The Veepstakes

A mathematician’s thoughts on a political and historical problem

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Who might be the next elected official to occupy this house?

The vice president on the campaign trail

Selecting the right running mate for the campaign trail drives a lot of vice presidential selections. The factors that go into deciding what vice president will help win votes can be divided into three categories.

Trying to win over swing voters

The Electoral College system is a chaotic mess of a system, and close presidential elections depend on narrow margins of victory in key battleground states. Some running mates are chosen to help put a key state into play, or to shore up the party’s performance in a region where the nominee is less popular. Most early presidential tickets paired a southerner and northerner on this theory.

Graph of presidential vote in Wisconsin and North Carolina 2000–2016
Graph of presidential vote in Wisconsin and North Carolina 2000–2016
Recent presidential elections in NC & WI.

Appeasing a rival faction

In some cases, vice presidents are chosen from a rival political faction, as a matter of apparent political expedience. It’s not clear that symbolically picking a rival as vice president helps win votes. However, it is clearly reckless.

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Image cropped from source.
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Image from source.
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Newspaper engraving depicting assassination of Garfield; from here.

Nominating an ally for vice president

If we consider the last seven elections, there’s very little reason to think that it’s harmful for a presidential nominee to choose a vice president closely aligned with their own politics and personality. To the contrary, the most successful presidents in the last thirty years all did exactly that.

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Clinton-Gore electoral victory, 1992

Who should the nominee pick for vice president?

So. Let’s review the facts. It’s possible that a vice presidential nominee could help win their home state, although this didn’t happen with the last two presidential nominees from potential battleground states (i.e., John Edwards in 2004 and Paul Ryan in 2012).

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Collage of headlines covering attacks by various candidates on various other candidates. Source articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Dr. Tomas McIntee is a mathematician and occasional social scientist with stray degrees in physics and philosophy.

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