Why the Next Election May Well Be Decided by the Vice Presidential Nominee

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Mr. Dresner is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and almost never misses a chance to vote.

It's that time again: a presidential election campaign is in full swing and the pundits are building up a pretty good head of steam. Everyone has a theory about presidential elections: it's the economy; it's the amount of money raised; it's the media; it's a 30-year pendulum; it's the issues; it's the candidates' heights or genealogy, etc. Maybe they're right, but there's another thread running through recent elections: Over the last five elections, tickets with near-clone ideological unity invariably won. Ideologically "balanced" tickets -- with each member appealing to different wings of the party and with substantial disagreements on ideology and policy -- lost.

The Pattern

1984(R) Reagan/Bush(D) Mondale/Ferraro
1988(R) Bush/Quayle(D) Dukakis/Bentsen
1992 (D) Clinton/Gore (R) Bush/Quayle
1996 (D) Clinton/Gore (R) Dole/Kemp
2000(R) Bush/Cheney(D) Gore/Lieberman

Ronald Reagan and G. H. W. Bush did have some ideological distance in 1980, but the Carter/Mondale presidency was overwhelmed by economic and foreign policy disasters. As incumbents in 1984, Reagan and Bush could successfully argue that their differences were no longer meaningful. Former VP Mondale and New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro, however, had longstanding policy disagreements that they tried to portray as differences of method rather than principle. In spite of the bold decision to run a woman vice-presidential candidate -- the first and only gender-balanced major party ticket in US history -- the Democrats only won over hard-core loyalists.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush and Indiana Senator Dan Quayle were neither politically nor personally close -- Bush appealing to the economic Republicans and Quayle to the religious Republicans -- and could have been vulnerable. But they faced one of the most deeply divided tickets in recent history: liberal Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and conservative Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen. There was hardly a policy issue on which the two agreed, which was supposed to broaden their appeal. Bentsen would have made a better running mate for Bush, people quipped: this was supposed to weaken support for Bush and transfer it to Dukakis. But the contradiction in the Democratic ticket was too deep to be plausible, and the Bush/Quayle ticket rode Reagan's coattails to victory.

In 1992, though, the Bush/Quayle ticket, still trumpeting its divided appeal (and presiding over economic malaise), faced Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and Tennessee Senator Al Gore, both New Democrats, with matching liberal social positions and strong pro-business records. Clinton and Gore were both Baptists from the South with Ivy League educations. Though they were certainly very different people and stylistically distinct, their ideological unity was unquestioned and they won.

Kansas Senator Bob Dole and former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, the Republican challengers in 1996, were a mismatch nearly on a par with the Dukakis/Bentsen fiasco, particularly by contrast to the ideological unity of Clinton/Gore. Both Dole and Kemp had legislative careers full of bluster (mostly Kemp) and evolution and compromise (mostly Dole), not flaws in themselves but difficult to present as a "clear vision" in a presidential campaign. Both were qualifying past positions and trying to smooth over obvious differences with each other, struggling with campaign positions neither of them fully endorsed and campaigning in styles neither of them entirely enjoyed. They lost.

In 2000, VP Gore joined up with conservative Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, which was immediately apparent as an attempt to broaden his appeal beyond moderates deep into Republican territory with Lieberman espousing both social and fiscal conservativism. Lieberman might also have served to shore up wavering Jewish support for the Democratic party: conservative Jews have been shifting to the Republicans for some time now. This was a stark echo of the Dukakis/Bentsen strategy, but unleavened by administrative experience beyond Gore's VP years. The Republican opposition was Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of former president George H.W. Bush, and the VP candidate was former President Bush's Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. Bush and Cheney were both in the energy business -- Texas oil -- and both were considered centrist Republicans, faithful to the Reaganesque vision of domestic libertarianism, anti-government rhetoric, religious social mores, and the unique leadership position of the US in international affairs. Again, ideological agreement won out over diversity.

What it Means

In all these cases, the most ideologically unified candidates beat painstakingly balanced tickets. What does this mean? It's O.K. to balance personal styles: none of the winning tickets over the last 20 years have been similar in presentation or personality. It's fine to have complementary careers, in fact it may be an advantage. The governor/senator or governor/career bureaucrat pairing balances a concrete administrative portfolio with a national policy perspective, which is good, but not decisive. But it is political death to struggle with political reconciliation in the harsh light of a national electoral campaign.

Partisans will argue that the more unified tickets are indicative of either greater party unity or a closer match to the "national mood," but I find neither of these arguments persuasive. Neither major party can claim a strongly unified base: both are coalitions of factions, both include a vast array of single-issue groups and both openly admit to being "big tent" organizations. True, both parties have tried to impose greater coherence and discipline, through things like the Democratic Leadership Council and the Contract With America, but the best they've achieved recently is temporary unity of message. Every election cycle brings news of the various ethnic, religious or social types (soccer moms, NASCAR dads, etc.) and formerly "secure" districts that shifted from one party to the other. Nor do the unified tickets strongly reflect any kind of national consensus: none of the last five presidencies represented moderation or compromise. What centrism there was is explained by the fact that the US has been under a divided government -- executive and legislative branches controlled by different parties -- for most of the last quarter century. Ticket unity does not seem to have the kind of secondary effects that you would expect if these explanations were correct.

At best ticket unity might indicate general agreement among the leadership of a party, but it appears to be a fragile thing. It might also have an effect on fundraising. Money, going by the euphemism "campaign finances," is the elephant in the living room of all political analysis. The candidate with the most money (usually the incumbent, whose fundraising begins as soon as the election ends) wins elections in the U.S. so often that it's almost not worth talking about anything else, though like the mystics who reject the utility of language to describe the true nature of reality, we can't seem to stop. Since 1984 (some sources say 1976) the candidate with the most money one year before the general election has won their party primary; money isn't the sole factor in presidential elections, but gross disparities usually show up in the final results. The same argument about broad appeal that should work in the election itself should also work in the fundraising stage, but it doesn't seem to. Ticket unity also seems to be associated with better organized campaigns, though that might be a mirage based on the fact that they win and that the "balanced" tickets immediately get labeled as fractious.

This pattern of electing the most unified ticket is only dominant back to 1984, which is important. The 1980 election result was overdetermined by the economic situation and Iran hostage crisis. Elections of the 1970s were so affected by fallout from Nixon's scandals (1976) and by the Vietnam War (1968 and 1972) that ticket unity was irrelevant. Before the 1970s, ticket balancing, particularly geographic balancing, was a common practice and seems to have worked better. But since 1984 we've had a pretty stable political and economic system that has not been overwhelmed by single issues. And all five elections from 1984 on have been won by the most unified ticket.

It's easy to beat on the news media, but there is some real complicity here. Before the 1980s, the media focused more on the presidential candidates and less on dredging for controversies. The vice presidential candidate was much less prominent and differences of opinion were less damaging. Add the rise of controversy-driven journalism to the longer campaign season, and minor differences, like slight shifts in poll numbers, have and will become much bigger stories than they deserve. Attack ads are picked up by the media and "analyzed" over and over again, giving the campaigns bargain-price exposure. The media has become increasingly dependent on the campaigns themselves -- and the associated party organizations, consultants and think tanks -- for information and analysis, so they are more frequently becoming the conduits for negative information like internal disagreements. The longer campaigns, shallow reporting and attack strategies contribute to an increasingly unengaged electorate, one that is less likely to be forgiving of the lack of clarity of a "balanced" ticket.

The incumbent Bush-Cheney ticket, one of the tightest pairings in recent presidential politics, can and will trounce any Democratic challenge that attempts to unify the party and appeal to the electorate through political diversity rather than ideological focus. It will be particularly obvious if the vice-presidential candidate comes from the pool of failed presidential candidates, because the primary campaign sniping will be replayed immediately in the press and by the other side. To overcome the Bush/Cheney advantages of unity and money will require near-perfect candidates running a better-than-perfect campaign and some luck to boot.

What will determine the outcome of the 2004 election? Vietnam War historian Fredrik Logevall once wrote on the H-Asia list, "It's not enough merely to list x number of causes. It is the task of the historian to reduce a given list of causes to order by establishing a causal hierarchy, and to relate the items in this hierarchy to one another." As important as ticket unity is in recent history, the history of the 1960s and 1970s demonstrates that ticket unity can be overwhelmed by other issues. Confidence in the economy is a powerful influence on moderates and swing voters, but it will only matter if it moves out of its ambiguous "jobless recovery" into either collapse or sustained job growth. The situation in Iraq could become more polarizing or more positive, and another terrorist attack on the U.S. is a true wild card, impossible to quantify or even guess at this point. It is worth noting however, that foreign policy will play a larger role in this election than in any other since 1980. There could always be a devastating scandal, either within the Bush administration or regarding a poorly screened Democratic challenger. There is the possibility, only whispered about so far, that Cheney might not be the Republican vice-presidential candidate, but Bush would be very unlikely to select a replacement who wasn't thoroughly attuned to his positions. And this election may feature a greater disparity in funding than any presidential election in modern history.

All of these things could make subtler analysis irrelevant. But assume that the economy stays ambiguous, that the situation in Iraq remains only mildly troubling, that no new terrorist attacks happen. Or even assume that these factors don't remain stable, but counter each other: if the situation in Iraq becomes a crisis, but the economy improves, for example. Then political clarity -- ticket unity -- will decide the next election, as it has decided the last five.

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More Comments:

Maezeppa - 12/3/2003

... except Gore and Lieberman won.

Furthermore some of the examples of both winning and losing tickets aren't that ideologically far apart. This is not a valid analysis in my opinion; it's just one that superficially seems to suggest a trend.

Radical Equivocator - 12/2/2003

"Explaining your position clearly, if not concisely, is hardly demagoguery."

Apparently you haven't read through Barbara's maniacally ranting diatribes lately.

For s*&^'s and giggles, I suggest the hateful anti-Jewish/anti-Mexican reichstag-spirited monologues from the thread on visiting war zones.

The lunatic wing of the left is too xenophobic to get anywhere in American politics. You've made a decent point or two (albeit in a selectively dishonest way) in other posts. Coming to Barbara's defense is a road I suggest you take at your own oratorical peril.

dan - 12/1/2003


Using the phrase "I think only a candidate for the Socialist Party would be impressed" is empty demagoguery.

Explaining your position clearly, if not concisely, is hardly demagoguery.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/1/2003

Mr. Ericson,

Maybe I do "have the wrong direction of causality" but you haven't made a case for an alternative yet (what you do offer is almost exactly the same as my argument, actually).

I disagree about the importance of the VP candidate in contemporary politics: that's the crux of the article, actually. The question of why it is important is clearly described in the article, as is the answer to the question of why Ford/Dole is irrelevant to the discussion: in case you can't figure it out for yourself, Ford couldn't have won that election against a ticket of Bela Lugosi and Daffy Duck, even with the best-matched VP candidate in the history of politics.

Geoff Ericson - 11/30/2003

What is the "unity series" ? Why not include Ford and Dole (1976 losers) ? Sounds like periodicity is being shaped by a pre-determined (and half-baked) conclusion.

Why should a divided ticket necessarily lead to media controversy and therefore to lack of support ?

An argument based on assumptions designed to prove it is a boat that does not float.

"A full investigation and metric of political differences is a project for a political scientist or US historian with more time and who might get professional credit for it. But I can't see where I'm wrong, yet."

Maybe you can't see why you're wrong because you are attempting an on-the-fly analysis outside your field.

Or maybe you are wrong because you have the wrong direction of causality. Most voters pay little attention to the VP nominee, except when he is unusual, e.g. noticeably different from the P candidate. And that sort of scrounging for multiple constituencies via a divergent running mate is often associated with desperate or doomed campaigns (Nixon-Cabot Lodge, McGovern-Shriver, Reagan-Schweikart).

Bob - 11/29/2003

I disagree. There is still a tendency to balance the ticket, but the balance isn't geographical or ideological, it is organizational. The candidates still choose running mates from another wing of their party in order to promote party unity. This was always the case, but was obscured in the past by the fact that the Democrats usually included a Southerner on their ticket. Reagan chose Bush because he represented the moderate wing of the party. Bush chose Quayle to satisfy religious conservatives and stuck with him in 1992 for the same reason. Bush Two chose Cheney because Bush was already solid with the religious right. Cheney was closer to the country-club Republicans.

Occasionally the Presidential candidate chooses a clone of himself because the other options are not good. A Southern conservative wouldn't have helped Clinton, but a Northern liberal would have hurt. Nixon did the same thing in 1968. A Rockefeller Republican would have split the party, but so would a Reagan conservative so Nixon went with a guy pretty much like himself.

Dave Livingston - 11/27/2003

Barabara has a good point that salesmanship, the selling of a candidate is of major importance. But hasn't this always been so, us Americans in the past at least less divided by idealogy than our European cousins, albeit that appears to be changing over here. Idealogy aside, this dyed-in-the-wool conservative (in most but not all regards) remains a strong fan of J.F.K.

Dave Livingston - 11/27/2003

Professor Dresner has my thanks for awakening amemory with his mention of Senator Lloyd Bentsen. A son of Democratic Senator Bentsen served in the same Nat'l Guard unit as did a son of former Democratic Governor John Connolly and Geo. W., but of course the Left conveniently ignores the fact that sons of prominent Democrats too served in the same unit as Geo. W. when they scream "Draft-dodger." It is called hipocrisy, isn't it? And politics for the pot to call the kettle black? :-)))

Barbara Cornett - 11/26/2003

Hello Radical. whaaat's up? If I had known you were going to be trying to read it I would have made it simple and short and easy to understand.

Thank you for the flattering comments regarding socialists. They are known for their intellectualism as opposed to what dittoheads are known for aren't they.

Is that short and sweet enough for you?

see ya later aligator

Barbara Cornett - 11/26/2003

I got that point and I agree with you, I think the media does seize upon any controversy and amplify it.

Basically you are saying that the media are the ones who determine the outcomes of elections. I agree with you, but I think ideology plays no role in this process.

The media did everything they could to get Clinton impeached. They investigated him when he was running for election and talked endlessly about his draft record and failure to serve, they talked about the women in his life, they talked about whether or not he smoked marijuna, they talked about Hillary and her hairstyle and other things.

Yet Bill Clinton was very conservative. He got NAFTA after Bush sr failed to get it passed. He brought about welfare reform and while he was in office wall Street hit record highs. Yet the media went after him.

Contrast that with how they coddled Bush and never questioned him about the National Guard or what he did during VietNam. They never questioned Bush about his drug addiction, problems with the law, womanizing, alcoholism or questioned his qualifications.

Bush stated that he didn't want to talk about his past because he didn't want his daughters, who were in the news because they were drinking and druging, to hear about what he did in his youth which he annouced that he wouldn't discuss since it happened a long time ago. The press said ok and dropped the matter.

This means that the press can spin things any way they choose to. They made Gore out to be a liar. They gave Bush a pass.

Where would ideology fit into any of this? The press spins things any way they please. Today they make bush look like some kind of hero when in reality he is a stupid dunce without any morals or values.

The media made fun of Dukakis when he rode in a tank and this hurt him but they made bush look like a hero when he landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The Commander-in-Chief is supposed to be a civilian but the media said nothing of this as they praised Bush who was dressed like a member of the military and talked about how heroic he looked as he landed on the ship.

The media can choose to help candidates who are not compatiable or they can choose to hurt them. They don't even mind announcing that they are spinning. They call it spinning. They know they can get away with using the media in this manner. No candidate will cross them unless they are prepared to pay the price. The media is the greatest threat to our democracy.

The media are the ones who do the exit polls after elections. Just as Dan or someone mentioned, the media refused to release the results of their exit polls in the last presidential election because they were in disagreement with Bush winning.

I don't think we should ever accept the fact that Bush and the 5 felons on the Supreme Court stole the election. I think we should do everything we can to bring them to justice. I think Katherine Harris and those in her office should stand trial and if found guilty should go to jail.

There is a history in the south of denying blacks the right to vote and thousands of black people were denied the right to vote so the election could be stolen for bush. There is no way that we can allow them to get away with this.

I think the justices who gave bush the white house should be impeached. I will never accept what they did. They perverted our democratic system and they are criminals. Renquist is said to have wished Bill Clinton luck at his swearing in and told him he was going to need it.

Bush and Cheney should NOT get away with stealing the white house.

Recently in Georgia, the leader Shevardnadze,
who played a major role in ending the former Soviet Union has a history of going along with the US and privatizing industry and doing other things that help business. Recently he decided that he would not go along with the US demands that oil in Georgia be privatized but insisted that the people would own their own oil resouces. James Baker went to Georgia and saw to it that Shevardnadze lost power.

Do you think that the people of the US who don't search out this kind of news on the internet actually know that these kinds of things go on and that these characters in the bush adm are far from encouraging democracy at home or abroad? None of this has any play in elections.

Cram - 11/26/2003

An interesting hypothesis, Jonathan. I think you are on to something.

Radical Equivocator - 11/26/2003

Have they ever done a psychological study to determine why someone would feel they need 12 paragraphs of two sentences or less in length to express one idea (or less)?

I think only a candidate for the Socialist Party would be impressed with this level of empty demagoguery.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/26/2003

It could be that VP selection is a function of nominee strength: a strong presidential candidate can select a running mate that is closer to himself, whereas a weak one needs to bolster support within the party by balancing.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/26/2003

Ms. Cornett,

I don't think that ideological consistency is being judged favorably by the electorate: I think that ideological inconsistency is being judged unfavorably by the media and exploited by the opposition.

As far as Gore v. Bush, no matter what you or I think about the electoral/judicial process of 2000, Bush is president and Gore is not. By most definitions, that's a win for Bush, and one that was largely unexpected by most pundits as late as the summer of 2000.

Barbara Cornett - 11/26/2003

One thing that is wrong with this article is that it uses Gore/Lieberman as an example that proves its point. This is faulty because Gore/Lieberman WON the election. You might find this viedo interesting regarding that point.


I think that Mr Dresner is giving the electorate too much credit. I don't think having two idealogically alike candidates is an advantage because people want a unified ticket. I think IF it is an advantage, it is an advantage because nowadays people rely on the James Carvilles, David Gergans and Dick Morrises of this world to help them win elections. They do not use these people because they are idealogical experts. They use them for their abilty to sell products (the candidates) on television. That means that the people are not following idealogy. They are being sold candidates just as they are sold diet products or soft drinks. Idealogy would just complicate the process. Clinton/Gore are ample evidence that this is correct.

People never supported George Bush because of any idealogy, they supported him because he looks like his father and has his name. He has face and name recognition. Nobody could tell you what his idealogy was. The fact is that it is not Bush's idealogy that we are seeing in his presidency anyway.

During the presidential debates, which in reality are just question and answer, Bush was asked who his favorite philospher is. To demonstrate that he was and is totally lacking in political idealogy, he named Jesus. He was unable to name one economic, military, or political philospher. He has no idealogy. In the absence of geniune idealogy the people watch for clues to who they should vote for. Bush stating that Jesus was his favorite philospher and telling of his religious converstion gave many people the thing that they were looking for and they were able to then decide to vote for bush. Never mind that Bush is the anti-christ because the people cannot figure that out. The only thing they know is what they are told.

Wall Street Advertising companies are the ones selling the candidates and deep discussion about idealogy is completely absent in today's elections. Candidates are too afraid of speaking the truth or being spontaneous because the media are waiting and watching to find a misstep that they can use to destroy a candidate. No candidate would ever say they were not certain about an issue or that it was debatable. They pretend that all issues are simple and that they have the absolute correct answers regarding them and then they preceed to repeat the mantra that someone like James Carville puts in their mouths.

It is best to stick to a safe message and candidates will do anything and everything but talk about idealogy. In this manner the media stifles and prevents actual debate and public life is reduced to selling, photo ops, and in the republican's case, seeming to be tough. The message is not as important as how you deliver it. Just like in today's sitcoms the funny lines are not so funny, its all in how they are delivered. People are conditioned by tv.

There was a recent pshchological study to determine why white males vote republican. It was discovered that certain people need certainty in their lives. They need to feel safe and the certainty of the republicans in their absolute beliefs make some people feel safe. Contrary to a situation where there is great debate and differences of opinon regarding issues and the future. Rush, O'Reilly and the others in the rightwing never doubt themselves or that they are right and their followers need this. They don't need or want discussion about idealogy.

To this day there are still people who claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. They need to believe this so that they can feel safe in supporting Bush.

The public has shown that lots of debates and discussions about details only confuse them and they want someone who will tell them how to think and what to believe rather then having to figure these things out themselves.

Politically balanced tickets are more likely based upon region of the country rather then any idealogical reasons. Bush Sr chose Quayle because he was handsome and Bush thought he would appeal to women. He never even knew how stupid Quayle was or what his idealogy was.

There were lots of comments over the fact that Clinton chose Gore, not because of idealogy but because Arkansas borders Tennessee.

How can people be credited with caring about idealogy when rightwingers supported impeaching a president for lying about sex and now support a president who lies about life and death matters everytime he opens his mouth?

We have a media that worked 24/7 to get Clinton impeached and now this same media works 24/7 to prop up Bush and his lies.

Where is the consistant idealogy?

The Bush/Cheney ticket represents a corporate criminal element that stole and plundered before they got into office and who are now continuing their personal agenda of crime and plundering. Are you suggesting people approve of that idealogy? I suggest that they are not even aware of it if they support these two.

Understanding domestic and foreign policy is not easy. People understand guns and gun ownership. People understand abortion. People understand when they see the poor on welfare at the same time they are unaffected and fail to get angry at corporate welfare. These people are not idealogues in the sense you are talking about.

Bush/Cheney have raised more money then anyone else in the history of campaigns. In addition to that they are doing everything they can to guarantee that people will have to vote on fixed Diebold voting machines. If they have an idealogy it is rejected by the people.

they have given us a historic debt. They trash the soldiers that they claim to support.

One reason they boldly treat soldiers so badly even tho the soldiers are part of their base is that they know that people do not vote based upon idealogy or their knowledge of idealogy. They can be fooled and do not even know what is going on. The republicans are counting on it.

They claim to be fighting terrorism and protecting the American people and yet they refused to give 5 billion dollars to protect our borders, ports and nuclear facilities. They boldly lie. That is their idealogy.

If the democrats cannot defeat them then that is an indication that the democrats are so entangled with big business themselves that they refuse to take on the special interests that are the center of the republican 'idealogy'. That would mean that they too are corrupted by big business to fight against their interests or to take on this republican ticket where it lives.

In that case there are no differences in idealogies but only degrees of diferences. The democrats have given bush everything he has asked for. They gave him the right to start a war, they gave him the 87 billion he asked for, and everyone of the candidates, even the liberal kucinich goes along with our occupation of Iraq as long as the UN brings in other nations to help us.

It is not about idealogy. It is about how the candidates look. how personable they are, how photogentic, whether or not someone would want to have a beer with them.

Kennedy/Johnson is the only ticket that I think stands out as unique. Kennedy needed Johnson to win the southern protestant vote and to balance the ticket in that manner.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/26/2003

The only exception to the ex-governor's run is 1988, in which former Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis was the Democratic nominee.

But I agree that administrative experience, no matter how shallow, seems to be more sellable than legislative.

Jim - 11/26/2003

Looking at Mr. Dresner's table one could come to the conclusion that the ticket with the exgovernor has won in recent years. Could it be that the electorate thinks that having run a state successfully is a better predictor of ability to run the US and ideology is a secondary factor?

Cram - 11/25/2003

While it is an interresting connection that has been found, I find this data to be unconnected to election outcome. Each of those candidates who lost the election had significant liabilities that were unconnected to their choice in VP. Some were totally out of touch with the American mainstream (Mondale, Dukakis). Others simply lost because they were up against candidates who were more likeable and charismatic then they were (H.W. Bush, Dole, Gore). To me, while not the most important factors, those other variables were far more important than VP choice.

David - 11/25/2003

This is the matchup I'm waiting for !!!

dan - 11/25/2003

Hell, the evidence out there right now is that the 2004 elections may just be decided by the people who own the voting machine companies, all of whom gave money to Bush...

Tragic, but probable. Especially now that exit polls have been discontinued because they were an embarrassment to those rigging elections in 2000.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/25/2003

Mr. Ericson,

I'm glad you've liked my other work, but I think this one stands up better than you're giving it credit for.

1: I don't know if it's a typo or not, but 1980 predates the period I am considering: the unity series only goes back to 1984. And the problem in 1988 was not the winners, who had differences, but the losers, who had gaping contradictions. This is a matter of relative differences, not simple absolutes.

2: Seeing a correlation is the first step in identifying causal factors. I have made an attempt to explain why I believe a balanced ticket is inherently weaker than a unified ticket in recent US politics: media focus on controversy over a longer campaign "season." There may be other reasons, or intermediary factors, or ticket unity may be a dependent variable of some more deeply hidden independent variable with a stronger effect on electability. Or other factors may better explain the individual election results. It's possible. But you have to prove it.

3: "detail ... on intraticket differences" is very easy to investigate, if you have doubts about any of my specific judgements. A full investigation and metric of political differences is a project for a political scientist or US historian with more time and who might get professional credit for it. But I can't see where I'm wrong, yet.

Geoff Ericson - 11/25/2003

Mr. Dresner has made some insightful contributions to HNN in the past, but this long winded piece here adds up to very little. A rush job, most probably.

Correlation is not causation, there is no causal or historical model for why ideological differences between VP and Pres candidates should be consistently more important in shaping electoral outcomes than a dozen other factors, and there is no good historical detail provided on such intra-ticket differences. Even the posited correlation is largely spurious because in 2 of the 5 cases, the article admits (1980 and 1988), the differences between #1 and #2 on ticket were minimal.

Dresner seems to have remembered well the first rule about how to write a good undergrad essay (take a clear position) and, in his haste, forgotten about how to reason and present evidence to back up that position.