Ticket balance

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In United States politics, balancing the ticket is when a political candidate chooses a running mate, usually of the same party, with the goal of bringing more widespread appeal to the campaign. It is most prominently used to describe the selection of the U.S. Vice Presidential candidate.

There are several means by which the ticket may be balanced. Someone who is from a different region than the candidate may be chosen as a running mate to provide geographic balance to the ticket. If the candidate is associated with a specific faction of the party, a running mate from a competing faction may be chosen so as to unify the party. Similarly, running mates may be chosen to provide ideological, age, or demographic balance.

In U.S. presidential elections, balancing the ticket was traditionally associated with the smoke-filled room cliché, but this changed in 1970 with reforms in the primary system resulting from the McGovern-Fraser Commission. According to Douglas Kriner of Boston University, the McGovern-Fraser reforms brought an end to traditional ticket balancing practices. Now, presidential candidates are less concerned with regional and ideological balance, says Kriner, and are more inclined to pick compatible running mates with extensive government experience.[1]

If it is impossible to find one person who combines within his or her heritage, personality, and experience all the virtues allegedly cherished by American voters, the parties console themselves by attempting to confect out of two running mates a composite image of forward-looking-conservative, rural-urban, energetic-wise leadership that evokes hometown, ethnic, and party loyalties among a maximum number of voters. That is, at least, the theory behind the balanced ticket.

— Nelson Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky 1991 cited in Sigelman and Wahlbeck 1997[2]


In the earliest days of American presidential elections, the President and Vice-President were technically elected on the same ballot with the person receiving the most votes becoming the President and the person with the second most votes becoming the Vice-President. When this system proved unwieldy, the Twelfth Amendment was passed in 1804 providing that the President and Vice-President be elected on different ballots.

Most elections before the American Civil War featured a northerner paired with a southerner or vice versa.

After the Civil War, geographical balance between north and south became less critical but would remain a factor well into the 20th century, especially in the Democratic Party. In the 20th Century, an increased interest in the electoral college led many presidential candidates to choose vice-presidential candidates from populous states with large numbers of electoral votes. It was hoped that voters in this state could be swayed by having a favorite son on the ticket.

Later in the 20th century, ideological balance became more prominent with a very liberal or conservative presidential candidate often paired with a more moderate vice presidential candidate or vice versa to bring more widespread appeal. Other factors came to prominence in the late 20th century such as gender, religion, age and other issues.

The trend has continued in recent times, although it is less of a predictable science. In 1992, Bill Clinton, seen as a more moderate southern Democrat, chose the more liberal southerner Al Gore as his running mate. However, they were both white Protestant southerners from the baby boom generation, and most political analysts saw them as similar in political ideology. This brought little in the way of ticket balancing.

In 2000, Al Gore chose the centrist Joseph Lieberman, a northeastern Jewish Democrat who had been one of the first people to criticize President Clinton for his scandal with Monica Lewinsky. John Kerry's choice of John Edwards in the 2004 presidential election was widely seen as an appeal to southern voters who traditionally would not have supported a northeasterner such as Kerry without the geographic balance that Edwards could bring. Also, Edwards, still serving his first term in the Senate, was regarded by many as an "outsider" with a youthful appeal; two characteristics that Kerry, a 60-year-old four-term Senator, was unable to acquire.

Geographic balance[edit]

Geographic balance has played an important part of politics since the beginning. Before the civil war, a northern candidate was almost always paired with a southern running mate or vice versa. Since the civil war, this level of geographical balancing is less critical, but still plays a big role. In modern times, voters in the south, midwest, and Rocky mountain region of America are less inclined to support northeasterners and Californians without some sort of geographic balance and vice versa.

For example, in 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower of New York chose Richard Nixon as his running mate in part because he was from California.[3] In 1960, Nixon chose Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. of Massachusetts to blunt Kennedy's strength in New England. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts chose Texan Lyndon Johnson to appeal to southern voters.

The United States Constitution itself demands some balance, as Electoral College voters cannot vote for two people from their state. For example, if Dick Cheney had not moved back to his home state of Wyoming before the 2000 election, each Electoral College voter from Texas would not have been able to vote both for George W. Bush as president and for Cheney as vice-president, and possibly the Senate would have had to pick one (either Cheney or Lieberman, the top 2 vote getters), due to the close result in the Electoral College.

Historically, the Democrats have often chosen one candidate from the North, and one from the South. This practice began in 1832 when Andrew Jackson, from Tennessee, selected Martin Van Buren, from New York. However, after the American Civil War, the practice became rarer. It became common again after the 1920s.

North-south ticket balance is practiced to a lesser extent by the Republicans, although what is more common is northeast-midwest or northeast-west balance. The Republicans utilized this strategy in every presidential election from 1872 until 1924, however it has been used in only three since 1968.

Ideological balance[edit]

Ideological balance is achieved when a candidate chooses a running mate from a different ideological strain to provide more widespread appeal. For example, a liberal candidate might want to choose a moderate or even a conservative running mate rather than another liberal in order to appeal to a broader base of the electorate. When liberal Democrat Michael Dukakis ran for president in 1988 he chose Lloyd Bentsen, a moderate, as his running mate. Similarly, the decision by John McCain to announce Sarah Palin as his running mate on August 29, allowed McCain, who many perceived as a moderate,[5] to appeal to more Conservative sectors of the Republican party due to Palins prominent position in the Tea Party movement.

Electoral College strategy[edit]

In elections which are expected to be close, great concern is placed on a running mate's ability to appeal to voters in key states with critical numbers of votes in the Electoral College. In modern times, America is generally split along red state/blue state lines, but these lines are not absolute. Key "blue states" like Pennsylvania and Michigan could be swayed to shift support toward a Republican candidate under the right conditions. Likewise, key Presidential "red states" such as North Carolina and Georgia may shift allegiances for the right ticket. A "favorite son" on the ticket from one of these states could garner enough support to swing it from one column to another.

Other factors[edit]

Sometimes candidates will try to appeal to a particular demographic group or will try to make up for a perceived weakness through the choice of a particular running mate. Walter Mondale's selection of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 widely seen as an appeal to female voters, and same with John McCain in 2008 when he chose Sarah Palin. George W. Bush was considered a political novice and outsider when he chose Dick Cheney, a consummate Washington insider, as his running mate in 2000. Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his Vice President often considered a way to augment a lack of foreign policy experience (Obama) with the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Biden). In 2016, businessman Donald Trump who had no political experience chose a career politician, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Occasionally, older presidential candidates have intentionally chosen someone a generation younger as their running mates, mainly to garner younger voters who often see older candidates as "uncool" or "out of touch". George H. W. Bush was 64 when he chose 41-year-old Dan Quayle in 1988.

Synergy of traits[edit]

Most ticket balancing is not limited to a single issue but is a factor of the overall strength that the running mate brings to a campaign. Lyndon Johnson was chosen by John F. Kennedy in 1960 not only because he was a southerner, but for other reasons as well. Johnson was perceived at the time as being more conservative than Kennedy which balanced the ticket ideologically. Johnson was likely to deliver Texas and its critical electoral votes to the Democrats, something that Kennedy and a non-Texan might not be able to accomplish. Kennedy was a Catholic and his religion was a subtle but important issue, especially in the largely Protestant Southern states. The fact that Johnson was a Protestant helped the ticket’s appeal in the south. Kennedy was part of an upper class New England family, while Johnson came from more humble and rural beginnings.

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was 61 at the time, chose Richard Nixon, age 39, to be his running mate. Nixon's relative youth and solid anti-communist credentials gave an additional boost to the campaign. When 72-year-old moderate Republican John McCain ran for president in 2008, he chose 44-year-old staunch conservative Sarah Palin as his running mate, in an effort to balance the ticket by age, gender and political philosophy.

Even in circumstances where ticket balancing is not overt, there are subtle components that are brought to the ticket. Although though Bill Clinton and Al Gore were both white, Protestant, Baby boomers, and southerners, Al Gore was a veteran of the Vietnam War while Clinton was heavily criticized by Republicans because he "dodged" the Vietnam Era draft. Gore’s military record helped soften some of the criticism about Clinton’s ability to lead the military.

Other political races[edit]

In some states, the governor and the lieutenant governor are elected on the same ticket. In states that allow the governor to choose his running mate, he/she may choose a candidate that provides balance within the state just as in presidential politics. For example, a politician from an urban area may select a running mate from a rural area, or a male politician may select a female running mate.

Although the concept of a running-mate is relatively specific to the United States, analogous patterns could be found in other countries. For example, in proportional representation with party lists, parties will tend to make sure that a variety of factions within the party are represented in the list candidates. Some countries (such as Iraq) enforce balance by legally requiring that a list contain a minimum number of female or ethnic minority candidates, or by requiring (such as Lebanon) that vice presidents or prime ministers be of a different ethnic group than the president.

Consequences of the death of a president[edit]

Elections have acquired much of the mass media publicity system used for entertainment, but a ticket is not a "buddy picture." Although the vice presidency has only rarely been an office with real political significance, several times American presidents have died in office, either through assassinations or natural causes. These conditions reveal the merits and failures of having a running mate to balance the ticket instead of calling a snap election, as other countries do.

Abraham Lincoln's running mate, Andrew Johnson, was a southerner who did not share values with the Radical Republicans, so Reconstruction started with Lincoln's point of view being expressed by a southern Democrat. William McKinley, an old school pro-business Republican, was succeeded by the young, energetic Theodore Roosevelt who actively championed anti-trust laws. Twice in the twentieth century there were vice presidents who followed the heritage of their departed presidents as well as one could expect. Harry S. Truman continued Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies, and Lyndon B. Johnson accomplished more in the same general areas than John F. Kennedy.

In 2008, the selection of the conservative Sarah Palin by moderate senator John McCain damaged the ticket (according to some),[citation needed] as people were concerned that the 72-year-old McCain might not live out his term. Many conservatives were energized by the choice of Palin, however.[citation needed]

Use in the Philippines[edit]

In the Philippines, which had derived the presidential system from the U.S., all presidential tickets from major parties from 1935 to 1969 involved someone from Luzon and someone from either the Visayas or Mindanao, popularly known as the "North-South ticket." From the 1986 election onwards, this was abandoned.[6]


  1. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  2. ^ http://www.jstor.org/pss/2952169
  3. ^ Smith, Jean Edward (2012). Eisenhower in War and Peace. Random House. pp. 250–252. ISBN 978-0-679-64429-3.
  4. ^ a b c Missouri, while generally considered a Northern/Midwestern state today, was historically considered to be part of the South.
  5. ^ http://choice.npr.org/index.html?origin=http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18664285
  6. ^ Quezon, Manuel III (2008-04-10). "Senate the victim of a design flaw". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2011-06-09.