Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much

With Joe BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE moving toward clinching the Democratic Party presidential nomination, people have been speculating about his running mate. Biden fueled this chatter when he announced at the March 15 debate in Arizona that he’ll select a woman. Could it be one of the Democratic senators — Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharKlobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden renominates Powell as Fed chair MORE, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Restless progressives eye 2024 Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run MORE, Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE, or Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBuilding back a better vice presidency Stacey Abrams nominated to board of solar energy firm Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE? How about former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, or U.S. Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsSununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Rep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general MORE of Florida, or even Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer? 

Political pundits may be handicapping each, divining who would be the perfect match for Biden. Yet the reality is, the choice of a vice president really does not sway elections.

Conventional wisdom declares that vice presidential picks matter. Their selection balances a ticket and offsets presidential liabilities, such a liberal and a conservative, a Washington insider and an outsider, or now, male and female.


Historically, vice presidents were geographically balanced with presidents — northerners with southerners. Some point to John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE placing Lyndon Johnson on the 1960 ticket as crucial to Democrats’ winning Texas, the South and the election. Yet in 1960, the South was still Democratic and even as late as 1968, Hubert Humphrey won Texas. There is little evidence that such geographic balance really meant anything, but it nonetheless persisted as a legend important to presidential prospects well into the 20th century. 

Maybe geography might matter when vice presidential candidates are needed to win their home state. However, in 1980, Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterThe massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) The Philippines is a frontline of another cold war Cruz: I hope US athletes 'go over there and kick their commie asses' at Beijing Olympics MORE would have won Minnesota regardless of whether Walter Mondale was on the tick. Lloyd Bentsen did not bring Texas over to Michael Dukakis in 1988, and George H.W. Bush would have won Indiana without Dan Quayle. In 2000, George W. Bush would have won Wyoming without Dick Cheney. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWe must eliminate nuclear weapons, but a 'No First Use' Policy is not the answer Building back a better vice presidency Jill Biden unveils traditional White House holiday décor MORE won Delaware in 2008 with Joe Biden on the ticket, but John KerryJohn KerryTo address China's coal emissions, the US could use a little help from its friends Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Storms a growing danger for East Coast Israel, Jordan, UAE sign pivotal deal to swap solar energy, desalinated water MORE also won the state in 2004 with John Edwards on the ticket (who failed to win his home state of North Carolina). Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE in 2016 probably would have won Virginia without Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos Senate advances defense bill after delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senators to take up defense bill Wednesday MORE, and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE would have won Indiana without Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Building back a better vice presidency Trump endorses challenger to Hogan ally in Maryland governor's race MORE. Statistically, at least back to World War II, there is scant evidence that the selection of vice presidential candidates makes their home states more competitive or winnable.  

There is little evidence that vice presidential candidates affect voter turnout, or voters’ choice for president in any significant way. My research indicates that, for the most part, voters select presidential candidates based on the person at the top of the ticket, not because of the vice president. Maybe the vice presidential choice sways 1 or 2 percent of voters, but it is not clear that even this is the case. In 2016, barely a majority could name the vice presidential candidates, suggesting the limited impact of a running mate in terms of affecting voter choice.  

Some say this year it may be different — Biden needs to pick a woman, perhaps a person of color, or someone from the Midwest, to be his running mate to secure votes from these constituencies. Again, however, evidence challenges this claim.

What factors should Biden consider when making his choice? There are five possibilities. First, do no harm. In 2008, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE’s pick of Sarah Palin cost him 1 or 2 percentage points in the popular vote, although it might not have mattered in the overall Electoral College result.  Pick someone who does not hurt your party. Were Biden to pick one of the members of Congress or the governor of Michigan, could Democrats guarantee they would hold those seats?


Two, given the cost of presidential campaigns, the vice presidential candidate should be an effective fundraiser. Three, will the vice president be good in attacking or criticizing the opponent? Often presidents do not want to do the dirty work of attacking the opposition, so having a vice presidential candidate who can — Bob Dole and Spiro Agnew come to mind — is good. 

Four, consider whether the vice presidential candidate serves as an effective bridge to a faction within the party. Maybe a candidate can reach out to conservatives or moderates, or other constituencies, as part of a deal to win support or make them feel better about supporting the winner. Again, there is limited evidence that a vice presidential candidate selected for this purpose actually delivers what is promised. 

Finally, a vice presidential candidate may be selected simply because the president and this person get along or are friends. The choice here has little to do with politics; it is personal.

These factors — and not the belief that someone will deliver a certain constituency — are what Biden should consider when making his selection.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @ProfDSchultz.