1. Which is most powerful (Governor, US Senator, Cabinet Secretary)?
  2. Which is most prestigious (Governor, US Senator, Cabinet Secretary)?
  3. Which is most influential (Governor, US Senator, Cabinet Secretary)?
  4. If a person has been all 3, post-retirement, which title will they be referred by - most recent or most prestigious? (I have seen Hillary Clinton in the recent past being referred to as both Secretary Clinton and Senator Clinton.)
  • By Cabinet Secretary, do you actually mean the White House Cabinet Secretary (incumbent Kristan King Nevins [?]) or do you mean the Secretary of State? Clinton was the latter.
    – James K
    Feb 17, 2020 at 0:11
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    @JamesK I mean a cabinet-level head of an executive department - like Attorney General or Treasury Secretary or Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense, etc. Feb 17, 2020 at 0:16
  • In a federal system like the US some powers sit at the State level and others sit at the Federal level. This makes the question of who is more “powerful“ or “influential“ difficult to answer when the office-holders are at different levels. For example, a US Senator has no (or very little) power and influence in relation to matters of education in Iowa while the Governor of Iowa is relatively all-powerful. Conversely, the Iowa Governor has virtually no influence over how foreign policy is conducted. Feb 17, 2020 at 5:48
  • for big states, governor is more prestigious, senators for small states.
    – dandavis
    Feb 17, 2020 at 21:36
  • Not all states are the same, and not all governor positions have equivalent roles and responsibilities within states. Not all Senators have equal positions because of seniority and committees, and the minority/majority standing of their respective parties. Obviously, you see wide variation between Secretaries of different departments in terms of federal workers under them, budgets, and spheres of influence, as well as formal recognition (such as presidential succession) in law. I don't think there's any way you can generally compare. Feb 17, 2020 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


I can't imagine a way to objectively quantify "power", "prestige", or "influence" so I don't think 1-3 are answerable. Practically, it will be hugely dependent on context. The governor of California is much more powerful and influential than the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs, for example. Whether the California governor is more influential than the Secretary of State, on the other hand, is highly context sensitive. The Secretary of State can be hugely influential on foreign policy (i.e. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) or can be a minor footnote. To the extent that governors have power and influence, it is almost exclusively on domestic policy making it extremely difficult to compare.

As for what title they'd use, etiquette rules technically say that they'd be referred to as Senator since that is the only title that is a rank rather than a role. Technically, you don't refer to former governors or former cabinet secretaries as Governor or Secretary. Practically, however, these rules are frequently ignored. Most of the time, it depends on what the particular individual prefers or on what the speaker wishes to emphasize. If a newscaster is reporting a story involving Hillary Clinton and Libya, they're probably going to refer to her as Secretary Clinton to emphasize her foreign policy credentials or to indicate that she was Secretary of State during the events in question.

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    Thanks. The link is interesting. I guess I am unable to see what makes Senator a Rank and not a Role. It is a role occupied by an individual for a limited period of time. I would like to know if it is different from a Representative. Is Representative a rank too? Feb 17, 2020 at 1:01
  • @NonPartisanObservor - The short answer is that there are 100 senators at any one time and only 1 Governor of California. Theoretically at least, an office that is held by one person at a time (including US President) is a role rather than a rank and thus the title expires when the role expires. Practically, however, no one balks at calling Bill Clinton President Clinton because no one is actually confused by that into thinking that he is the current President. Feb 17, 2020 at 1:13

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