Bryan Caplan  

Is Bush Stupid?

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The answer, according to an article in the latest issue of Political Psychology is:

In absolute terms, no way:

...Bush is definitely intelligent. The IQ estimates range between 111.1 and 138.5, with an average around 125. That places him in the upper range of college graduates in raw intellect.

Compared to other U.S. presidents, very:

Bush’s IQ is below average relative to that subset of the U.S. citizens who also managed to work their way into the White House. In fact, his intellect falls near the bottom of the distribution. When compared with twentieth-century presidents from Theodore Roosevelt through Clinton, only Harding has a lower score (at least on three of the four estimates).

I will admit, though, that for parts this article I share some of Arnold's "junk science" worries. Many of the IQ estimates for pre-modern presidents seem pretty circular: One could easily argue that early presidents get rated as smart simply because they were political successful, and vice versa.

Hat tip to Robin Hanson.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
TGGP writes:

I couldn't access the psychology paper, but I remember that Steve Sailer wrote about Bush's likely IQ and compared it to Kerry's: http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/06/my-article-on-john-f-kerrys-iq.html

Steve Sailer writes:

Here are a few of my articles:

Does IQ Matter in a President?
http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/06/my-article-on-john-f-kerrys-iq.html
It's a pretty good general introduction to the quesion, putting it in a broad historical perspective.

Bush's Brain:
http://www.amconmag.com/2004_12_06/feature.html
Popular introduction to the Bush vs. Kerry IQ controversy.

"Kerry's IQ likely lower than Bush's"
http://www.vdare.com/sailer/kerry_iq_lower.htm
This offers the full explanation of the rather complex methodology I used.

aaron writes:

I always thought of 130 as low.

dearieme writes:

I'll swear I remember that JFK had a measured IQ of 119. Steve?

Tom Anger writes:

One could easily argue that early presidents get rated as smart simply because they were political successful, and vice versa.

To which I would add: "politically successful" by the leftish standards of those who are rating "smartness."

Steve Sailer writes:

JFK was measured at 119 in high school.

Probably the most assured figures we have are for Al Gore, who was measured at 133 and 134 at the beginning and end of high school, and whose SAT score equivalized to a few points higher in IQ. He later smoked a lot of dope in grad school, but seems to have been pretty sober since then, so there was probably little long term damage. So Gore was up around the 99th percentile, but not the 99.9th percentile.

I've seen 143 for Nixon, which sounds plausible (he didn't have all that much else going for him other than brains and determination), but I don't recall where. When I did a Google search in 2004 to find out where that number comes from, most of the references went back to an article I wrote in 1999, but I don't have my notes for it anymore.

aaron writes:

Who knows if being intelligent is even beneficial to doing a good job?

For the JFK thing, I wouldn't be suprised. The civil right and moon thing that JFK advanced were great, but I really question whether he was competent in regards to foreign policy (he did seem to have decent economic policy positions, based my very superficial understanding).

I always admired Kennedy. Strangely enough, one thing that really lowered my opinion of him was a fictional movie. Maybe it was Kevin Cosnter's fault, but the way they portayed him in 13 Days, bumbling his through way through strategic thinking, made me embarrassed for him.

dearieme writes:

You'll have noticed that the JFK figure makes a nonsense of their argument in the second para you quote. How come? And as for "estimates" for early Preidents: obvious rubbish.

George writes:

Bush is clever.

Being a member of Mensa I know about IQ - it makes no sense. The ultimate human aim is "happiness". What we call Intelligence should get us closer to that. Having a high IQ gets you nowhere near there - it can actually hinder your happiness aspirations.

So - to sum it up - we call Intelligence the wrong thing. Intelligence is what Bush has, because he clearly is happy.

RogerM writes:

IQ is not as important as wisdom. For example, take Al Gore (high IQ) and global warming. To paraphrase Orwell, some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals (high IQ) could believe them. Orwell was on to something: Very smart people can often lack wisdom. Why? Arrogance. Arrogance can make geniuses believe and do stupid things. Widsom is hard to define, but one of its components is humility. Another is morality. (That leaves Clinton, the Rhodes scholar, out). It involves the ability to recognize truth from fiction and an understanding of human nature. On the other hand, people of average intelligence can have a great deal of wisdom.

The problem with wisdom is it takes a small measure in order to recognize it.

William writes:

Based purely on his actions, Bush is not very smart. Examine his Budget deficit, economic policy, foreign policy, torture memos, etc.

He, after all, lambasted Clinton/Gore, during the 2000 campaign, for NATION BUILDING. What is he doing in Iraq ? He said " I do not want to be the ugly American abroad."

Jason Malloy writes:

Who knows if being intelligent is even beneficial to doing a good job?

"single best predictor of job performance"

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