Veepstakes 2016: Winston’s Anti-Predictions

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Winston Smith

“[T]he vice-presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss.” – Vice President John Nance Garner

Woah-woah-woah, so far you’ve read a lot about VP predictions but there is some necessary context for the selection of vice presidential nominees. First I want to congratulate John on predicting the likely nominee, Gov. Mike Pence, for Trump’s running mate, and also as having his dream candidate be considered, supposedly. For now we will have to wait and see when Trump makes it reality. Clinton’s picks are still up for grabs and we are all waiting to see a sign from the Clinton campaign as to when we might see a choice made. This silence, of course, is not uncommon from the Clinton campaign, as its last press conference was in December of 2015.

So why is the VP candidate so important, why does it get so much attention? The obvious answer is that the VP is the number two, only a heartbeat away from the presidency, which is only underlined by the fact that over one fifth of vice presidents have assumed the role of the president. Another common answer is that this choice of a second person allows for the presidential candidate to even out their experience, cover weaknesses, and expand geographic influence over the electorate. We see the VP as a way to quell fears about the Presidential nominee. Is this really the case though? Does the VP pick really have that much influence over the election? Can the VP win or lose an election?

First we should try to understand why presidential candidates pick their running mates. To start let’s travel back in time to the nineteenth century where “‘the principal criterion for evaluating vice presidential contenders’” was the ability of the VP candidate to bring in votes for the presidency. This ability included the size of the home state for the nominee, as Baumgartner writes “[f]rom 1804 through 1900 the average state had 3.6% of available Electoral College votes, while the average for vice presidential candidates’ home states was 7% (Baumgartner 2008, 765).” Geographic diversity and ideological balance were also key stipulations which have continued into our modern VP selection process (ibid).

The twentieth century brought new requirements to the table for the VP as the process became more complex (ibid). Baumgartner provides an example; “it might be the case that the number of Electoral College votes a potential candidate could bring to the ticket is weighed against the likely ability to carry that state (ibid).” Baumgartner compiles a new list of qualifications for a Vice President such as gender, race, religion, age, education, military experience, experience in Washington (or lack thereof), exposure to national media, experience, and “‘desireable qualities the presidential nominee lacks’ (Baumgartner 2008, 766).” All of these qualifications are part of the quest to find the perfect candidate that would bring balance to the ticket and achieve the White House. For example, from 1976 to 2012, 11 out of 14 presidential tickets achieved geographic diversity and 12 out of 14 achieved diversity of governmental experience. Ideology is not as easy to generalize as a FiveThirtyEight study found that between 1980 and 2012 “[a]ll but two Democratic candidates picked running mates who moved the ticket to the center.” For Republicans, the majority of their VP picks moved the ticket to the right. What this could point at is that there are different goals that balance should achieve for either party. Republicans seem to find their balance by moving towards the conservative side of the spectrum while Democrats continually move towards the middle.

There are three key factors, though, that are seemingly ignored in the quest for balance; gender, race, and religion. There have only ever been two women nominated for the vice presidency, the first being Geraldine Ferraro with Walter Mondale in 1984 and Sarah Palin with John McCain 2008. In the modern era there has only been one non-Christian on a major party ticket, Joe Lieberman, and there has never been a Hispanic or Black VP nominee, but there has been one nominee with Native American heritage, Charles Curtis. So while these aspects may exist in the larger cornucopia of vice presidential qualities, they seem to continually fall from serious consideration.

With all of these factors in play it is easy to see why it takes a great deal of consideration for a Presidential candidate to pick their number two, but can their number two sway the election in their favor?

Let’s start with, arguably, the most important qualification for the VP, their ability to carry their home state. A study conducted by Robert L. Dudley and Ronald B. Rapoport found that between 1884 and 1984 “[a]lthough presidential candidates have won their vice-president’s home states in 28 of 44 elections, in only three … did the vice-president nominee’s presence make the difference.” A NPR analysis of party tickets between 1979 and 2012 found that out of five instances of a VP nominee from a swing state, the ticket only won the home swing state once. The statistician Nate Silver has found that “the  vice presidential nominee’s effect on his or her home state is normally quite modest — perhaps two or three percentage points on average, if a little more in some cases and a little less in others (Silver 2012).”

This should not mean that VP nominees do not have an effect on their own state. Kyle Kopko, political scientist and co-author of The VP Advantage: How Running Mates Influence Home State Voting in Presidential Elections, stated that “‘You’re likely to get an electoral bump if the candidate comes from a really small state and they have a great deal of political experience in that state’ (Kurtzleben 2016).” In addition, a recent study by Boris Heersink and Brenton D. Peterson found that their “results suggest that the vice-presidential home state advantage (HSA) could have swung four presidential elections since 1960, if presidential candidates had chosen running mates from strategically optimal states.”

Overall the relevant literature points to the conclusion that the vice president really does not have much of an effect at all on the election. With this in mind I want to throw my hat in the ring for whom Clinton will pick as her nominee. I’m skipping over Trump as recent events show that John’s deft analysis will most likely be proven correct.

So who do I think Clinton should pick? Well I’m glad you asked since isn’t that what this series of articles is all about? Clinton should pick whoever she wants, seriously. All she needs to do is pick someone who won’t tank her on her issues and she should be good to go. That doesn’t necessarily mean she will win the presidency, but, as we have just seen, if she does not pick someone too unbalanced she should be fine.

Concluding, we should all remember that this election seems to be very unusual and that we should all remember that when trying to make sense of what will happen. Regardless, I’ll leave you, reader, with a quote from the aforementioned study by Dudley and Rapoport to keep in the back of your mind while you think about who will be the vice presidential nominees this year;

“The media and party officials pay great attention to the candidate’s choice of running mates, but once the choice is made, it is the presidential candidates who dominate the nation’s politics (Dudley & Rapoport 1989, 540).”

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