Left-Handed Presidents


In middle school I was taught that in order to be president of the United States, you had to be native-born and at least 35 years of age. My teachers left out the requirement that you be left handed. While not formally a requirement, lately being a lefty has been pretty helpful for becoming president: five of the last seven presidents have been left handed.

Ten to 15 percent of men are left handed, which means, according to my calculations, that this many recent left-handed presidents would only happen by chance one time in 1,000. Adding to the mystery, a number of the losing candidates in recent elections (including John McCain and Ross Perot) have also been southpaws.

My son Nicholas is left handed. For that reason alone, I’ve tried to get him interested in baseball, to no avail. I’ve also heard that lefties are often good at math and art. Those two talents seem to have passed him by as well.

I had resigned myself to the fact that left-handedness would be nothing but a burden for him. I’m cheered by the news regarding presidents

I did a quick search and couldn’t find any systematic evidence that lefties were more likely to be found in leadership positions more generally. Sure, some historic figures like Napoleon are supposed to have been left handed, but there have been a lot of historic figures. Does anyone know whether lefties are overrepresented among C.E.O.’s or world leaders outside the United States?

Meanwhile, I’ve got to run and help my son hone his stump speech.


imagine, too, that bill clinton and bob dole had some degree of colorblindness.

Maybe it has more to do with people in leadership positions overcoming what most other people seem to think as trivial handicaps and these leaders rising above the norm.

Bobby G

Uhh lefties are powerful weapons in water polo as well! Get him swimming and playing polo so that he can shoot well from the right side of a water polo offense.

Man, now I want to be playing water polo instead of being stuck behind this desk.


re: #1

reminds me of the thesis of malcolm gladwell's outliers.


Nancy - as a left hander, it really is just a trivial handicap, and nothing really to have to overcome. Sure, our arms get tired in school when we have to write on those right-handed desks (I was amazed when I actually found a left-handed desk how nice it was - I didn't know what I was missing), and we smear our ink as we write (but who writes anymore, and typing is mostly symmetric). But it's not that big of a deal being left handed, and if mean I can become president (yeah, yeah, that whole correlation vs causality thing), then I'm happy.

Erin N.

Lefties are also known to be wonderfully sympathetic and excellent communicators. The world is not such a tough place for lefties, I hope your son doesn't really disappoint you with his left handed-ness.


Steven, try to get your son to play tennis. There have been some excellent left-handed players (Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe) and "lefty spin" always frustrates opponents.


If your son had an interest in the sport of fencing, he'd have an advantage as well.

Right handed fencers face right handed fencers 90% of the time. In the 10% of the times they face lefties, they have to adjust due to facing a mirror image of their more common opponents.

The lefty faces a righty 90% of the time. When two lefties face off, they're both at the same mirror image disadvantage.


You could also try other sports; lefties have advantages in lots of sports other than baseball. Fencing, for example, or boxing.


5 out of 7 is not a very big sample size. There is not much confidence to that assertion.


Crazy. And did you know that 6 of the last 7 presidents were white? Plus Perot and McCain and Dole!


Quite a sinister bunch, those US presidents...


Are these true left-handers, or people like me who only do certain tasks - such as writing - left handed? Does anyone know exactly how we define someone being right handed or left handed? Is it just which hand you write with, or is there something more?


Left handed people are more likely to be right brain dominant. Right brain dominance lends itself to big picture thinking, rather than a detailed process orientation.

Most leaders are frequently big picture thinkers. Any neuroscience people out there to corroborate my thoughts?




i never read gladwell. I was told to read it along with one book about teamwork and the seattle fishmarket. All i came away with from the fishmarket book was poor fish being thrown around the Seattle market. You know how hard it is to swim against the stream your whole life? Then you get caught and they throw you around a market. So when the next book was gladwell, I read one chapter and found this great master to be rather ordianary in his observations. Didn't read further. Maybe I am just as smart as he is, but don't have any publishing friends.


as for being trivial... I used to think it was trivial that i couldn't see the blackboard sitting in the last row in grade school. In a catholic (old school) school you never said "can't" because you weren't physically capable. You just dropped you pencil up the aisle, glanced at the blackboard and tried to memorize everything in those two seconds.



Jon - stay tuned, I just invited a Neuroscience Ph.D. over here to tell us the truth.


Comment #10 wins.


"(I was amazed when I actually found a left-handed desk how nice it was - I didn't know what I was missing), "

Ohh, I remember those! I wished I could carry the thing around when I was in school. I agree, being a lefty is hardly a handicap, more like a series of petty annoyances. The only time it caused me any real pain was when I was in the army, and we had to fire the M-16 while wearing a gas mask. To do so, you turn the weapon 90 degrees, which for a righty ejects the spent cartridge into the air. For a lefty, especially one not being careful enough (like me) the spent cartridge is ejected at high speed into your supporting hand. Ouch. I never made that mistake again.


I used to think that being left handed as a curse, but now I realize it was a blessing. Too bad, I didn't figure this out when I was younger or I would have played baseball or any sport were being left handed was abnormal.

Mediocre left handed pithcers make millions of dollars per year and have decent length careers in the majors.


Since we are looking back at the number of lefty presidents, isn't the 1 in 1,000 chance ex-post. How can you invoke ex-post probabilities as support?

Eric M. Jones

I once hosted a meeting of C++ programers who were collaborating on a piece of software. I was not a programmer but the eight at the meeting who were turned out to be all left-handed.