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“The Party Decides (Who the Vice President Will Be)”

Sun, September 2, 10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Brandeis


The typical portrayal of how presidential candidates choose their running mates in the modern era is often based on individual and idiosyncratic factors, such as personal chemistry or specific ticket-balancing characteristics that the presidential nominee wants. Even in the current candidate-centered period, however, previous studies by Sigelman and Wahlbeck (1997) and Baumgartner (2008) have shown that there are systematic dynamics at work.

Much of the extant literature assumes that selection processes reflect individual and idiosyncratic concerns within presidential campaigns. We challenge this implicit assumption by conceiving of running mate selections as a party process, a choice that reflects party norms, priorities, and problems. Similar to the coordination mechanisms described in The Party Decides, we demonstrate how party-based pressures shape the presidential nominee’s choice. Case studies of Gerald Ford’s selection of Bob Dole in 1976, Bob Dole’s choice of Jack Kemp in 1996, and John McCain’s inability to choose Joe Lieberman in 2008 will illuminate the forces at work. Our study of vice presidential nominations from this perspective will shed light on the relationships between presidential candidates and political parties, and offer a test of whether American political parties still exert strength in key campaign decisions.