forecastingprinciples.com Reviews of Important Papers on Forecasting
Before 1985 Reviews
Review of:

Dean Keith Simonton (1981), "Presidential greatness and performance: can we predict leadership in the White House?" Journal of Personality, 49, 306-323.


Attempts to predict effective leadership have typically led to failure. Simonton presents an interesting approach to the problem by examining what is commonly regarded as a difficult leadership position: the U.S. presidency. A substantial consensus exists on the rankings of the greatness of the various presidents. Also an immense amount of information exists on the background and performance of each of the 38 presidents; this information is assessed by millions of voters in an effort to identify the best leader.

One question is whether biological factors (e.g., education, I.Q., birth order, age, prior occupation, and previous political experience) predict great leadership. During political campaigns, such variables are often treated as good predictors. In this study they were of no value in predicting greatness. One variable that did help a bit was whether the candidate had published a book prior to the election, but his analysis did not include Nixon. Also of some value was experience as Vice-President (they did worse–even with Nixon excluded). The results are interesting in light of the time and money spent on selecting the leaders in our various organizations.

Another issues is how to predict greatness once in office. That is easier: the incumbent should stay in office., start a long war, avoid a major scandal, and survive an assassination attempt. (Maybe the presidents knew this already?)