New York Daily News
Height in the age of Zoom
Old measure of pols cut down
Pandemic-era TV and Zoom campaigning makes it hard for voters to take full measure of New York’s mayoral candidates: You can weigh their words and assess their style, but you can’t tell how tall they are.
There’s evidence height is a factor in voters’ choices.
In presidential contests from 1789 to 2016, the taller candidate won the popular vote 62% of the time, said political scientist Gregg R. Murray, who called the stat “reasonable evidence that the physical height of candidates plays a role in the outcomes of U.S. presidential elections.”
The 2020 election gives lie to the theory — Donald Trump, whose reported height is 6-feet3, lost to President Biden, whose height is reported at 6 feet even.
There’s no comparable analysis of mayoral elections in New York City — but the election in 2013 of Bill de Blasio may be a clue: At 6-feet-5, he towered over his main Democratic primary opponents, Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn.
On the other hand, de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, was not a tall man — his height was reported at 5-feet-7, though accounts varied.
Several mayoral candidates offered mixed views on the height factor this time around.
“I would make an argument, this only helps me,” city Comptroller Scott Stringer said with a laugh when asked whether Zoom cancels out voters’ perceptions of height.
A spokeswoman for Stringer, who, at 5-feet-7, is in the Bloomberg range, chimed in: “It’s about how big your ideas are, not how big you are.”
“That’s true,” Stringer said during the brief interview after a recent press conference in Chinatown. “I’m associated with my press secretary’s remarks.”
He is seen as a potential frontrunner in the race along with slightly taller Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose campaign did not make him available for an interview.
Dianne Morales, a progressive former nonprofit CEO running for mayor, says Zoom has an impact by denying voters a full look at candidates’ appearance.
“I do think there is a leveling,” said Morales, who is 5-feet-6. “There’s something about everything in terms of presentation — you’re being measured kind of from the shoulder-up and for whatever your background is.”
“Those subtle or not-so-subtle things — people interpret them and form opinions of them, whether consciously or not,” she added.
Loree Sutton, ex-veterans affairs commissioner under de Blasio, noted that “the vast majority of communication is nonverbal, and presence has a lot to do with it.”
“For somebody like me, who’s pretty tall as it goes at [5-feet-10], I do recognize that that’s an advantage,” she said. “On Zoom, it is a great equalizer. I don’t know that that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“Height is something that has mattered in our elections, particularly when you see candidates on stage together,” said Shaun Donovan, a 5-foot-11 former top official to Bloomberg and former President Barack Obama.
“The question then becomes, if that doesn’t matter as much, what matters more?” he continued.
“It goes back to ... the ability to connect.”
Ray McGuire, a former vice chairman of Citigroup, said he’s been trying to adapt to the digital world.
“I’m [6-feet-4] and I speak tall,” he said. “You’ve got a vision that is a vision with substance and it expresses a different approach — that’s speaking tall.
“You have to be able to adapt in a virtual setting different to what you have to do in what historically has been a more natural setting,” he added.
Political scientist Doug Muzzio of Baruch College is skeptical of the idea that height matters to voters — but he agreed with the candidates that their appearance on Zoom affects how they are perceived.
“If in fact a height factor exists, Zoom, since it deals primarily in headshots, would seem to take away that advantage,” he said. “The advantage, if it exists, and the relationship with Zoom is minuscule.”
But he noted politics is a game of inches, especially this year, with some two dozen candidates running in the June Democratic primary.
“Things like height and physical attractiveness may have more of an impact in a crowded field where small differences may make a difference,” Muzzio said.