Saturday, October 11, 2008


Am I alone in finding something quite absurd about the concept of ticket-balancing?

Newsweek's cover story on Sarah Palin (The Palin Problem via Sarah Palin Counter) points out that "ticket-balancing to attract different constituencies has been with us at least since Andrew Jackson ran with John C. Calhoun, a man he later said he would like to kill".

I have discussed Senator Biden and Governor Palin in my posts Political Double-Acts and Partisanship, but in this post I want to look more broadly at the concept.

The ticket-balancing article on Wikipedia contains a number of historical examples. Perhaps one of the classic choices is that of Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon was a Californian from an ordinary Quaker family, who couldn't afford to take up a place at Harvard or Yale. His running mate Cabot Lodge came from an elite Boston family. The attempted balance was transparent - WestCoast/EastCoast, Poor/Established. But during the campaign Cabot Lodge failed to compete effectively with Kennedy in Massachusetts; he also made some liberal statements about race, which may have lost votes in the racist South. Nixon would probably have done better without a running mate at all.

How is ticket-balancing supposed to work anyway? Are the East Coast elites really more likely to vote for some humble West Coast guy if there is someone reassuringly posh on the ticket? Do the East Coast elites really believe Nixon would ever give Cabot Lodge a real job? (After winning the election, it was fellow-Bostonian Kennedy who gave Cabot Lodge a job.)

The more the running mate is chosen for the sake of ticket-balancing, the less likely it is that the person will be granted any real power as Vice President. Therefore it seems like a completely cynical and irrelevant exercise, like having someone in a boy band or girl band who is cute but can't sing. Or Ringo Starr, who wasn't allowed to play the drums on some of the Beatles recordings. Presumably the political classes believe that American people haven't worked this obvious fact out yet.

At the other extreme is George W. Bush. In an article on Ticket-Balancing on Suite 101, John S. Cooper thinks that by selecting a running mate without taking advantage of the "benefits" of ticket balancing, Bush did something very rare in American politics. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dick Cheney has been one of the most powerful Vice Presidents ever.

Barton Gellman, The Power of Vice (Oct. 6, 2008) "Palin is no Cheney, and neither is Biden. How much clout will the VP's successor have?"

See also

Politics of Ticket Balancing (November 1997)
McCain Discounts Ticket-Balancing (AP, Feb 2008) (found on several sites including Time and Brietbart)
The Logic of an Obama/Edwards Ticket - Balancing as Reinforcing (Open Left, May 2008)

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