The 'Truths' Of Politics Not Quite So True

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Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin reports on the "rules" of presidential elections, which pundits often cite, and which are broken every election year.


If you've been following campaign news, you've probably heard a lot about the supposed truths of politics. These are the hard and fast rules pundits and politicians have gleaned over the years.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No one has ever won the presidency without carrying their home state...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No Democratic presidential candidate has ever won the presidency without carrying some Southern states.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio.

MARTIN: This is just a small sample of claims we hear every election, and many pundits like to emphasize their definitive nature. And that annoys Randall Munroe.

RANDALL MUNROE: Because we've only had 56 presidential elections but there almost an unlimited number of historical variables you could look at.

MARTIN: Monroe draws a popular Web comic called XKCD, and he decided to poke some fun at this kind of political analysis. So he's written a list of would-be rules for every presidential election, like the election of 1796 when this was true.

MUNROE: No one without false teeth has ever become president.

MARTIN: But then John Adams broke the denture barrier. And Munroe goes on.

MUNROE: Until 1884, candidates named James were undefeated.

MARTIN: Which was once true of all the major party nominees. And then there's a rule that might make our own Will Shortz proud.

MUNROE: In 1996, it would have been just as true to say no Democratic incumbent without combat experience has beaten someone whose first name is worth more in Scrabble.

MARTIN: But like some pundits, Munroe had to issue a few corrections after he put up his rules. So President Barack Obama's campaign might take this truism with a grain of salt.

MUNROE: No nominee whose first name contains a K has ever lost.

MARTIN: And, of course, every rule is a rule until the moment it's not.


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

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