Is Nikki Haley a Strong Vice Presidential Candidate? Evidence from Research on the “Veepstakes”

After seven years in office, last night President Obama gave his final State of the Union address.  Immediately following Obama’s speech, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivered the GOP’s primetime response.  Naturally, journalists and pundits are debating whether Haley’s speech helps her chances of securing the vice presidential nomination. In a half dozen studies , political scientists have examined the factors that increase a candidate’s chances of being chosen in the so-called “veepstakes.”  Based on this body of research, it seems to me that Haley matches a lot of the criteria found to predict who is selected to join the ticket and should be considered a strong candidate.

What follows is based on four studies: two by Baumgartrner (2012 & 2008), one by Sigelman and Wahlbeck (1997), and another by Hiller and Kriner (2008).  Although the selection of a running made would seem (on its face) to depend on the preferences of the presidential candidate and the context of the election, these studies have a fairly high degree of predictive accuracy over a fifty year period.  For example, Baumgartner’s (2012) model correctly predicted 70% nominees from 1960-2008 while Sigelman and Wahlbeck’s model correctly predicted 68% from 1940 to 1996.

One of the most important factors is the candidate’s age.  On the one hand, Sigleman and Wahlbeck (1997) and Hiller and Kriner (2008) find that presidents seek an age balance on their ticket.  Older candidates were more likely to select a younger running mate while younger candidates were more likely to select older candidates.  At the same time, Baumgartner (2008, 2012) finds that younger candidates have a higher chance of being chosen (all else equal).

At just 43 years of age, Nikki Haley is younger than all of the Republican presidential candidates (Marco Rubio, the youngest, is 45, and Ted Cruz is 47).  Aside from Rubio and Cruz, Haley is at least ten years younger than the rest of the Republican field and would thus help balance the ticket (she is Donald Trump’s junior by 27 years).

Another consistent factor in these studies is whether the potential running mate ran against the party’s presidential candidate in the primary .  As you might expect, rivals are less likely to be selected (Sigleman and Wahlbeck 1997; Baumgartner 2008).  Another point in favor of Nikki Haley.

Significant media exposure is a third factor that seems to increase the probability of being chosen as a running mate (Baumgartner 2008, 2012).  Needless to say, Haley’s GOP rebuttal will almost certainly go a long way toward increasing her national media exposure.  And although Haley is not as well-known as other Republican governors (Chris Christie, Rick Scott, Scott Walker), she gained significant national exposure in the aftermath of last year’s shooting at Emanuel AME Church and for her leadership in removing the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.

Receiving much of the attention in debates of Haley’s likelihood of being the GOP running mate is her ability to balance on the ticket in a demographic sense.  As a woman and an Indian American, she would certainly add diversity to the ticket.  In two studies, gender and ethic balance were found to increase the likelihood of selection (Baumgartner 2012; Hiller and Kriner 2008).

Lastly, there is some evidence that a candidate’s experience matters.  Generally, the longer a candidate has served in national or subnational office, the more likely they are to be tapped as a running mate (Baumgartner 2008; Hill and Kriner 2008).  Having served as South Carolina’s governor for five years and in the South Carolina House for six years before that, Haley certainly has some notable political experiences.

Although Nikki Haley certainly fits the above criteria, there are some potential negative effects that should be discussed.

Conventional wisdom says that presidents select running mates from large states in an effort to increase their vote share.  However, the effect of state size has yielded mixed results in the above studies.  State size matters in Sigleman and Wahlbeck’s (1997) analysis but not in Baumgartner’s (2008) or Kriner’s (2008) analyses.  Notably, the two most recently published articles (with data for the most recent elections) find no effect of state size.  In contrast, there is no evidence that presidents are more likely to seek a regional balance on their ticket, picking a running mate from a different part of the country (Baumgarnter 2008; Hiller and Kriner 2008; Sigelman and Wahlbeck).

So, South Carolina’s relatively small population size may not be as big a deterrent as most people think.  And even if Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz win the GOP nomination, an “all south” ticket does not seem to hurt Haley’s chances either.

Another common claim is that presidents select candidates in an attempt to boost their vote share in pivotal “swing” states.  One study, however, suggests that running mates do not add very much in terms of additional votes (Dudley and Rapoport 1989).  In this study, presidential candidates gain just 0.3 percent in their running mate’s home state.  In all likelihood, the small bonus in the in the running mate’s home state is simply not enough to overcome other strategic considerations.  As evidence, consider that the last two vice presidents were from solidly blue and red states (Delaware and Wyoming) as were the last two running mates on the losing side (Wisconsin and Alaska).

In the above studies, only one factor is a clear negative for Haley’s likelihood of selection: she never served in the military.  In both studies by Baumgarner (2012 & 2008), veterans were significantly more likely to be chosen.

All in all, Nikki Haley seems like a strong contender for the Republican Party’s vice presidential slot.  Based on studies in political science, she matches most of the criteria identified as key predictors of who gets selected.  Of course, the running mate will depend on who wins the GOP nomination in the first place.  But Haley looks like a strong choice at the present time.