Since 1828, just a shade over half of major party presidential tickets won the home state of their VP nominees; one-quarter were not even able to hold the state after winning it during the previous cycle

vicepresidentseal20When Donald Trump chose Mike Pence to be his running mate last week, the selection was viewed more as a way to consolidate the Republican base around his campaign with an established conservative than a narrow strategic decision to help carry Pence’s home state of Indiana.

On the Democratic side, the pool of Hillary Clinton’s rumored list of top vice-presidential picks in recent months has largely been a cavalcade of politicians from states carried by Barack Obama during the last two presidential elections such as Tim Kaine of Virginia, Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Xavier Becerra of California, and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

And while the merits of selecting Kaine and Brown have frequently been framed around the issue of Clinton needing to shore up support in their respective battleground states, a frequent refrain heard in the media is that “vice presidential picks don’t matter” – that is to say they don’t really move the needle among the public to support a particular presidential ticket.

So, can vice presidential nominees at least help a ticket carry their home state?

Smart Politics examined the more than 90 major party vice presidential nominees over the last 47 electoral cycles since the start of the modern two-party era in 1828 and found that presidential tickets carried the home state of the VP nominee just 58 percent of the time.

Overall, presidential tickets have won the home states of vice presidential nominees 54 out of 92 times since 1828.

[Note: Excluded from this analysis is the 1840 Democratic Party ticket, which did not have an official VP nominee and the 1864 Republican ticket – whose VP nominee, Andrew Johnson, came from a state (Tennessee) that had seceded and did not vote that cycle].

However, the distribution of victories in these home states seems to be much more tied to the success or failure of the ticket overall.

For example, winning tickets carried the home state of the vice-presidential nominee in 40 out of 46 cycles (87.0 percent).

That is nearly as high a rate of victory as that of winning presidential nominees during this period – 45 wins and two losses (Democrats James Polk of Tennessee in 1844 and Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey in 1916).

The only winning tickets to endure a home state loss of their vice-presidential nominees over the last 188 years are:

  • 1836: Kentucky Democrat Richard Johnson (by 5.2 points)
  • 1840: Virginia Whig John Tyler (by 1.3 points)
  • 1876: New York Republican William Wheeler (by 3.2 points)
  • 1916: Indiana Democrat Thomas Marshall (by 1.0 points)
  • 1940: Iowa Democrat Henry Wallace (by 4.4 points)
  • 1968: Maryland Republican Spiro Agnew (by 1.7 points)

[Note: Wheeler shared the home state of New York Democratic presidential nominee Samuel Tilden while Marshall shared the home state of Indiana with Republican VP nominee Charles Fairbanks].

By contrast, losing presidential tickets won the Electoral College votes in their VP nominee’s home state in just 14 of 46 cycles, or 30.4 percent of the time.

That is noticeably worse than the track record of losing presidential nominees, who have carried home states in 51.1 percent of elections since 1828 (24 of 47 cycles).

The following 14 vice-presidential nominees saw their ticket carry their home state only to lose the election overall:

  • 1844: New Jersey Whig Theodore Frelinghuysen
  • 1872: Missouri Democrat B. Gratz Brown
  • 1876: Indiana Democrat Thomas Hendricks
  • 1884: Illinois Republican John Logan
  • 1916: Indiana Republican Charles Fairbanks
  • 1928: Arkansas Democrat Joseph Robinson
  • 1944: Ohio Republican John Bricker
  • 1952: Alabama Democrat John Sparkman
  • 1968: Maine Democrat Ed Muskie
  • 1976: Kansas Republican Bob Dole
  • 1980: Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale
  • 1992: Indiana Republican Dan Quayle
  • 2000: Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman
  • 2008: Alaska Republican Sarah Palin

Despite only slightly better than even odds at winning their home state, politicians (like the aforementioned Kaine and Brown this cycle) are sometimes viewed as good choices for running mates for this very rationale.

If vice-presidential nominees are selected at least in part to strengthen the ticket’s chances in winning their home state, the question remains as to whether they are usually playing offense (trying to flip the state) or defense (trying to hold it after winning it during the previous cycle)?

Since 1828, less than half of vice-presidential nominees hailed from states which the party won during the last election cycle (44 of 92 nominees, 47.8 percent).

Three-quarters of these 44 tickets were successful in holding the VP nominee’s home state for their party (33) while one-quarter (11) were not:

  • 1852: North Carolina Whig William Graham
  • 1860: Georgia Democrat Herschel Johnson
  • 1876: New York Republican William Wheeler
  • 1880: Indiana Democrat William English
  • 1892: New York Republican Whitelaw Reid
  • 1912: New York Republican Nicholas Butler
  • 1916: Indiana Democrat Thomas Marshall
  • 1932: Kansas Republican Charles Curtis
  • 1940: Iowa Democrat Henry Wallace
  • 1960: Massachusetts Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
  • 1972: Maryland Democrat Sargent Shriver

By contrast, 48 nominees were selected from states the party failed to carry during the previous cycle.

A total of 21 of these 48 tickets were successfully able to flip the vice-president’s home state including five from losing tickets:

  • 1872: Missouri Democrat B. Gratz Brown
  • 1876: Indiana Democrat Thomas Hendricks
  • 1916: Indiana Republican Charles Fairbanks
  • 1944: Ohio Republican John Bricker
  • 1952: Alabama Democrat John Sparkman

The remaining 16 vice-presidential nominees who saw their ticket win the White House in part by flipping their home state were:

  • 1844: Pennsylvania Democrat George Dallas
  • 1848: New York Whig Millard Fillmore
  • 1856: Kentucky Democrat John Breckenridge
  • 1880: New York Republican Chester Arthur
  • 1884: Indiana Democrat Thomas Hendricks
  • 1888: New York Republican Levi Morton
  • 1892: Illinois Democrat Adlai Stevenson
  • 1896: New Jersey Republican Garret Hobart
  • 1912: Indiana Democrat Thomas Marshall
  • 1932: Texas Democrat John Garner
  • 1952: California Republican Richard Nixon
  • 1960: Texas Democrat Lyndon Johnson
  • 1972: Maryland Republican Spiro Agnew
  • 1976: Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale
  • 1980: Texas Republican George H.W. Bush
  • 1992: Tennessee Democrat Al Gore

[Note: The 1888 Republican ticket of Benjamin Harrison and Levi Morton was able to narrowly flip Morton’s home state by 1.1 points, even though New York was also the home state of President and Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland].

Overall, the rate of presidential tickets carrying the home state of vice-presidential nominees is 15 percentage points lower (58 percent) than that of winning the presidential nominee’s home state (73 percent, 69 of 94).

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  1. Nikoli Orr on July 20, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    1. 44/47: R Milhous Nixon in fact had NewYork as his residence in 1968 – though he of course had much deeper connections with CA, Potomac Washington, and even NJ (the 1916 legal residence of Virginian T Woodrow Wilson).
    2. The ascendancy (and continuing dominance) of the medium of television from the 1950s onward -and basic cable since the ’80s- has made THAT particular rationale for “Veep” selection more or less moot.

    • Eric Ostermeier on July 20, 2016 at 8:49 pm

      Right – I should note that ‘home state’ in this report connotes ‘the state in which the nominee came to political prominence’ not ‘the latest legal residence.’ So, for example, if Trump had picked Mike Huckabee to be his running mate that would be counted as Arkansas, not Florida where I believe he has currently set up shop. I would say Nixon’s CA gubernatorial bid just six years prior maintained the Golden State’s status as the leader in the clubhouse for the former U.S. Senator’s home state.

  2. Nikoli Orr on July 21, 2016 at 1:41 am

    1. Well, “When in Rome…” (i.e. in this forum); fair enough. Hence, under the “…CAME TO POLITICAL PROMINENCE” criterion/definition, the Razorback State would be the “home state” of HRC (sharing it with “Huck”), rather than IL, or even…
    2. Agreed – unlike Rufus King, R F Kennedy, and James Buckley, Nixon’s ‘home state’ will always be CA indeed.

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