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'Do Running Mates Matter?' Political scientist co-authors new book

Do vice presidential running mates really matter? The first comprehensive book to focus on the topic has the data to prove it.

Recently, University of Dayton Assistant Professor of Political Science Christopher Devine and Elizabethtown College Associate Professor of Political Science Kyle Kopko published, Do Running Mates Matter? The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections (University Press of Kansas).

“Selecting a running mate is a presidential candidate’s first ‘presidential decision,’” Kopko said. “It says something about the presidential candidate; it signals what he/she values. If a presidential candidate selects a running mate who is woefully unqualified for the office, voters often notice, and that reflects poorly on the presidential candidate’s judgment, which in turn affects how an individual casts their ballot.”

Kopko and Devine share their research of vice presidential influence from over 200 statistical models spanning the 1952 to 2016 presidential elections.

“Vice presidential candidates almost certainly will not ‘deliver’ the election, or a particular group of voters, but they do send an important signal to voters about who the presidential candidate is and what he or she stands for,” Devine said. “In that sense, the choice of a running mate tells voters a great deal about how someone like Joe Biden will conduct himself as president--and, therefore, whether he deserves their vote in November.”

The co-authors analyzed three distinct pathways running mates may influence voters’ decisions: 

  • Test for direct effects, or whether evaluations of the running mate influence vote choice among voters in general.
  • Review targeted effects— or if running mates win votes among key subsets of voters who share their gender, religion, ideology, or geographic identity.
  • Examine indirect effects—whether running mates shape perceptions of the presidential candidate who selected them, which in turn influence vote choice. 

“Every four years, pundits speculate about the electoral impact of choosing a running mate,” Kopko said. “Ultimately, we find that much of this speculation is overblown and it doesn’t stand up to statistical analyses.”


News and Communications Staff