By The Numbers: Obama and Palin vs the last 100 years

Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention.  Sept. 3rd, 2008

Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention. Sept. 3rd, 2008

With all of the talk of experience these last few days on the internet and in the media I was prompted to start a little research project. Mayor Rudi Guliani tonight at the Republican National Convention stated that Barak Obama would be the most inexperienced U.S. president in at least the last 100 years. Well, I did a little math and it turns out that he was close to being right. As for Governor Palin, I don’t know how you can argue she was not a smart pick after her speech tonight, but for those doubters out there how does she match up to history?

Well, out of 37 Presidents and Vice Presidents of the last 100 years Governor Palin’s experience level upon entering office ranks 26th, and Barak Obama ranks 34th. But wait, Sarah Palin isn’t running for president so that’s not a fair comparison.

Of the 17 U.S. presidents in the last 100 years and the current 2 nominees, Barak ranks 18th, with Woodrow Wilson in the 19th position; and even arguing that Woodrow Wilson is less experienced is a stretch. In 1913 when he was elected, Wilson’s political experience was as a one term Governor of New Jersey after having served as president of Princeton University for 8 years. That in itself is pretty impressive. And how about John McCain? To my great surprise, he ranks FIRST! Yup, the candidate for President with the most experience in the last 100 years!

Now to be fair what does the Palin/Biden match up look like? Well of the 20 U.S. Vice Presidents in the last 100 years and the current 2 nominees, Sarah Palin ranks 15th out of 22 and Joe Biden ranks an impressive 3rd!

So how did I arrive at these conclusions? Well before I tell you that, here are some fun stats:

The five U.S. Presidents with the most experience upon entering office in the last 100 years:

  1. Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963.
  2. Gerald Ford, 1974.
  3. George H.W. Bush, 1989.
  4. TIE: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953; Harry S.Truman, 1945.

The five U.S. Presidents with the least experience upon entering office in the last 100 years:

  1. Woodrow Wilson, 1913.
  2. George W. Bush, 2001.
  3. William Howard Taft, 1909.
  4. Warren G. Harding, 1921.
  5. Herbert Hoover, 1929.

The five U.S. Vice Presidents with the most experience upon entering office in the last 100 years:

  1. Nelson Rockefeller, 1974.
  2. Alben W. Barkley, 1945.
  3. John N. Garner, 1933.
  4. Charles Curtis, 1929.
  5. Gerald Ford, 1973.

The five U.S. Vice Presidents with the least experience upon entering office in the last 100 years:

  1. Thomas R. Marshall, 1913.
  2. Richard Nixon, 1953.
  3. Charles G. Dawes, 1925.
  4. TIE: Spiro T. Agnew, 1969; Henry A. Wallace, 1941.

Okay so now that I have your interest (and hatred) this is what I did:

I looked up as much information as I could in my limited spare time on all of our Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the last 100 years including our current 4 Presidential candidates. Then I had to work out a system of ranking them …. well that proved even more difficult. In truth I actually came up with the ranking system before I did my research because I wanted to eliminate as much bias as possible, but my system changed towards the end and I’ll explain why a little later. I looked at the life experiences of our Presidents leading up to their assuming office and I gave them the following points for each year of either public or military service.

My Scoring:
Points (per year) Category
+3 Vice Presidency
+2 Executive position
3 Federal Government
2 State Government
1 Local Government
1 Year served in Military

So for example: each year served as Governor gets 4 points, and each year served as a County Supervisor would receive 1 point.

I originally wanted to assign additional points for personal and educational achievements but due to the extremely varied life experiences of our Presidents it was impossible for me objectively assign points for these items. I origionally had a point bonus for having a child in the military whil in office, but I couldn’t find sufficient information for all of the presidents to make this fair. I realize that for every person the qualifications for President could vary greatly, but Article two of the U.S. Constitution explicitly assigns the role of Commander-in-Chief to the President and since the Presidency is an executive and political position these were the life experiences I focused on and was able to specifically quantify. There are obviously flaws with this system, for example Woodrow Wilson is the only President to have a Ph.D but he ranks the lowest. I also did not assign additional points for Military decorations, being a P.O.W., being a CEO of a corporation, or for Senate or House Leadership positions, even though these may provide some administrative and/or executive experience.

Now, I did make one exception to my system for Dwight D. Eisenhower. Technically he never served in a political position having made a career in the Army. However, I thought it very obvious that his many years as General of the Army, Supreme Allied Commander, and Army Chief of Staff were great experience for the Presidency and ranked these as political experience even thought they are technically assignments within the military. So, Eisenhower shows an experience score of 73 instead of 38.

With that said, I know this will spur furious debate over the methods of my ranking and I welcome your feedback and suggestions. You can see my complete research and make your own conclusions, that was the real focus of this effort, to get this information in a format that we can really speak in an educated way instead of just repeating talking points.

See the Experience Table for my research and make your own conclusions!