Only one Penn graduate has ever won the presidency — current President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump. Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Trump is still the only Penn alumnus in the race, despite a sprawling Democratic primary field.
Of the 32 candidates who have announced a presidential bid for 2020, including those who have dropped out, Trump is the only one who graduated from Penn. The 2020 election cycle has seen six Columbia University alumni, five Harvard University graduates, four Yale University graduates, and one alumnus from Brown University and Dartmouth College enter the race.
But Trump is not the only candidate with strong ties to Penn. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) taught at Penn Law School from 1987 to 1995, and former Vice President Joe Biden is a former Presidential Professor of Practice and leader of the Penn Biden Center. In April, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced Biden would take unpaid leave to pursue his presidential campaign.
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia rank first, second, fourth, and sixth among the universities that have graduated the most presidents. Penn did not make the top 10, according to a report from Best Colleges.
Former President William Henry Harrison attended Penn for one semester in 1791.
There is a similar pattern in Congress, too. According to data compiled by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn currently has seven alumni serving in Congress, as opposed to Harvard’s 53 and Yale’s 17.
Political Science professor Dan Hopkins said other universities, such as Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, may attract more students interested in political careers because they may have more relevant programs.
“By virtue of having Wharton as one of our prominent schools, we traditionally have attracted many business leaders, I would imagine, relative to political leaders,” Hopkins said.
College Republicans Communications Director and Wharton sophomore Corey Paredes wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that Penn graduates may not want to run for office because of the emphasis on careers in finance and banking.
“Penn is a uniquely pre-professional institution, which likely pushes most of our graduates into successful private sector careers where the benefits and lifestyle make it unappealing to switch into life as an elected official,” Paredes wrote.
Paredes noted that despite the lack of political candidates, Penn offers many resources for students interested in careers in public services. The Penn in Washington program, the business economics and public policy concentration in Wharton, and the popular philosophy, politics, and economics major “all speak to the substantial resources Penn devotes towards preparing students for whatever career path suits their interests," he wrote.
Vice President of Penn Democrats and College junior Bayley Tuch also noted the strong pre-professional culture at Penn, contrasting it with a stronger emphasis on government careers at universities like Harvard and Yale.
“As a political science student, I think my classes are incredible and have gotten me to think about politics and careers in politics,” she said. “Career Services potentially has more room to improve for careers that fewer Penn students take, and that might include positions related to politics.”
Hopkins, who said he has spent considerable time looking at polling data about how voters perceive Trump, said he does not believe a person's college has any substantial effect on a voter’s perception of a candidate.
Hopkins said some of the survey work he has done has suggested that attending an Ivy League school may give a candidate a slight advantage, but “college is one of many, many markers that voters can look to."
“I do wish the fact that President Trump came to the University of Pennsylvania would serve as more of a signal to Americans of both major political parties that the point of universities is to bring people together across lines of difference,” Hopkins said. “We have prominent Republicans and prominent Democrats on campus — and universities, despite their reputations in some elements, are in fact continuing to be a site of important cross-party dialogue."
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