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

With Joe BidenJoe BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along 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 KlobucharCalifornia Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package MORE, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenKamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE, Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinObamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE, or Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE? How about former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, or U.S. Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsKamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along Centrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick 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.

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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 CarterPresidents, crises and revelations Trump: Obama's eulogy of John Lewis a 'terrible,' 'angry' speech Big bank hypocrisy: inconsistent morals to drive consistent profits 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 ObamaKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner Poll: 15 percent of Democratic voters want to eliminate the filibuster Donald Trump has done more for African Americans than we think MORE won Delaware in 2008 with Joe Biden on the ticket, but John KerryJohn Forbes KerryRon Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe The Memo: Biden faces balancing act Budowsky: Trump October surprise could devastate GOP 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 ClintonNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states California Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate MORE in 2016 probably would have won Virginia without Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThree pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE, and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE would have won Indiana without Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP Pence jabs at Harris after she's picked as VP nominee OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say 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 McCainSarah Palin offers Harris advice: 'Don't get muzzled' McSally gaining ground on Kelly in Arizona Senate race: poll Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump 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?

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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.