From 1789 to 2016, there have been 58 presidential elections.
In 44 of these, the leading candidates have had names that differ in the number of syllables they possess.
And in those 44 elections, the candidate with more syllables in his name has won 30 times out of 44 -- 68% of the time, in other words.
If a candidate were equally likely to win regardless of whether his name had more syllables than his opponent's, the probability of the candidate with more syllables winning 30 or more times out of 44 elections would be 0.01131442060, that is, about 1%. Click here to compute the probability.
Which by itself means very little, since one can always find coincidences in data, and correlation does not imply causality. On the other hand, social scientists think that results "significant" at a p level of .05 (5%) are worth talking about, so why not talk about this?
Besides, in this case, something more than coincidence may be at work.
First, single-syllable names carry baggage. They are almost always verbs or common nouns, and they often have unpleasant connotations. Consider Clay, Cox (cocks), Bush, Dole, and Gore as examples (Trump is an exception in generally having positive connotations.) In contrast, multi-syllable names are seldom common nouns or verbs. Taylor and Carter are the only multi-syllable presidential names that also function as common nouns or verbs in English, and Carter is but rarely used. Because a multi-syllable name usually has no common associations, it leaves the voter free to associate the name with whatever he likes.
Second, multi-syllable names are generally considered more aristocratic in their cadence. There are obvious exceptions to this rule -- Dukakis, which sounds alien and barbaric to a native English speaker, is the most notable.
People are rarely good judges of their own moods, emotions, and motives. So, if you asked people why they preferred Clinton to Bush or Dole, few would have answered "Because I liked his name better," but that might have been one of the reasons. If Clinton's name had been "Tree" or "Blood", he might still have been preferred to Bush and Dole, but presumably by a lesser margin.
N.B.: The 1824 election was decided in the House of Representatives; the leading candidates (Jackson and Adams), were tied on number of syllables anyway. In the 1888 election Cleveland (2 syl.)had a slight lead in popular votes but lost in electoral votes to Harrison (3 syl.). Tilden (2 syl.) polled more popular votes than Hayes (1 syl.) in the 1876 election, but lost on electoral votes. These two cases net out, so, whether electoral or popular vote is used as the criterion, the results are the same for elections prior to 2016. Hillary Clinton gained a popular vote majority in 2016 but lost the electoral vote, which would make the number of "successes" 29 (instead of 30) if popular vote were the criterion. That would change the probability to 0.02438338295, not a big difference.
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