Tag Archives: good presidents

Does executive experience make a good president? The results!

I spent many an evening compiling all my results. All the links for all the individual detailed presidential analysis are here.

Now I acknowledge before I go any further that this exercise was purely subjective. If a hundred people did the same thing I did, they numbers would turn out a hundred different ways. Different presidents would be good, or not good, and the presidents’ experience could be counted as “executive” in ways I didn’t consider or excluded. This isn’t fact, it’s simply my opinion. My overtired, worn-out, bleeding-heart liberal (but fiscally somewhat conservative) opinion. I also want to thank the internet, without which I could never have put this together. Specifically, Wikipedia and all the relevant cited sources in each president’s article, and the excellent essays of the Miller Center of Public Affairs were especially helpful.

To review and sum up, I wanted to look at each president and see if their “executive experience” was a strong predictor of their success as president … or if their lack of executive experience was a predictor of a poor presidency. I had a null hypothesis — that being that more presidents that had executive experience (or lacked it) would be good presidents (or not good, if they didn’t have executive experience). The alternative hypothesis would be non-expected results… more presidents who didn’t have executive experience being good presidents (or with executive experience being bad presidents). I decided “executive experience” would be someone who’d served in the executive branch as a governor, but not vice president. A general in the armed forces counted, as did entrepreneurial experience by running a company, or presiding over a college. I went president by president, summing up their experience and whether history has shown them to be a good president.

There were three presidents who I didn’t score because of the brevity of their term, and Grover Cleveland only got scored once, even though he served two non-successive terms. What that means is though there were 43 presidents so far, I’ve only got 39 actual presidencies represented here on out.

I ended up with a pretty even match-up — 21 good presidents and 18 not-good presidents. There were also 24 with executive experience and 15 without executive experience. You get a matrix that looks like this:

When it comes to the null and alternative hypothesis… well, things start getting interesting. Out of 39 presidencies, ones where either a good president had executive experience or a bad president didn’t have it, 16, or 41% of presidents, met the null hypothesis. That means 23, or about 59% of presidents, met the alternative hypothesis. If executive experience were a good predictor of success as a president, I’d expect the percentage of presidencies meeting the null hypothesis at LEAST over 50%… and we didn’t even get there! A very safe conclusion from these numbers is that executive experience is simply NOT a strong predictor of success as a president. If my statistical analysis skills weren’t so rusty, and if I had Excel on this laptop and not just MS Works (which is basically good for making a grocery list and not much else) I could attempt to slap some real statistics on this, but I frankly don’t have the energy and the numbers mostly speak for themselves anyway, in my opinion. If anyone WOULD like to work out some statistical conclusions, be my guest! I’d be happy to supply my original spreadsheet and anything else you may need.

Take a look at that 2×2 matrix by rows, focusing on the “executive experience” or “no executive experience” categorization. I’d say that based on this, if someone comes into office with executive experience, it’s basically a crap shoot whether or not they will be a good president. Without executive experience, however, odds are 2:1 that they WILL be a good president. I guess this is promising for both Obama and McCain, since neither have the executive experience the GOP is claiming makes Palin soooooo “qualified”. It would be interesting to do a multi-categorical analysis of all the presidents, looking at a number of factors to determine which factors were most predictive of presidential success. Maybe it’s a long congressional service. Or geography. Or education. Or personality traits. Or some combination therein. Or some other factor I am not thinking of.

Some interesting observations:

  • The largest of the four categories in the 2×2 is the category of presidents who had executive experience but were not good presidents. I don’t think with a proper statistical analysis that this category would stand out as significant in and of itself, but it just is interesting to look at and ponder.
  • Some of the most highly regarded “good” presidents were in the “no executive experience” category — Lincoln, Kennedy, and Truman stand out. So it’s not like the presidents with executive experience were all the really great presidents and the ones without were just OK.
  • Three of the most consistently ranked worst presidents — Pierce, Harding, and Buchanan — had no executive experience before entering office. So, while executive experience doesn’t mean any sort of guarantee of success, perhaps it at least helps ensure that a president isn’t going to be horribly, tremendously, stupendously awful.

In summary, I believe this executive experience talk is hogwash, and Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani and all the other Republiclones need to just shut their pieholes about it. Unless what they’re trying to say is “Hey, at least if Sarah Palin becomes president, she won’t be as terrible as Warren G. Harding.” (Wow, that would be a great campaign slogan!)


Does “executive experience” equate to Presidential success? Part 2

To see the rules for my analysis, and the first four Presidents, check out Part 1.

I want to try to fit in a couple more old white dudes before I feed the kids lunch!

#5 – James Monroe. Monroe was a senator and governor of Virginia before becoming President, so he does have executive experience. Was he good? All signs point to yes! After all, his presidency was known as the “Era of Good Feelings”. He made great strides in domestic policy, sponsoring greater feelings of nationalism. He is perhaps best known for the Monroe Doctrine (declaring the Americas’ independence from colonization and foreign rule), which arguably set the USA’s course toward being a superpower. So… EE: yes; Good: yes.

#6 – John Quincy Adams. He did a lot of ambassador type work, and served as a very successful Secretary of State under James Monroe. But no official executive experience. Adams was the subject of a lot of bad blood for the way the election went down, and was thusly rendered pretty impotent with Congress. While there’s no argument with his accomplishments both before and after his presidency (when he actually served in the US House of Representatives for 17 years after his one term as President) his presidency is characterized by its lack of accomplishment. He had lofty and noble ideas, but they were often out of touch with the current political climate and he was hugely disliked as president. Andrew Jackson defeated him handily after his first term. So… EE? No. Good? No.

#7 — Andrew Jackson. He was a plantation owner, lawyer, and military officer, among other things. By all accounts he was a very successful plantation owner, making a number of large land acquisitions and at one point owning upwards of 150 slaves. His military career was, in a word, legendary. He achieved the rank of major general and appears to have been the very model of one – he led some very important victories. One victory was over the Seminole in Florida, convincing Spain to relinquish their positions there and paving the way for Florida to become a state. Jackson also served as the first governor of Florida for a few months. So, I’d say he has executive experience — the combination of successful plantation owner (and self-made at that), a heroic military career at a fairly high rank (major general isn’t in my definition of executive power but he was very successful in his role), and his short time as governor. He also served as a Representative and Senator, but we all know that doesn’t count. 😉 His presidency is the subject of much speculation. Some seem to look toward his ability to reduce the national debt and expand the scope of presidential authority to raise him on a pedestal. Others see him as a tyrannical hothead who took everything personally, seemed to formulate his personal political beliefs out of spite, started the Spoils system, perpetuated the Trail of Tears and other Native American removals, and feel he was the closest to having a Caesar-type ruler as the U.S. has ever come. (One of his many nicknames was “King Andrew”.) I’m not sure his moderate successes outshine the many negatives of his presidency. Thus, my personal inclination is to say he did more harm than good. So, I’m going to say…. EE: yes; good: no.

OK, time to feed the kids lunch. More coming soon!!