Church President Probability Changes with President Packer’s Death

President Boyd K. Packer died on Friday at the age of 90. As I did when Elder Perry died, I thought it would be interesting to look at how this changes the probabilities of becoming Church President for the other members of the Q15

Here are their probabilities and average predicted years of being President before and after President Packer’s death. These come from the simulation I posted about a few months ago where I used a mortality table to run 1000 scenarios and see in how many each Q15 member would become Church President.

change in probabilities of becoming president with president packer's death

President Packer was virtually tied with Elder Nelson for being the oldest member of the Q15 (they were born one day apart in 1924). This means the mortality tables already expected him to be one of the next to die, so not surprisingly, his death didn’t change probabilities much for quorum members well behind him in seniority. But for those immediately after him, particularly Elder Nelson, the change is really big. Elder Nelson moves from a 28% to a 41% lifetime probability of becoming Church President. Elder Oaks moves from 45% to 50%. The simulations are very simple and don’t take any observation of health into account, so the fact that both men appear to be healthier than President Monson is isn’t taken into account. This means that Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks’s lifetime probabilities are probably low estimates.

One other note: If you compare the table in this post with the table in the post I wrote after Elder Perry died, you might notice that Elder Bendar’s probabilities dropped off noticeably. The reason is just that he had a birthday in June, so he’s a year older. The mortality tables give probabilities by a person’s age in years, so rather than having gradual changes throughout the year, they have a one-time change at each man’s birthday.


  1. Not being very bright, I’m having a hard time understanding why Monson’s probability of being president ever is listed as 91%. Other than that, interesting and fun analysis.

  2. No, that’s a great question, buraianto. The simulation goes year by year, so it’s President Monson’s probability of living at least one more year. (Sorry, that’s explained in the original post that has more detail on the simulation, but I realize it’s a bit much for me to bury that detail so deeply. Thanks for bringing it up, because it definitely looks odd!)

  3. Hi Ziff,
    My name is Amy McDonald, a reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune. I came across your “Church President Probability” chart on Zelphehad’s Daughters and thought it was fascinating.
    I write web-ish stuff for the Tribune and our audience would love to know about this. Would be willing to talk with me on the phone and share your analysis? We could link to the blog, as well. Let me know what you think. (Soon, if possible!)

  4. Apparent health during general conference can be deceiving. Elder Perry appeared healthier than President Monson and Elder Hales and much better than Elders Packer and Scott at April conference. Yet, improbably, he was the fist to pass away. I think most people would have guessed either Elder Packer or Elder Scott would have been the first to pass on.
    Interesting that the 3 most senior quorum members now were chosen by President Hinckley (at the end of the Kimball presidency when he was effectively the only 1st presidency member). The next most senior is Elder Scott, who may not live much longer. Soon we will have most of the senior spots in the Q15 filled by President Hinckley appointees.
    One other speculation: will there be apostles called before conference in October if yet another current quorum member passes away?

  5. Ziff, The fact that you can do this, is because the system of succession is traditional. That the President of the 12 becomes President of the church, is according to LDSorg tradition.

    I would like to see the Lord choose the next Prophet. I don’t think the church can afford to continue to have a succession of Utah conservatives teaching their culture as if it is the Gospel. We need Uchtdorf right away.

    It will be very interesting to see who the next 2 Apostles are, whether Us conservatives, or from other parts of the world, and more progressive. Though it is a bit much to expect they would be in a position o be called unless they conformed.

  6. Geoff-A,
    President Uchtdorf is the only FP member who travels frequently. I think that he has a lot of clout right now. I expect to see a non-US apostle called again soon. Of course, it could be a very traditional and conservative South American or Asian.

  7. I think God does call each Prophet and leader in his own way. No one leads the LDS Church without His hand pointing the way.

  8. My July fast was for the current leadership to be inspired to think outside the box in choosing the next two apostles. That they will be born outside the US and/or not caucasian and/or progressive. That will be my fast and prayer for August and September as well.

    Hope you will join me.

  9. We’d certainly all benefit from more diversity in the Q15. I hope that comes this October.

    There are costs and benefits to the Mormon method of succession. A cost is that the leader will always be very old, and older people are generally not known for their inclination toward change. If you’re happy with the status quo then this is not a cost. If you think substantial changes are need (and I do) then this is a significant cost.

    A benefit is that there is no selection process, because in spite of the belief that God chooses the prophet, the fact is that human beings are making this thing happen, and egos, lobbying, prejudice, and politics always get involved in selecting leaders. They’re only human. I think in spite of best intentions some of that must come into play when selecting new apostles, but it’s mitigated when choosing the prophet because it’s simply a question of who’s been there the longest.

  10. I have a question. Are there models for including health metrics in this type of equation? Could the bloggernacle help with crowd-sourcing information for a project like that? Of course we’d avoid HIPAA information, but approximate height and weight (from those that have seen them up close and in person), family history longevity (public records), public disclosures of surgeries and ailments, exercise habits, hobbies, etc. We know we can’t use ‘smoker’ and ‘drinker’ as factors, but there must be others. ; )

  11. Hey there! I was updating my own simulation when I saw you’d put up your new simulation. And I intentionally did NOT look at your results until I got my results, so as to avoid any possible bias. As we noted before, we have two main differences in our models; I used the US Social Security Administration life table, where as you used the 2014 Society of Actuaries life table (I’m actually taking the Society of Actuaries exams now), and whereas you did 1,000 simulations, I went nuts and did 1,000,000. (That’s pushing Excel right to the edge, so it took me longer not because of more simulations, but because Excel keeps crashing every time I try to do something like copy a couple of million formulas at a time.)

    And this time, there’s a third difference: I created two fictional new apostles to be called this October, Elder Doe and Elder Roe. I looked at the ages at which the last 21 new apostles were called (going back to Marion G. Romney in 1951), and gave Elder Doe the 7th-oldest age and Elder Roe the 7th-youngest. Anyhow, with that, it turns out that yet again, our results are quite similar! I have Elder Holland with a higher chance than Elder Oaks (a reversal from your order), and similarly have Elder Scott with a higher chance than Elder Christofferson (another simple reversal). But otherwise, we match quite well. We also match quite well in the “Avg years pres if pres” field.

    Here are my “before the deaths of Elder Perry and President Packer” and “after” figures (hope this paste comes through OK):

    Probability of being pres ever Avg years pres if pres
    Quorum member Before After Before After
    Monson 86.2% 86.1% 4.8 4.8
    Packer 36.8% — 3.5 —
    Perry 20.4% — 3.0 —
    Nelson 20.2% 37.0% 3.2 3.6
    Oaks 40.0% 49.2% 4.8 5.2
    Ballard 17.6% 21.5% 3.6 3.8
    Scott 14.6% 17.0% 3.4 3.6
    Hales 22.8% 24.8% 4.1 4.2
    Holland 44.7% 45.8% 6.2 6.3
    Eyring 12.9% 13.3% 3.8 3.9
    Uchtdorf 30.0% 30.4% 5.4 5.4
    Bednar 60.5% 60.7% 9.2 9.2
    Cook 10.3% 10.3% 4.4 4.4
    Christofferson 19.0% 19.0% 5.3 5.3
    Andersen 31.3% 31.3% 6.3 6.3
    “Elder Doe” — 21.2% — 5.3
    “Elder Roe” — 45.1% — 6.0

    Hey, if you ever want to swap models, let me know! (Mine’s insanely huge, but I can “cut it down” to make it small enough to e-mail.)

  12. Robert, thanks for sharing your results! It’s comforting that our results are largely similar. Also, I love that you added new Q15 members. I was planning to do something similar in a future post, but you beat me to the punch! 🙂

  13. Good stuff! And I noticed that the two biggest effects I see are 1) President Nelson’s chances of becoming church president go WAY up now that both Elder Perry and President Packer are “out of the way”. That jump from 4th most-senior apostle to 2nd makes a huge difference. And 2) Elder Oaks’ already-substantial chances also take a big jump, largely for the same reason (a jump from 5th to 3rd). Being a fair bit younger than President Nelson and President Monson also help him out a lot.

    There’s an analysis I want to try, but I’m not sure quite yet how to do it. But it would be something along the lines of “What are your chances of becoming Church President if you’re called to be an apostle at age X?” There’s an obvious huge correlation; look at President Monson, who was called to be an apostle at age 36. And who among the current living apostles were the next-youngest when they were called? Elder Oaks (age 51.7), Elder Bednar (52.3), and Elder Holland (53.6). And why were President Packer and Elder Perry so “high up” the list? They were called at even younger ages, Packer at 45.6 and Perry at 51.7. That’s why my fictitious “Elder Roe”, called at age 54.0, ends up with a 45% chance of eventually becoming Church President; it would be a fairly safe even-odds bet that if either new apostle this fall is 55 or younger, that they’d eventually become President.

  14. Great work! It would be helpful to list each apostle’s age in the chart, maybe right next to their name.

  15. If you want to try your hand at running something similar you can fork the analysis here:

    It’s probably simpler, just a markov simulation based on weighted life tables, but still interesting.

    Here’s the predictions for the next 5 years inclusive:

    Thomas S. Monson (1.0)

    Thomas S. Monson (0.9215)
    Russell M. Nelson (0.0739)
    Dallin H. Oaks (0.0045)
    M. Russell Ballard (0.0001)

    Thomas S. Monson (0.7821)
    Russell M. Nelson (0.1743)
    Dallin H. Oaks (0.0393)
    M. Russell Ballard (0.0037)
    Richard G. Scott (0.0005)
    Robert D. Hales (0.0001)

    Thomas S. Monson (0.6105)
    Russell M. Nelson (0.2424)
    Dallin H. Oaks (0.116)
    M. Russell Ballard (0.0222)
    Richard G. Scott (0.0067)
    Robert D. Hales (0.0017)
    Jeffrey R. Holland (0.0005)

    Thomas S. Monson (0.4246)
    Russell M. Nelson (0.266)
    Dallin H. Oaks (0.2093)
    M. Russell Ballard (0.0514)
    Richard G. Scott (0.0205)
    Robert D. Hales (0.0161)
    Jeffrey R. Holland (0.0094)
    Henry B. Eyring (0.0019)
    Dieter F. Uchtdorf (0.0006)
    Quentin L. Cook (0.0001)
    David A. Bednar (0.0001)

    Dallin H. Oaks (0.2854)
    Thomas S. Monson (0.2588)
    Russell M. Nelson (0.2131)
    M. Russell Ballard (0.0888)
    Robert D. Hales (0.0466)
    Richard G. Scott (0.0455)
    Jeffrey R. Holland (0.0442)
    Henry B. Eyring (0.01)
    Dieter F. Uchtdorf (0.0056)
    David A. Bednar (0.0017)
    D. Todd Christofferson (0.0002)
    Quentin L. Cook (0.0001)


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