There was a debate on one of my social media sites about whether Democrats or Republicans were better at PR, so I decided to write about it.
When it comes to the practice of governing, neither side has irrefutable evidence that they’re better than the other. It should follow, then, that each side should win the same number of elections. They don’t. It seems to me that Republicans win more than half the time, which would mean they are the better PR party. My social media friend disagrees; his claim was that the Democrats are the better PR party.
To test it, I translated this to presidential politics. Presumably, when a party nominates a great candidate, their PR machine will matter less. On the other hand, a truly poor candidate will need a lot of PR to win. So, the question at hand is: Which party has been able to elect bad candidates to the presidency more often?
To find the bad ones, I chose a published historical ranking from the NY Times, because it divided the historians who participated by political leaning. This way, I was able to use the group who identified themselves as slightly conservative leaning (independent).
Since the end of World War II, 12 people have been elected president. Eliminating Barack Obama and Donald Trump to avoid recency bias, we have ten left:
Truman, Ike, JFK, Lyndon, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Father, Clinton, and Bush the Son. Four of these men were in the top quartile, and therefore clearly not bad candidates: Ike, Reagan, Truman, and Bush the Father. (I suspect Bush the Father’s ranking is a bit inflated since the poll and his wife’s passing coincided, but still.)
These four were followed closely by Clinton, Lyndon, and JFK, all three in the top half of the presidential rankings–clearly not bad candidates getting elected. That leaves three: Nixon, Bush the Son, and Jimmy Carter. Carter and Bush the Son were both examples of major political parties getting weak candidates elected. They’re from different parties, but Bush the Son won twice for the Republicans. That’s Republicans 2-1.
Nixon is ranked the lowest of the three, the only president of those ten in the bottom quartile. Nixon’s a complicated case. On the one hand, it’s hard to say he was a bad candidate. He won twice, barely lost one to Kennedy, and won as Ike’s running mate as well. On the other hand, Nixon was a terrible human being, and it was even obvious at the time. Yet, he somehow won two presidential elections. There had to be some PR there. Republicans 4-1.
So, in the limited context of presidential elections since WWII, the Republicans have been better at PR.
Ryil Adamson is the author of “The Best-Looking One Always Wins,” which is the finest presidential-election book available.