Why Veterans Run

Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016

Jeremy M. Teigen
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1436-6
Publication: Jan 18

HC: $99.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1435-9
Publication: Jan 18

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1437-3
Publication: Jan 18

300 pages
6 x 9
10 tables, 7 line drawings

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

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).


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.


Jeremy Teigen has written a timely survey of veterans running for political office in America, starting with the first vet, George Washington. In an era in which fewer Americans serve in the all-volunteer military, the military is one of the few institutions that retains the trust of the American people. Why Veterans Run is an interesting read.
Karl Rove, Former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, Wall Street Journal columnist, and Fox News contributor

An empirically rich and theoretically grounded contribution that sheds new light on America’s long-running ‘love-hate’ relationship with the military. Teigen is a leading scholar of the role of veterans in electoral politics and Why Veterans Run is an important study of a question as old as the Federalist Papers and as fresh as the next election.”—Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University, and author of Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations

"In the US, the military is subservient to political leaders who make the ultimate decisions regarding beginning, conducting, and ending wars. Teigen traces the prevalence of veterans as presidential contenders. He notes that unlike Eisenhower, most presidential candidates, George Washington included, were not professional soldiers. But voters accepted their military experience as relevant to performance as president, especially in the role of commander in chief. Teigen compares the prevalence of military experience among presidential candidates to that in the population as a whole and finds them to be connected.... Summing Up: Recommended."

Table of Contents


1. Veterans Running for President
2. Explaining Why Veterans Run
3. Early Republic: George Washington through James Monroe
4. Antebellum Generals: Andrew Jackson through the Civil War
5. Civil War Generals and the Bloody Shirt: George McClellan through William McKinley
6. Early Twentieth Century: Theodore Roosevelt through Adlai Stevenson
7. The "Greatest Generation": Dwight Eisenhower through Bob Dole
8. Mixed Legacy of Vietnam: Bill Clinton through Donald Trump
Conclusion: Contemplating a Future with Fewer Veterans in Politics


About the Author(s)

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