Political Bloodlines and Generational Power in America


When the term “Royal Family” is mentioned, it’s probably alongside “Queen Elizabeth” or “Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry”. Royal Family is a term reserved for the likes of Great Britain and other nations with monarchal roots. While the United States doesn’t fall in that category, there are still dynastic families in American politics. The term “political dynasty” has been used to describe families where multiple members are, or have been, politicians. Famous names that probably come to mind are the Kennedys, the Bushes, and the Clintons. So how does family relation affect political ventures? Are generational family members better suited for political office or are the American people biased toward political dynasties?

The Prevalence of Political Dynasties

While the Kennedys, the Bushes, and the Clintons are only three families, the list of political dynasties goes on. Political dynasties with presidential members also include the Adams, the Roosevelts, the Harrisons, and the Tafts. Present-day dynasties with congressional members include popular names like the Romneys and the Cuomos.

In fact, research by Ernesto Bo, Pedro Bo, and Jason Snyder in The Review of Economic Studies calculated that between 1789 and 1996, an estimated 8.7% of all congressional officials had familial ties to previous congresspeople. However, not all years since 1789 have been equal. The figure below from the study shows the proportion of familial relations in Congress over time. Looking at the figure, we see that the percentage is declining over time. However, given that there are currently 320 million people in the United States, 8.7% seems quite high.

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