Why does the world prefer tall politicians?

Brian Pallister towered above the competition in the Manitoba election.
Brian Pallister towered above the competition in the Manitoba election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Brian Pallister, Manitoba’s 6’8″ Progressive Conservative premier-elect, brought the NDP’s 17-year reign in the province to a screeching halt Tuesday night.

And while there are surely a slew of political reasons for that, we couldn’t help but wonder if height had anything to do with it.

Pallister is now the country’s tallest politician, but he’s certainly not alone up there. On the provincial level, Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil is a close second.

At 6’2″, our prime minister Justin Trudeau is apparently the tallest leader of the G7 nations. Coming in one inch behind him is U.K. prime minister David Cameron.

That’s the same height as U.S. president Barack Obama and former Canadian prime ministers Lester B. Pearson, Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien. Stephen Harper had an extra inch on them.

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Municipally, mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton and Gregor Robertson of Vancouver also stand above the rest.

Politicians on the short side (including Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is 5’7″) have been accused of stooping to hiring shorter security to appear taller. Justin Trudeau’s dad, Pierre who was 5’8″, reportedly used this trick.

What science says about political giants

Research suggests that, in the case of politics, size does seem to matter. Higher height often equals higher votes.

Political science professor Gregg Murray of Texas Tech University argued that viewpoint with his 2011 study called “Caveman Executive Leadership: Evolved Leadership Preferences and Biological Sex.”

In it, he asked students to draw leaders and ordinary citizens. In 64 per cent of the cases, leaders were drawn taller than the citizens, who were drawn on average 12 per cent shorter.

The work even speculated that height may be why males outnumber females in executive leadership.

WATCH: All parties on Parliament Hill say they’re for gender parity and you can see that in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. But there are still huge gaps elsewhere.

Click to play video: 'Where are the women on the House of Commons committees?'
Where are the women on the House of Commons committees?

The explanation that was given for this boiled down to evolutionary psychology and natural selection — specifically, “a preference for male leaders evolved to promote individual survivability in the violent ancestral history of humans.”

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“Our ancestors lived in groups that were constantly engaged in conflicts that were resolved through physical violence,” Murray said in 2011.

“If you are in a group and the enemy hordes are coming over the hill, what you want them to see is the big person out front so they know they face a tough battle.”

Being tall doesn’t just help in politics

Other studies have shown height can also come with a financial advantage.

An extra inch may be worth nearly $800 in higher annual earnings, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s research.

“That means that a person who is six feet tall, but who is otherwise identical to someone who is five foot five, will make on average $5,525 more per year,” Gladwell wrote in an excerpt for his 2005 book Blink.

“As Timothy Judge, one of the authors of the study, points out: ‘If you take this over the course of a 30-year career and compound it, we’re talking about a tall person enjoying literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of earnings advantage.'”

For his book, Gladwell polled about half of Fortune 500 companies and found the majority (58 per cent) of CEOs were 6 feet or over. In the general population, only 14.5 per cent of American men are 6 feet or taller.

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Back to the political front, there are always exceptions to the rule. Like the infamously tiny ruler Napoleon Bonaparte.

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