If you haven’t heard, there will be a presidential election in the United States soon.
The Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, is set to announce his 2nd-in-Command sometime in early August.
Folks have differing opinions on who he’s considering and who he should pick. But there’s been one emerging theme in the coverage that needs to stop: constant questioning about battleground state advantages that come from a VP selection.
The conventional wisdom about a Vice Presidential nominee is that maybe you should pick one from a battleground state, so that this “home court advantage” helps your party win that state come November.
And this is where the problem starts. Members of the media have developed an obsession with smugly pointing out that–in the past–the VP pick has appeared to help very little in terms of actually winning votes in the VP’s state.
But when looked at carefully, this “battleground state” hypothesis is a little ridiculous, and it asks the wrong questions to begin with.
We do not have good data as to what happens when you try to build a presidential ticket that represents the country.
Statistically, caucasian males make up roughly one third of the voting population. That’s more than enough people to swing a state electoral vote, but not nearly enough people to decide an election, even if their voting was completely uniform. The same is true for every other demographic in this country.
And yet, in almost 250 years of presidential elections, there have been only about five elections where a competitive president/vice-president ticket did not include two white men. Obama twice, Hillary Clinton in 2016, McCain/Palin, and Walter Mondale’s selection of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 for the Democratic nomination.
The point is is this. We simply do not have enough information about what happens when a candidate like Kamala Harris potentially joins the ticket, a woman who is both African American and South Asian.
Even in scenarios where the battleground state choice is made seemingly irrelevant (Harris is from California, and Warren is from Massachusetts, both solidly blue states) a Vice Presidential nominee still sends a broader message for the voting public to accept or reject.
- A VP pick can reinforce the belief that expertise and experience are valued traits in the president’s administration. (Joe Biden, 2008)
- It can signal to voters that the president believes in a particular moral framework. (Mike Pence, 2016)
- A VP pick can establish a candidate’s argument that they are a break from the past (Joe Lieberman, 2000. Al Gore chose Lieberman because he was one of the voices in DC most critical of outgoing-President Clinton)
Selecting a woman as his VP pick, as the Democratic nominee has pledged to do, immediately sends a message about who Joe Biden is, and the kind of inclusive administration he wants to run. Whoever he chooses specifically will send even more messages about how they might try to reverse the flawed policies of the current White House.
In any case, we can safely say that whoever the candidate is, the strategic “battleground state” considerations are both statistically flawed, and, more importantly, they are somewhat irrelevant compared to the moral value of representation.
Despite the recent success of diverse candidates across the country, America’s government still does not resemble the people it serves. And there’s no way to have a government that is fair to everyone, until the government looks likes everyone.
What I’m saying is that representation matters when it comes to the VP. And that we cannot expect to understand the impact of Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential pick by looking backwards into a hopelessly biased past.