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What impact will Joe Biden’s VP pick have on election night?

12 August 2020

By Phil Elwood, Managing Director, SEC Newgate, Washington DC

Last night Joe Biden,  the Democrat candidate taking on President Donald Trump in November’s election named Kamala Harris as his running mate.  Much of the UK media focus has been on her being the first black woman and South Asian American to be a vice-presidential candidate – but how much of an asset will she be in getting Biden into the Oval Office? 

While her candidacy will help mobilize key voting blocs for the Democratic Party, it might only have a negligible impact on Biden’s ability to win the Electoral College vote. As we saw in both 2000 and in 2016, an individual can lose the popular vote and still win the presidency. Here’s a quick take on the impact the Harris decision could have on the election in November:

Historic: Nominating the first African American woman to serve as Vice President of the United States is a historic first for the US and could mobilize some lower probability voters to go to the polls. However, Hillary Clinton’s nomination in 2016 was also a historic precedent that did not work out in her favour as she was not able to galvanize the women’s vote.  

Electoral College Math: Kamala Harris is currently a US Senator from California. Often times, presidential candidates will select a Vice President based on political geography to increase their odds of winning in the Electoral College. Given that California is not a state that is in play (safe Democrat), selecting Harris does little to change the electoral calculus. However, Biden’s decision to put her on the ticket could mobilize both the female and minority vote in the US. 

Mobilize Women’s Vote: Hillary Clinton’s decades in public life as a polarizing figure fractured her support with the female vote in 2016. As a result, women did not turn out for Clinton in key states in the Midwest that are essential for winning the Presidency (Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, et al). Given that Harris does not have the legacy problems that Clinton brought to the ticket, it is possible that she will be able to garner a larger percentage of the women’s vote. 

Obama Coalition: Another failure of the Democrats in 2016 was the inability to mobilize the “Obama Coalition” that succeeded in 2008 and 2012. This has also been attributed to “Clinton Fatigue.” Through this decision, which was made in close consultation with former President Obama, Biden is calculating that Harris will have a better chance to mobilize the same segments of the electorate again.