WASHINGTON - After two sets of debates and months of campaigning, the Democrats’ field of 2020 presidential hopefuls is still a massive herd of people and personalities – even after former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s departure this week. So this week, the Data Download has gathered a set of “getting to know you” data looking at where the 20 are from, how they fit into their families and where they went to school.
We also gathered that same data on presidents from Washington to Trump to see how this group of Democrats stacks up against history.
Starting with the most basic question, “where are you from?” the Democratic field is a fairly eclectic mix. The 20 candidates were born in 11 different states, the District of Columbia, one U.S. territory and one foreign country.
New York leads the way on the list, with five candidates hailing from that state – Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Bill de Blasio and businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer. Three of the candidates were born in Texas – former H.U.D. Secretary Julian Castro, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and author Marianne Williamson. One was born in Pennsylvania – former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sen. Michael Bennet was born in New Delhi India; his father was an aide to a U.S. diplomat in the country. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was born in American Samoa.
Historically speaking, it’s a different sort of mix than we often see in the White House.
None of the current Democratic field was born in Virginia, the state which has produced the most presidents, eight. Only one, Rep. Tim Ryan, was born in Ohio, where seven U.S. presidents were born. And there has never been a president born outside of the 50 states. But the Democrats 2020 field has strong ties to New York, which has produced five former presidents.
If you believe that birth order is destiny (or at least destiny adjacent), the middle children of the Democratic field may have an edge in 2020. Blame on the need for approval or the desire to stand out, but of the 44 men who have captured the White House, more than half, 23, have been middle children.
That might be good news for Gillibrand and Gabbard, the only middle children in the group, who are both lagging in the polls.
Overall, however, the Democratic field stands out for the number of first-born and last-born children in its ranks – seven and 10 candidates respectively.
But the one candidate who would truly break the mold is Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the one only-child in the pack. There have been presidents with half-brothers and half-sisters, but never a commander in chief who was his parents’ true one-and-only kid.
When it comes to the question of “where did you go to school,” however, the current crop of Democrats does not look radically different from past presidents. The candidates’ undergraduate educations lean heavily on Ivy League institutions and well-known private schools.
Historically, 27 percent of U.S. presidents did their undergraduate work at Ivy schools, with a heavy reliance on Harvard. Five presidents were Harvard men.
In the Democrats 2020 group, seven candidates, 35 percent, graduated from Ivy League schools – Buttigieg (Harvard), Gillibrand (Dartmouth), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Yale), Yang (Brown) and O’Rourke and former Rep. Jon Delaney (Columbia).
There are also eight candidates from private universities and colleges, including some of the nation’s most prestigious. There are two candidates from Stanford (Castro and Sen. Cory Booker) and one from Wesleyan University (Bennet).
Sen. Kamala Harris also stands out from the pack, and from presidential history as being the only graduate from Howard University, a historically black institution.
Only four of the Democrats graduated from a public university, including Biden (Delaware), Ryan (Bowling Green), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Houston) and Gov. Jay Inslee (Washington).
Williamson stands alone as the only candidate without a bachelor’s degree. She spent two years at Pomona College, but did not graduate. That makes her an outlier in this field, but the author/candidate actually has a lot of company among former presidents, 12 of which never earned a degree, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
That’s the positive spin on candidates not holding a degree. The negative? Since 1953, every occupant of the Oval Office has held at least a bachelor’s.
Of course, these details are not determinative. The American dream says it doesn't matter where you were born or who your family was or where you went to school, anyone can become President of the United States. However, when you sort through all these numbers, one candidate might see the best news: Kirsten Gillibrand, the Ivy League-educated middle child from New York.
But if she overcomes the odds and wins the Democratic nomination, Gillibrand will face a candidate to whom all those same points apply: The current White House resident, Donald Trump.