Guest Columnist

Will Biden's vice presidential selection make a difference?

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a primary election night campaign rally Tues
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a primary election night campaign rally Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, has committed to choosing a woman as his vice-presidential running mate. Presidential nominees typically “balance” their tickets by selecting a potential vice president whose qualities will enhance their chances for election. Geography might be a basis, such as Donald Trump from the East Coast choosing Mike Pence from the Midwest. Or ideological balance might be considered, such as Bob Dole, a moderate, selecting the more conservative Jack Kemp. But among the many traditional balancing factors, such as geography, ideology, experience, and age, gender is the newest.

Geraldine Ferraro, a congresswoman from New York, was the first woman selected as a vice-presidential nominee by a major party. Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, chose Ferraro in hopes female voters would be attracted to his slate and help him defeat the popular Ronald Reagan. It didn’t work. Mondale got trounced, winning only his home state of Minnesota.

Sarah Palin, then-governor of Alaska, became the next woman to appear on a presidential ticket when John McCain, the Republican nominee for president in 2008, selected her as his running mate. No doubt McCain, like Mondale, hoped women voters would be thus attracted and give him a ticket to the Oval Office. The results, however, were much the same as in 1984. McCain went down to defeat, winning only one-third of the Electoral College votes.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major party for the presidency. Studies indicate that voters make their selection primarily on the presidential nominee rather than his or her running mate. Thus, the election of 2016 provided a golden opportunity for female voters, who are a majority and vote in larger percentages than men, to elect a woman as president. It didn’t happen. A bare majority, 54%, of women voters supported Clinton, but compared to the estimated 75% of Catholics who voted for John Kennedy, the first president of his faith, and the estimated 93% of African-Americans who cast a ballot for Barack Obama, the first minority president, it appears gender is not a decisive factor in presidential elections.

Along with gender, little evidence exists a vice-presidential running mate of any demographic category is of great assistance in helping a nominee win the presidency. Only in an extremely close election might a vice-presidential selection make a difference, such as 1960. In that instance, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy’s running mate, helped Kennedy to carry Johnson’s home state of Texas and win a narrow victory. When Al Gore lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush by a mere five Electoral votes, he probably regretted not selecting a running mate from the decisive State of Florida.

Given all the evidence that vice-presidential nominees are not of much help in electing a president, certainly the case with female nominees, why is Joe Biden committed to selecting a woman as his ticket partner? And why was he quick to commit to a category and not an individual?

It is clear Biden’s motive is not the same as those of Walter Mondale and John McCain who were fighting uphill battles against formidable opponents. Seven of eight recent national polls show Biden running ahead of Trump, with the eighth, that of Fox News, indicating a tie.

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The answer to Biden’s early commitment to a gender is no doubt connected to the surge of influence of women in the Democratic Party. As recently as 1978 only one elected female served in the U.S. Senate, Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas. The current U.S. Senate includes 26 female members, 17 of whom are Democrats and 9 Republicans. In the House of Representatives, female Democrats outnumber their Republican counterparts 88 to 13. Nine states have female governors, including Iowa, six of whom are Democrats.

Women are more likely than men to vote Democratic by a margin of twelve percentage points, 54-42. Female candidates and officeholders are disproportionately Democratic. And the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 is largely attributed to female voters.

Considerable evidence exists that many women are not Trump supporters. In 2016, he received 52% of the male vote, but only 41% of those cast by women. As he entered office, his approval rating among men was 50%; among women 38%.

No doubt Joe Biden recognizes the surge of female influence in the Democratic Party. Couple with widespread female indignation over Donald Trump’s various sexual transgressions, it is small wonder Joe Biden has reserved a spot on his ticket for a lady.

Carroll McKibbin is a native Iowan who lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a retired Cal Poly dean. He has written two books: “Apron Strings,” a humorous memoir of an Iowa upbringing, and “Lillian’s Legacy,” the true story of a supposedly unsolved murder in a small Iowa town. Comments: cmckibbi@calpoly.edu.

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