Someone had to ask: Who is more likely to die in office?

04/11/2008 03:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It isn't generally polite to make someone's death the topic of conversation, especially when that someone is still very much alive and well. But then again, the last thing you can call American presidential politics these days is polite. So in the spirit of posing awkwardly rude, perhaps inappropriate questions, we decided to just put it out there and ask: Which do you think is more likely to happen...President Obama being assassinated while in office or President McCain dying while in office?

And while there are more than a few ways to criticize the question, there are plenty of people talking about this issue in hushed asking about it seemed like a worthwhile idea. (And yes, we have assumed that Obama is going to win the nomination whether you like that or not).

What we found is intriguing. In our survey of 800 Americans, fully 45% said they thought it was more likely President Obama would be assassinated while in office, while 10% more - 55% -- said it was more likely President McCain would die while in office. This difference is not only interesting one, it is also a statistically significant one.

So what can we make of these numbers? First, we didn't give people the choice to say that neither outcome was likely, so the results are not intended to assess the perceived likelihood that either candidate would die in office.

Instead, the results shed some light on which man has a larger challenge in selecting a VP candidate. Talk about running mates this year for the VP spot seems to be headier than ever.
We have our first serious black and female candidates going up against a well-respected, decorated war hero. In each case, the nominee has some serious weaknesses that the opposition will look to exploit. The VP candidates will need to fill the gaps in the nominees' resumes - be they geographic, issue-related, or more purely political.

But in this race, there is the added X-factor. Whether the winner is Obama or McCain, many are quietly concerned that the VP could rise to the office of the President before the end of the term.

So then, the question is whether age or racism is a bigger factor in the selection of a VP candidate?

And the answer appears to be that McCain's age is going to be the bigger issue. He is already at a disadvantage as the candidate of experience in a "change" election. And he is further disadvantaged by the fact that he will have to get up on stage with a candidate young enough to be his son. Now it seems that, despite the fact that there is a reasonably long list of world leaders older than him, many Americans will see John McCain debating Obama with one foot already in the grave.

On the other hand, one could interpret the data as suggesting that there is still a lot of latent racism out there that has not yet been voiced in this election. The fact that almost HALF of Americans think it is more likely that a black president will actually get assassinated than a 71 year-old will die over the next four years may just suggest that there is still a great deal of hate out there. The hate itself may mostly be perceived rather than tangible, but regardless, there's a sizeable portion of the American public that believes it's more likely their first black president would be assassinated than President McCain simply not waking up one morning.

Over at the Hillary campaign, a question of this nature should be a cause for celebration. While her various lapses in memory may have set her back politically this week, at least she can sleep well at night knowing half the country doesn't think she's going to be carried out of the White House in a body bag if she becomes president. Or do they? Perhaps it's time someone should ask.