Two thirds of Americans expect a female president and another black president in their lifetime

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 18, 2019, 6:00 AM GMT+0

Few Americans expect to live long enough to see a gay person or an atheist elected to the presidency

While President’s Day is a commemoration of presidents past, YouGov has looked to presidents yet to come by asking Americans what kinds of people they expect to become Commander in Chief during their lifetimes.

Though some will have felt that their opportunity to live under America’s first female president was snatched away through Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, around two thirds (68%) expect that they will nevertheless live to see a woman become president. Women are slightly more confident than men (71% vs 65%) that the first female president will be elected on their watch.

A similar proportion of Americans also expect there to be a president from an ethnic minority (64%) while they are still around. It is clear that people most expect that minority to be African American, with 63% expecting to see another black president while only 45% think there will be a Hispanic president during their lifetime.

Hispanics themselves are more optimistic about the odds of seeing a president who shares their background, at 55% compared to 44% of white people and 41% of black people. Nevertheless, Hispanic Americans are still more likely to think that another African American will become president (66%) than someone from their own heritage.

While two thirds of Americans expect to see a female president or a minority president, far fewer expect to see a president who is both. Just 45% expect to see in their lifetime a woman from an ethnic minority become Commander in Chief.

There seems to be little belief that non-Christians will hold the highest office in the land. Just 31% expect a president from another religion, while fewer still (22%) anticipate seeing an atheist president have to pledge “so help me God” as they take their inauguration.

Jill Stein and Gary Johnson among others will be dismayed to hear that few Americans expect the two party system to give up its stranglehold on the presidency. Just a quarter (27%) of people believe that they will live to see a president who is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

Those highly enthusiastic of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s presidential chances have seen their hopes dampened by the fact that her age would prevent her from running until 2024. Even if she were to run for president at the first opportunity, few Americans think that someone so young (she would be 35) could win. Only 29% think that someone younger than 40 will be president in their lifetime. America’s youngest president to date has been Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42 upon taking office in 1901.

But the least likely in the mind of the public is a homosexual president. Only one in five Americans (21%) expect the nation to elect a gay president in their lifetime, which will doubtless be disheartening news to Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend Indiana who has thrown his hat into the ring for the Democratic primary. If he did win the presidency, whether Buttigieg would be the first gay person to hold the office is up for debate: several scholars have claimed that the 15th president – James Buchanan, in office from 1857 to 1861 – was homosexual.

Trump voters are less likely to expect a president who is not white or male

Almost without exception, Trump voters are less likely than Clinton voters to expect anyone with the characteristics we asked about becoming president during their lifetimes. This is particularly the case for race and gender: while 86% of Clinton voters believe there will live to see a female president and 80% expect another African American president, among Trump voters these figures are just 55% and 49% respectively.

When it comes to the generations, the most notable divides are on a female ethnic minority president and a non-Christian president. While 50% of Millennials (born 1982-1999) expect to see a woman who is also from a minority background become president, just 26% of those from the Silent Generation (1928-1945) say the same. Likewise, while 41% of Millennials expect a president from a non-Christian religion and 30% think there will be an atheist Commander in Chief, respectively only 17% and 12% of Silent Generation members say the same.

Despite the prospect of a female president being one of the biggest divisions between Trump and Clinton voters, and even though Trump voters are older on average than Clinton voters, the generations are roughly aligned in their expectation that there will be a woman in the top role during their lifetime. More than six in ten members of the Silent Generation (63%) think they will see the first female president; 69% of Millennials also hold this view.