How likely is it that Palin would have to take over?

Add a 7% risk of severe disability to the 15% mortality risk.

Continuing the discussion about how big a risk it is for a 72-year-old President to have a grossly unprepared Vice-President, a reader writes:

About 24 percent of males 70-74 and 31 percent of males 75-79 have severe disabilities.(I have not checked these numbers which are from the University of Buffalo with multiple sources) This is, of course prevalence not incidence.

With regard to Senator McCain, it is more likely that he will become sufficiently disabled to invoke the 25th amendment or limit his ability to conduct the affairs of state resisting the amendment as illustrated by President Wilson’s stroke or might have become evident with President Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease. The combined probabilities of death or severe disability (not calculated) are sufficiently likely to give one pause, given McCain’s choice of Vice President. I have not seen the problem mentioned.

With regard to the deaths of Presidents, the following notes, again incomplete, are interesting. The expected age of death for White males after they reach the age of 60, about the average age that Presidents take office, has move up slightly from 13-14 years in George Washington’s day to about 21 years for a 60 year-old President elected in 2008. This is not a lot over 200 + years. (From 1850 to now, the expected life at birth increased from 38 to 76). Considering all our Presidents were from the upper classes, their progress has probably been less.

Comparing the actual dates of death for the presidents with their expected dates, the median difference is a negative 2 years. Over the long-run, they lived about as long as expected, which is probably not much different from today; perhaps they had a little shorter time. It is interesting to note that the Presidents ending with Van Buren outdistanced their expected median death dates by about 7 years. In the hundred years between 1850 and 1950, the Presidents fell short of their expected median death dates by about 7 years. Since 1950, Presidents have outdistanced their death dates by 5 years. This is biased downward because we have living Presidents who have exceeded their expected dates.

I find two take-away points here:

(1) The Presidency may be a “man-killer,” but you couldn’t prove it by statistics. Men elected the Presidency are, on average, healthier than normal for their age.

(2) The incidence of severe disability over the next four years of McCain’s life is 31%-24% = 7%. So of the 85% of 72-year-old men who survive four years, 7% (of those not disabled to start with) become disabled. That means that 93% of 85% = 79% get to the four-year mark alive and not disabled. Thus the probability that Palin would have to take over at some point in McCain’s first term is 21%.

Even if, as is likely and as we would all hope, a President McCain managed to serve out his first term in good health, we’d still have a President prepared to take unreasonable risks with the country’s safety for modest political gain.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: