Every time a presidential race comes along, “electability” becomes a topic of conversation. The much-repeated conventional wisdom is that candidates with hair loss do not win. In reality, the topic of baldness and politicians is more complicated – and the effect of baldness and elections even more so. The short answer is that they are not less electable… but that perception could make being elected a bit harder.
How Many Bald US Presidents Have There Been?
The presidency takes a toll on those who hold office. Look at any photo of a modern president when they are sworn in versus one at the end of their term and you will see significantly more wrinkles and gray hair – if they have hair. Increased hair thinning or receding hairlines can also become more pronounced or appear.
So, to answer the question of how many bald U.S. presidents there have been, let’s focus on people who came into office with significant hair loss. By that criteria, five former presidents qualify – our second President, John Adams; his son, John Quincy Adams; Martin Van Buren; James Garfield; and president and WWII General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Who Was the Last Bald President?
When talking about baldness and politicians, most of the attention is focused on the U.S. presidency.
Of the 45 men who have filled that office so far, Dwight D. Eisenhower – former commander of allied forces during World War II before becoming president – was the last genuinely bald American president. People have been crediting that to the advent of television because the election that followed President Eisenhower’s second term featured the first televised presidential debate.
Of the candidates in that election, then-Senator John F. Kennedy had a luxurious head of hair. He beat then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who had a very noticeable double receding hairline. However, when Nixon ran for president again a few years later, he beat candidates Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern… both of whom had less hair than he did.
Does Hair Loss Affect Elections?
Even though the modern conventional wisdom is bald men are not electable, a look at candidates shows it’s not that simple. While someone completely bald has not won the presidency since Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson had double receding hairlines and hair loss in the front. His opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater, had significantly more hair loss though. Similarly, thick-haired Governor Jimmy Carter beat President Gerald R. Ford who had significant hair loss.
However, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1988 he had a visibly receding hairline. Though his haircut made the rest of his hair look thick. He beat Governor Michael Dukakis, who had a very thick head of hair, but then in his second term lost to then-Governor Bill Clinton, who also had a healthy head of hair – so hair quantity did not appear to be relevant.
When it comes to Congress, any number of elected officials have thinning hair or are partially bald though the majority have full heads of hair. Governor Rick Scott of Florida is completely bald, and Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland has significant hair loss. So, hair loss did not hurt their electability. Rudy Giuliani won election as mayor of New York City twice despite his well-known hair loss. Baldness and politicians are not necessarily a terrible combination, nor does it necessarily ruin one’s political aspirations, though it could complicate one’s image.
After serving in Congress as a representative from Massachusetts for about a year, Ayanna Pressley admitted to having suffered from hair loss for a number of years. Voters didn’t realize it because she had been wearing wigs to cover up her hair loss. When she was ready, she went public with the medical issue and, since then, Rep. Pressley stopped wearing wigs. How complete baldness would affect a female candidate is difficult to tell from this case. She is running for re-election this year and is very popular with her constituents. However, as a progressive member of Congress, Rep. Pressley’s seat is being targeted… so it is impossible to tell how much or little her baldness is affecting her re-election campaign.
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