Same-Gender Tickets are a Presidential Norm

Included amidst the speculation about whom Hillary Clinton will choose as her running mate is an oft-repeated question: can she choose another woman? The question has at its root skepticism that the country will accept a double dose of gender disruption on a single presidential ticket.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, are all smiles as they introduce Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., seated at left, at his confirmation hearing to become the nation's next top diplomat, replacing Clinton, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

This skepticism is based upon a few flawed assumptions. First, it assumes that candidate gender figures prominently in voter behavior, when we know that votes are guided much more by party affiliation than any other factor. That may be especially true for vice presidential candidates, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. Eighty-six percent of registered voters said it would make no difference to their vote if Clinton chose a female running mate; 89 percent of registered voters said Trump’s selection of a woman running mate would make no difference in their decision to back him or not. Similarly, historical precedent proves prescient here; neither the Democratic selection of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 nor the addition of Sarah Palin to the 2008 GOP ticket brought any discernable influx of unexpected or unlikely voters to their camps.

Next, concern over Clinton’s selection of a woman running mate assumes that the disruptive image of an all-female ticket would be somehow more jarring to voters than a similarly history-making ticket that has a woman and a male candidate of color. Far fewer analysts have questioned whether Clinton’s selection of Julián Castro or Thomas Perez, for example, would be too much change for American voters to handle, despite the reality that the U.S. has never elected a vice president that is not a white man.

Finally, discussions over the viability of an all-woman ticket frequently overlook the fact that same-gender tickets have been the norm in presidential politics for over 200 years. Only two women have ever appeared on major party presidential tickets, both as vice presidential running mates to male nominees. Put differently, presidential and vice presidential candidates have been men-only in 55 of the United States’ 57 presidential elections to date.[1] While there are valid arguments to make about the value of gender diversity at the highest levels of executive leadership, few have been concerned about gender uniformity among our nation’s leaders until now. Of course, this reflects the dominance of and demand for masculinity in presidential politics, whereby men are deemed the most appropriate actors. It has only been when “inappropriate” (cue female) actors have vied for the presidency or vice presidency that gender has become salient in the public dialogue over who can or should lead. Lastly, for those who rightfully note that gender diversity makes for better governance, there are other opportunities for inclusion in the White House. While no president has yet reached gender parity in cabinet members, as CAWP data shows, Hillary Clinton has hinted that this would be a priority in her administration.

Though there is no clear evidence that Hillary Clinton cannot (or should not) choose a female running mate, commentators may be right that she is unlikely to choose a woman this year. In the past 44 years, 114 women have been major party nominees for governor. Among them, only five have had female running mates, and three of those all-female tickets have happened in the past three years. While some of these gubernatorial nominees have run in states where lieutenant governors are elected separately, the apparent hesitancy toward selecting a second woman is clear.

But more than a reluctance to break with precedent, Clinton’s selection is more likely to be informed by factors other than gender. As many have pointed out, major considerations for any running mate include their geographical ties, constituency connections, personality alignment with or complement to the nominee, and, of course, preparedness for the job. Speculation over Clinton’s selection of a woman this year have focused almost entirely on Elizabeth Warren, who some have touted as especially capable of bringing disaffected Sanders supporters to the polls for Clinton in November. However, there are many other reasons that Clinton might not choose Warren as her running mate. Gender probably will not and should not be prominent among them.

 

[1] The original method for electing vice presidents (Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution) was changed before the election of 1804 with the passage of the 12th Amendment, which decreed that electors would vote for president and vice president on separate ballots. Over time – and with shifts in party nomination processes, the concept of presidential running mates was solidified in electoral practice.