How smart should the president be?

How smart should the president be?
Image: LU staff

There are three basic views on the relationship between IQ and success in the Oval Office. The first view says the smarter the president, the better. In line with this view, Gary Hart, the retired U.S. Senator and one-time presidential hopeful, argued that although a big part of success as president is picking smart people for key positions, “it takes a pretty keen mind, honed by study, travel, experience, and exposure to competing ideas, to form good judgment and to know whom to trust on complex substantive issues.” The second view holds that you only have to be smart enough to be president. The idea behind this view is that IQ is a “threshold” variable, which loses its predictive power beyond a certain level. Malcolm Gladwell explained this idea in his book Outliers: “The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measureable real-world advantage.” (The average IQ for the general population is 100; an IQ of 120 is at about the 91st percentile.) The final view is that the president can actually be too smart—because, for example, he or she may be unable to communicate on a level that less-intelligent colleagues and constituents can understand. According to one analysis, this is President Obama’s problem: “President Obama is too intelligent for Republicans to understand.” This view puts greater emphasis on interpersonal skills than intelligence. The president is someone you should want to have a beer with, or maybe go bowling with.

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