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The Democratic Veepstakes, 2008 Edition

- February 7, 2008

There’s been a lot of talk lately (click here or here for examples) about a “dream” Democratic ticket of Clinton and Obama. As it happens, the quadrennial “veepstakes” is a topic on which my GW colleague Paul Wahlbeck and I published an article (here, gated) a decade ago in the American Political Science Review. So, pretending to be an expert, let me offer some very early thoughts on the matter.

First, let’s look at the prevailing wisdom about who’s likely to end up as the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. The answer obviously depends on who ends up as their presidential nominee, but let’s leave that small detail aside for a moment. To tap into the current conventional wisdom, I visited the intrade website earlier today to see what their prediction market indicates about who are seen as the front-runners for the Democratic vice presidential nomination. Here are the current futures contract market prices for the 16 individuals that intrade lists, and for the “field.”

12.3 Barack Obama
10.2 Evan Bayh
11.7 Al Gore
08.7 Wesley Clark
07.5 Bill Richardson
06.0 John Edwards
04.2 Joe Biden
00.5 Tom Vilsack
04.0 Jim Webb
00.8 Mark Warner
00.8 Tom Daschle
01.4 Ted Strickland
03.8 Hillary Clinton
00.3 Bob Kerrey
00.5 Sam Numm
00.1 Christopher Dodd
27.7 Field (any other candidate)

In short, future traders see the race as wide open at this point, with Obama, Bayh, and Gore commanding the only double-digit bids and with the favorite investment at this point being none of the above, i.e., the field.

Editorial comment: The idea that Al Gore might end up as the running mate of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama seems pretty far-fetched, and so, for that matter, does the idea that Hillary Clinton might end up as Barack Obama’s running mate.

For a different take on these scenarios, I ran a pared-down version of the statistical model that Paul and I used to analyze presidential nominees’ running mate choices, 1940-1996. For present purposes, the only predictors in the model were those that had displayed statistically significant effects in our 1940-1996 analysis: whether the presidential nominee and a potential running mate were at least 10 years apart in age (that is, the “age balance” of the potential ticket), whether they had previously competed against one another for the presidential nomination, whether they had competed against one another in this year’s nomination contest, and their home state’s percentage of the 538 Electoral College votes. I then used those results to simulate the probabilities that Hillary Clinton would choose one of the 15 other individuals from the intrade market as her running mate and that Obama would do the same. Here are the results, first for Clinton’s first choice of a running mate and then for Obama’s.

.190 .xxx Barack Obama
.xxx .216 Hillary Clinton
.067 .034 Evan Bayh
.067 .074 Al Gore
.046 .050 Wesley Clark
.025 .027 Bill Richardson
.032 .016 John Edwards
.022 .024 Joe Biden
.050 .055 Tom Vilsack
.079 .088 Jim Webb
.079 .041 Mark Warner
.037 .041 Tom Daschle
.139 .152 Ted Strickland
.042 .046 Bob Kerrey
.095 .104 Sam Nunn
.029 .032 Christopher Dodd

Thus, according to our model, as in the intrade market, if Obama’s bid for the presidential nomination falls short, then he looks like the favorite for the second spot — but far from a prohibitive favorite. If the tables are turned and Obama heads the ticket, then our model shows Hillary Clinton as his favored running mate. I’ve already expressed my opinion that this outcome strikes me as highly unlikely, so do I not believe my own model? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. Whereas the quesiton in the intrade market is who will end up as the running mate, the question in the Sigelman-Wahlbeck analysis is who will be the presidential nominee’s first choice as a running mate rather than who will end up on the ticket — and the first choice often doesn’t end up on the ticket. In this connection, I can well imagine, for example, presidential nominee Obama asking Hillary Clinton to join him on the ticket, even though I can’t believe that she would accept his invitation.

Some cautionary comments:

* The Sigelman-Wahlbeck analysis focused exclusively on the pool of “finalists.” Some of the individuals mentioned in the intrade market aren’t going to be finalists. That’s one basis of incomparability between the intrade numbers and the model-based ones.

* As a consequence, the Sigelman-Wahlbeck forecasts have no “field” option — another basis of incomparability.

* It’s very early, and these numbers — both intrade’s and ours — should be taken with a ton or so of salt. In that respect, I will note that in 2000 Paul and I used our 1940-1996 results to try to predict who would be the Democratic and Republican vice presidential nominees that year. Among those we considered, neither Joe Lieberman nor Dick Cheney finished in their party’s top dozen. One could take that as an indication of the weakness of our model, or — my preferred interpretation — as proof (as if further evidence were needed) that both presidential nominees that year chose the wrong running mate.