Barack and Mitt: The Most Unpopular Candidates in American History

by Bob Schwartz

This is an unprecedented Presidential campaign. Just ask the Social Security Administration.

The SSA keeps track of baby names, a database that goes back to 1879. It just released its list of the 1000 most popular male and female names for 2011—Jacob to Armani to Ethen (sic), Sophia to Francesca to Damaris. None of that necessarily matters for the Presidential race.

What does matter is this: Never in American history have both major party candidates for the Presidency had names that were not among the 1000 most popular—ever.

In 2008 it was easy to surmise that one name (not John) had never made it to the Top 1000, and Barack still hasn’t. But this year’s race includes two overwhelmingly unpopular names.

Romney’s real first name Willard has made appearances on the chart: the last time in 1989 when it was #966, and it reached its highest position in 1915 (#58). But that isn’t the name he has ever used. The name Mitt is nowhere to be found.

The Presidential names (including candidates) you think might not make the list do. Woodrow, last seen in 1983 (#954), went from #234 in 1911 to #44 in 1913, Wilson’s first year in office. Ike bounced around the middle to bottom of the pack from the 19th century on, but at least it is on the list, finally falling off the Top 1000 in 1957 (while Ike was still in office). Rutherford always struggled, giving up in 1905 at #910. Even Newt had its day (though not much of one), appearing near the bottom between 1880 and 1907.

But no Barack. And no Mitt.

Does this have any consequence? As for any correlation between electoral success and relative name popularity—at the time of election or at some significant life stage for voters—there is no consistent pattern, no seeming name advantage.

All we know is this: There has never been an election between two candidates with such unusual and unpopular names. Just one more element in an election unlike any other.