August 10, 2020 at 06:09PM
Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick is unlikely to sway very many voters
JOE BIDEN plans to announce his vice-presidential running-mate this week. Although it’s anyone’s guess whom he will select, political bettors place the shortest odds on Kamala Harris, a senator and prosecutor from California, and Susan Rice, who was Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser.
Presidential candidates pondering a running-mate face a dilemma: should they pick a partner who can bring extra voters into the fold, carrying their home state over the line? Or should they choose the person who will do the best job as vice-president? And because of Mr Biden’s old age, there is also a reasonable chance that whomever he picks will take over the duties of the presidency.
An analysis of past presidential elections by The Economist reveals that vice-presidential choices have only a subtle impact on the race. We built a statistical model to predict state-level results for each presidential election from 1976 to 2016 using a measure of each state’s recent partisan history and how the nation voted. We find that adding an indicator for each vice-presidential candidate’s home state only mildly increases the predictiveness of our model.
On average, Democratic candidates do about one-and-a-half percentage points better in the state from which their running-mate hails (ie, the blue dots in the chart are on average one-and-a-half points above the line marking perfect accuracy). Republican candidates, meanwhile, do about one-and-a-half percentage points better in the home states of their VP picks (the red dots). However, we can’t be sure which way the arrow of causality points: whether the Democrats’ improved chances are directly caused by the vice-presidential selection; or are an artificial product of picking candidates from bluer-than-average states.
Although Mr Biden’s selection could tip a competitive state—such as Georgia, Arizona or Texas—it is unlikely to change the outcome of the entire election, especially if he picks a nominee, such as Ms Harris, from a navy-blue state. Much more important will be how Washington and the media characterise his choice. A former prosecutor (like Ms Harris) or Obama-administration official (Ms Rice) could give Donald Trump and the conservative commentariat something to get their teeth into.
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