresh, and a loser.

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