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Liberals Come Up Short—Literally

New research finds the taller a person is, the more likely they are to be a conservative.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: zenjazzygeek/Flickr)

In certain political circles, there’s a lot of anger at the way liberal elitists look down on everybody else.

But new research from Britain suggests the opposite is true — at least in a literal sense. It finds that, in the United Kingdom, taller people are more likely to be on the political right.

“A one-inch increase in height increases support for Conservatives by 0.6 percent,” write University of Michigan economist Raj Arunachalam and Ohio State University political scientist Sara Watson. Their study is published in the British Journal of Political Science.

The researchers used data collected in 2006 as part of the ongoing British Household Panel Survey, a nationally representative annual survey of more than 12,000 adults in the U.K. They compared respondents’ self-reported height with their annual income and political preference.

The results were clear: “Taller people are more likely to support the Conservative Party, and to hold conservative political positions,” they write. What’s more, the relationship between height and party affiliation “is almost linear.”

The relationship between height and party affiliation “is almost linear.”

“Support for the Conservatives moves steadily with height” until it “flattens, and even dips slightly,” for the very tallest individuals, they report. What’s more, this relationship stayed robust even after taking into account a variety of factors, including race, religion, years of schooling, and marital status. It held true for both genders, although the effect was stronger for men.

The mechanics behind this seem simple enough. Much research has found that tall people tend to earn more money, although there’s no consensus about why that is. Perhaps it’s simply an evolutionary hangover from the days of manual labor, when tall and strong translated into “productive.”

And wealthier people are more likely to be conservative. Indeed, Arunachalam and Watson found “each additional thousand pounds of annual income (about $1300) translates into a 2 to 3 percentage point increase in the probability of supporting the Conservatives.”

Presuming these trends are related, it’s very likely the linkage between height and conservatism will apply to other Western nations, including the United States.

Of course, political identity is fluid, as we have seen this year in both the U.K. (with the Brexit vote) and the U.S. (with the rise of Donald Trump). Fears of a changing society — especially in terms of its racial and ethnic make-up — can prompt people lower down the economic ladder to vote for the more conservative candidate.

So if you want to gauge if things have completely gone topsy-turvy, let’s see if Hillary Clinton gets the tall vote.