Predicting Who Will Be Church President (Now Continuously Updated!)

Update: Now that Elder Perry has died, I have replaced the continuously updated table and graph with static versions that show the probabilities as of May 2015. I will write a new post with continuously updated probabilities after his replacement is called in October.

Who among the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve is mostly likely to eventually become President of the Church?

Elder Bednar. He has a 70% chance. Here are probabilities for the entire Q15:

tabled probabilities of becoming president at elder perry's death 5-2015The first two columns are probably self-explanatory, but let me briefly clarify the others. The column labeled “Probability of being president: Next” column tells the probability that the Q15 member will be the next Church President. This is blank for President Monson because he’s already the current President. The next column, “Ever future” tells the probability that the Q15 member will ever be Church President. This value isn’t 100% for President Monson because it’s telling the probability that he’ll continue as President in the future for at least one more year. In other words, it’s saying that the probability that he’ll die in the coming year is 9%. Finally, the last column tells how many years each Q15 member is expected to serve as President, given that he becomes President.

One other important thing to note: If you’re reading this post after April, 2015, the data table above, and the graph below will have been automatically updated, so the values might not match the values I’m referring to here in the text of the post. (This is accomplished by putting the data table and the graph in Google sheets and calculating age using a function that looks up the current date.) On the bright side, this means that you can bookmark this post and come back at any time in the future to check for updated probabilities. Well, at least until someone in the Q15 dies and a replacement member is called. Then I’ll have to re-do everything and write a new post.

Here’s a related graph that might also be interesting. It shows each Q15 member’s probability of being President across the next 30 years.

graphed probabilities of becoming president at elder perry's death 5-2015I’m sorry there are so many lines jammed into such a small space. This might help: if you hover your cursor over a line, you’ll get a pop-up telling you who it belongs to, and what his probability is at that point. Looking at the graph, President Monson’s probability is declining over the next few years, falling to below 50% in year 5. Then there are three increasingly big bumps for Q15 members most likely to be the next Presidents. These are for Elders Oaks, Holland, and Bednar. As I noted in a post a few years ago where I looked retrospectively at Q15 members’ probabilities of becoming President, all three were noticeably younger than anyone else in the Q15 when they were called, so it was likely from day 1 of their service that they would end up becoming President. The last bump, rising at the right end, is for any other Q15 member called after Elder Andersen. At 30 years in the future, there’s about a 50% probability that someone not yet in the Q15 will be serving as President.

In the comments, please feel free to speculate about who in the Q15 you think will die next, or explain who you’re rooting for (or against!) to become Church President.

Method

Here’s how I came up with all the numbers in the table and in the graph. I used the new mortality table from the Society of Actuaries (SOA), specifically the section for white collar males. For all ages up until 80, I used values for “employee,” and for ages after, I used those for “healthy annuitant.” For each Q15 member, I found his age, used a random number generator to draw a random value between zero and one, and then compared this value to the mortality table to find his age at death. (In order to simplify the process, rather than using the raw mortality table, I converted it first into a table of cumulative probability of death at each age.) Once I had each Q15 member’s age at death, it was a simple matter to figure out, for each member, whether he would be President or not. If he outlived all members senior to him, he would become President. If not, he wouldn’t. To find if a member would be the next President, I checked that (1) he outlived President Monson, and (2) President Monson outlived all other members between the two of them in seniority.

I repeated the entire process 1000 times. I would like to have done more, but I wanted the process to be manageable in a not-too-large Google sheet. I calculated the probabilities as the proportion of the 1000 runs in which the event occurred (e.g., the member became President).

Note that because the SOA tables are yearly, ages and lengths of service are always whole numbers, so for example, in one of the 1000 runs, President Monson serves 8 more years, followed by President Packer serving as President for 2 years and Elder Oaks serving as President for 6 years. There are no fractional years in the runs. Of course the averages of the 1000 runs typically aren’t whole numbers, though, as you can see in the table at the beginning of this post. One exception to rounding values to years is that each Q15 members’ age is taken as of the current month, although day isn’t taken into account (meaning effectively all birthdays are assumed to occur on the first of the month).

Acknowledgements

Several people gave me advice that was helpful in doing the analyses for this post. Geoff Nelson, who blogs at Rational Faiths, suggested that I update my 2009 post on this topic, and also that I put the results in Google sheets so they would be automatically updated as time moves forward. Also, gibbyg, a friend of mine (and occasional commenter here) who’s an actual actuary, pointed me to the SOA mortality tables and advised me on how to use them. A commenter named Timer first suggested on the 2009 version of this post that I use a standard mortality table rather than trying to make up a custom one. Finally, a blogger who went by the name MoHoHawaii made the first version I had seen of the of the graph in this post. You can see his graph here.

34 comments

  1. Interesting. I wonder if we could nuance the data by pegging who is blue collar or white collar (I assume they are all white collar?). And then i wonder if we have any means of classifying any as disabled vs healthy? (Who needs to sit at conference vs stand, maybe?)




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  2. Good points, Matt. I think all the current Q15 members qualify as white collar. For the question of being healthy versus disabled, I chose to use the healthy table to avoid having to make judgment calls about who qualifies as disabled. (Also, it makes it easier to have the table and graph updated if I just say upfront that I’m not going to switch tables for anyone. And I’m all about easy solutions! πŸ™‚ )




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  3. As always, nice visual representation of data. Very interesting. I love Holland and Bednar, but I sure wish Eyring and Uchtdorf had higher peaks in the 30 year probabilities…

    It would be interesting to take this data and apply it to the succession of church presidents over the last 50 years. How do the predictions match up with the results? Not that I’m volunteering to do the number crunching πŸ™‚




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  4. All this assumes, of course, that the current method of succession continues. I don’t think it’s likely that the method will change, but it’s possible, especially if we reach a point where the next person in line is too infirm to fully function in the role.




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  5. Is there some way to put a column for age at time of each becoming coming president. You had one recently that showed the collective age of the 15 was increasing.

    I believe at some point there has to be a retirement age, so we have a Prophet with enough vigour to recieve revelation, and actually lead.

    I fear for the future of the church if the present succession system continues.

    I would like to see a movement that makes it clear that the members want a retirement age of say 80, which would put Holland in, but probably exclude Uchtdof.

    Altrnatively, a retirement age of 80 and the leader chosen on merit (by revelation or vote of members), which should result in Uchtdorf.

    I believe that unless the church can be separated from conservative American culture, and we only teach the Gospel, we cease to grow/ fill the world or fulfill the prophecies about the church in the last days. The only person I see doing this is Uchtdorf.




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  6. It is interesting that this data show that Elder Perry has a 20% chance of ever being church president. People who watched conference and knew seniority (but not ages) would guess that he has a 50% chance. His chances by the Ziff method in the 2009 post have always been in the 20-25% range. They are slowly declining, just like Elder Packer’s, as all of the remaining apostles age.
    Looking back at the 1970 odds, President Hinckley had the 8th most likely chance of being church president, yet he has been president the longest since then and probably had the largest impact on the church since 1970. President Lee, who had a very high likelihood of being church president and who was called as 1st counselor at that time, had relatively little impact going forward (most of his impact on the church was already underway as correlation was rolled out). Don’t be surprised if one of the less likely church presidents (from where we stand today) turns out to have tremendous impact in the next 45 years.




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  7. The brethren closest to the situation then-Elder Hinckley was in back in 1970 regarding seniority would be Pres. Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen. Rachel and Geoff may take some comfort from that.

    Rachel, your question is answered by Ziff’s 2009 post. (Has it really been that long ago? No wonder I can identify with Elder Perry, I am getting old)




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  8. Geoff, I don’t think I’m going to add to the table, but here are the average ages at becoming President for all Q15 members who are not already President:

    Packer 92.6
    Perry 95.8
    Nelson 95.2
    Oaks 89.1
    Ballard 93.9
    Scott 94.9
    Hales 92.1
    Holland 86.2
    Eyring 93.7
    Uchtdorf 88.9
    Bednar 80.2
    Cook 93.5
    Christofferson 91.3
    Andersen 86.7




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  9. Rachel, that’s a great point. It’s actually on my list of blogging stuff to do to look at that. Like el oso said, I looked at fit of my custom mortality table in the old version of this post, but it would be good to know if the new mortality table is working.

    El oso, thanks for bringing up those past comparisons of how things didn’t play out in what appeared to be the most likely manner before the fact. These most probable events, like Elder Oaks becoming President, for example, are far from certain. I’m holding out hope for an Uchtdorf presidency myself. πŸ™‚




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  10. Hi Ziff –

    I’m a relatively new reader and love your work. May I suggest another analysis that would be very interesting (assuming you haven’t already done it)?

    – Use the statistics the Church announces on baptisms to estimate the number of active church members. One could refer to population pyramid statistics to estimate the percent of church members who are 8 years old; then voila – an estimate for the entire active church membership. After all, virtually all active church members will baptize their children. If anything, this analysis would give an overestimate, since some less actives also encourage their children to be baptized.

    I await your fine work!




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  11. Thanks for the ages of succession, which tell me that with the present succession system (which is only tradition) we will have a Prophet/President who is over 90 for the forseeable future.
    This is only tradition that it be the president of thr 12.
    I can not think of any other orginization that would find it acceptable that you have to be over 90 to get the top position. How about a candidate for president of the USA over 90.

    Can this really be what the Lord wants?




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  12. What happens is not my circus, not my monkeys. My circus and my monkeys is to follow the prophet.




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  13. Kris, The Prophet is a man, who may also act as the Prophet. My father is the same age as the Prophet and I can assure you that without a lot of help he goes nowhere.So if he is incapableyou wont ‘get far following him. The fact that the President of the United States came to visit and he was unable to get there, or in some other way not functioning, might tell us something.
    These old men need to be able to retire.
    The church needs a leader who is functioning, leading, and capable of revealing the Lords will.The succession system is broken and needs replacing.




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  14. Kindred Spirit, that’s a really interesting idea. I’ll add it to my list! (Sorry; there’s always more fun data to look at than I have time to get to right away.)




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  15. I honestly did not know you had done this or that this post existed, but I did something very similar a few days ago. (I’m actually becoming an actuary; two more exams to become an Associate of the Society of Actuaries or ASA.) What I did was actually EXTREMELY similar, varying in only two details: 1) I used the US Social Security Life Table, and 2) I ran a MILLION simulations (I was doing it in Excel 2010, it can handle 2^20 = 1 “meg” = 1,048,576 rows, so I figured, why not?). I only looked at “Probability of being president -Ever future” and “Avg years pres if pres”, and here are my results:

    Monson 86.2% 4.8 (For President Monson, that 86.2% is “chance of being president at the end of 2015”, or 1 minus his chance of passing away this year.)
    Packer 36.8% 3.5
    Perry 20.4% 3.0
    Nelson 20.2% 3.2
    Oaks 40.0% 4.8
    Ballard 17.6% 3.6
    Scott 14.6% 3.4
    Hales 22.8% 4.1
    Holland 44.7% 6.2
    Eyring 12.9% 3.8
    Uchtdorf 30.0% 5.4
    Bednar 60.5% 9.2
    Cook 10.3% 4.4
    Christofferson 19.0% 5.3
    Andersen 31.3% 6.3

    So we get different specific numbers, but as far as I can tell, the order is the same (Bednar with the highest chance, Cook with lowest). Good to see two people independently coming to basically the same conclusions. πŸ™‚




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  16. Now that Elder Perry has died,how does that affect the chances of those in line behind him?




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  17. It won’t have much of an effect, since he was the oldest, and therefore predicted to be the soonest to die by the mortality table. If someone in the middle of the quorum in seniority died tomorrow, it would shake things up a lot, but when the oldest member dies, unless he’s currently in the #1 spot, I think it typically doesn’t change much.

    In any case, I’m planning to write a new post with new figures, but not until the replacement Q15 member is called (which I’m assuming will happen in October Conference).




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  18. Packer,Scott,and Hales all have notable health problems.
    Right now I’m expecting Rasband to be the likeliest new Apostle (maybe Christensen in second place) since the last two new Apostles were also Presiding President of the Seventy.If he is picked,that may be a reason to announce it in August when they shuffle the Seventy assignments.
    Perry died on the anniversary of Benson’s death,and that time they announced the new Apostle in June (coincidentally on Hinckley’s birthday).
    In the meantime,why “continuously update” Perry’s no-longer-extant chances?




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  19. I’ve added a note to the top of the post to point out that it’s out of date. Like I said, I’ll update the whole thing in October.




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  20. You make a good point about the continuous updating not making sense anymore, Louis E. I’ve replaced the continuously-updated table and graph with static versions that show probabilities as of May, when Elder Perry died.




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