BILL CLINTON may be ahead of George Bush in the polls, but one thing is sure about the eventual winner of the presidential race in November: He will be a left-hander.
"This is the first time all the major contenders have been left-handed," says Suzan Ireland, editor of Lefthander Magazine, a publication that focuses on problems experienced by left-handed people in a right-hand world. "We find it extremely unusual. Left-handers make up only 10 or 15 percent of the population."There have been left-handed presidents before Bush was elected four years ago. James Garfield, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford were lefties, and Ronald Reagan was a left-hander who was forced as a child to write with his right hand. It is likely there will be more left-handers in the White House in the future.
"We're seeing with the baby boomers the first generation that attempts weren't made to switch handedness," says the editor of the magazine that reads from the back page to the front.
Stanley Coren is a right-handed psychologist who has become famous by studying left-handers. His book, "The Left-Hander Syndrome," which was published this year, argues that left-handers suffer from more physical and psychological problems than the rest of the population, and that they die as many as nine years earlier than do right-handers.
"Both Bush and Clinton fit into the left-hander syndrome perfectly," Coren says from his office at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Left-handers, according to research, have a tendency toward problems with their body's immune system. "Bush suffers from Graves' disease, which is an immune problem. And Clinton has such bad allergies that they sometimes affect his voice and he has to cancel speaking engagements."
According to Coren, left-handers are more common in groups of individuals with a history of asthma, migraine headaches, bed-wetting, criminality, homosexuality, autism, depression, reading disablitites and alcoholism.
Coren believes that injury to the nervous system during a difficult birth is one reason that some people become left-handed. The damage may cause some of these other symptoms as well. Coren adds, "There have been casual comments from family members that both Clinton and Bush had either birth complications or were the product of a difficult pregnancy. But when you ask their campaigns about it, they don't reply. I have tried."
LEFT-HANDERS tend to have more sleep problems, Coren says. Bush takes the sleeping pill Halcion. And more left-handers think from the right side of the brain, the non-verbal side. That could be why Bush speaks in long, convoluted sentences and falls back on "thing" as a substitute for larger concepts.
On the other hand, Coren says southpaws tend to be better at spatial thinking. That's why there's a heavy preponderance of left-handed chess masters, artists and architects. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who is Lefthanders International's left-hander of the year, presumably used this ability to advantage in the Persian Gulf.
It's also possible that Schwarzkopf's success has something to do with the social aggressiveness that's a tendency of left-handed people.
Coren says that left-handers also tend toward divergent thinking - the ability to generate lots of novel solutions. That ability would serve a politician well.
Left-handed people are five times more likely to die from accidental injuries, Coren has found. Part of the reason is because tools like power saws and knives are designed for right-hand use.
He says that left-handers die in more auto accidents. When left-handers throw their hands in front of their face to protect themselves, the right hand tends to go high, and the left hand low. "If those hands are on a steering wheel, the left-hander goes into oncoming traffic" Coren says. "The right-hander has the opposite response, and goes off to the side of the road."
Gerald Ford is known as the most clumsy, funbling president in history. Cameras regularly caught him stumbling and falling.
"Ford's problem was that he would turn in a natural direction for a left-hander, which is anti-clockwise, and he'd stumble over his aides," the psychologist says. "The aides were in the correct place for a right-hander but the wrong place for a left-hander."