The Drake Equation and The Number of Politicians Who Cheat

GovernorSanford-_OfficialPortraitIn 1960 a young scientist named Frank Drake formulated an equation that attempted to quantify the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy. His equation and what the terms mean are shown below.

DrakeEquationN is the number of civilizations in the Milkyway Galaxy that we may be able to communicate with
R* is the average rate of star formation
fp is the fraction of those stars with planets
ne is the average number of planets per star that can support life
fl if the fraction of planets that can support life that actually do support life
fi is the fraction of planets with life that develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a detectable technology (usually some sort of radio communication)
L is the length of time such civilizations send those signals into space.

What does this have to do with the sexual exploits of the governor of South Carolina?

Well, the recent spate of politicians who have been unfaithful to their spouses caused me to wonder just how many politicians are out there who are cheating on their spouses. With this in mind I’ve decided to pay homage to professor Drake and formulate a political infidelity equation. Without further ado:

N = P x fm x fu


N is the number of politicians who are currently cheating on their spouses
P is the total number of politicians currently in office
fm is the fraction of those who are currently married
fu is the fraction of those who are unfaithful in any given year.

Just for fun, let’s put some numbers to this.

We’ll estimate P based on the number of politicians who are on the national scene. For this I’ll include all the US senators (100) and US congressmen (435), all the state governors (50) and all the state lieutenant governors (50). This may not be a complete count as the President and his cabinet, as well as the Supreme Court justices and a few nationally known mayors may also qualify, but this value of P is close enough. P = 635.

fm can probably be found by searching public records of the congress and other political offices, but we can also estimate it from the same fraction of the US population who is married. A quick search turns up this web page from the US Census Bureau which states that 50% of the adults in New York state are unmarried and that this is the highest percentage of any state. I’d expect there to be more married politicians than the national average so we’ll just guess that 40% of politicians are single, leaving 60% married.

fu can similarly be estimated from national trends. A quick web search turns up this page which states that 3% of women cheat and 5% of men cheat on their spouse in any given year (actually this page cites 1997 as the year, but we’ll assume this applies to any given year). We’ll ignore the male/female ratio for politicians and just take the average of these 2 numbers. Thus fu is 4%. Note this particular web page has many other statistics on it. Many that state a higher infidelity statistic than 4%. This is just a piece for fun, so I didn’t dig into these numbers too much, but one statistic states that 22% of men have an affair at least once during their married lives. We’re really not interested in this number because we probably don’t care about a politician who has an affair after they’re out of office. Similarly, we probably don’t care about a politician who had an affair a few years ago but is currently faithful. Thus the number we do care about is the fraction of married people who are currently cheating. A number that is reasonably lower than the total fraction of married people who cheat at some point during their marriages.

Combining all of these we get:
635 * 0.6 * 0.04 = 15

or 15 politicians should be currently having affairs. To date (within the past 12 months) we are aware of only 2 who similarly qualify. Sanford and John Ensign, all the others who have been in the news recently fall outside of the methodology we’re using here. Eliot Spitzer’s indiscretion, for example, occured a little over 15 months ago. ABCnews has a good photo link on recent politicians who cheat.

Mark Sanford’s picture comes courtesy of the South Carolina Governor’s Office.

1 comment for “The Drake Equation and The Number of Politicians Who Cheat

  1. Adolfo Mercardo
    November 6, 2012 at 7:24 am

    married life is quite happier than single life because you got to share what you have to someone. ‘

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