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Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

Why Veterans Run

Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789–2016

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Jeremy M. Teigen

The assumptions that military service helps candidates attract votes—while lacking it harms a candidate's chances—has been an article of faith since the electoral coronation of George Washington in 1789. Perhaps the most compelling fact driving the perception that military service helps win votes is the large number of veterans who have held public office. Some candidates even exaggerate their military service to persuade voters. However, sufficient counter-examples undermine the idea that military veterans enjoy an advantage when seeking political office.

In Why Veterans Run, Jeremy Teigen explains the tendency of parties to elevate those with armed forces experience to run for high office. He describes the veteran candidate phenomenon by examining the related factors and patterns, showing why different eras have more former generals running and why the number of veterans in election cycles varies. With both quantitative and qualitative analysis, Why Veterans Run investigates each postwar era in U.S. electoral history and elaborates why so many veterans run for office. Teigen also reveals how election outcomes with veteran candidates illuminate the relationship between the military and civilian spheres as well as the preferences of the American electorate.

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About the Author(s)

Jeremy M. Teigen is Professor of Political Science at Ramapo College in New Jersey.

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Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
History


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