Tag Archives: vice president

Jody C. Baumgartner – Public Opinion About The US Vice President: Still Flying Under The Radar

This is a guest post by Jody C. Baumgartner, Professor of Political Science at East Carolina University. It is based on his forthcoming article in Presidential Studies Quarterly

Since its inception the American vice presidency and vice presidents have been the subject of ridicule and scorn. Late night television talk show king Johnny Carson once quipped that “democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn’t grow up can be vice president”. Many vice presidents took a dim view of the office as well. For example, Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, told the joke of “two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again.” This negative view of the office and its inhabitants was perhaps inevitable given that the institution was created largely as the by-product of the Electoral College system of selecting presidents. Moreover, throughout history many vice presidents seemed worthy of derision.

But scholars and observers of the U.S. presidency agree that this is no longer the case. The vice presidency has come of age, and vice presidents are important players in a president’s administration (see Baumgartner 2015; Goldstein 2016). While Vice President Pence may prove to be the exception, vice presidents are increasingly called on to perform any number of important ceremonial, political and policy-related tasks for their presidents. To call modern vice presidents “assistant presidents” may overstate their importance, it is nonetheless true that the institution a significant part of twenty-first century American government.

Does this reality match how the American public sees the office and its occupants? My own recent research, while not providing a definitive answer, suggests that in some respects it does not. In particular, analyses of both favorability and job approval ratings for the past four presidents and vice presidents suggest that citizens do not form their opinions of vice presidents independent of their opinions of presidents. In other words, “vice presidential favorability and job approval ratings are overwhelmingly influenced by opinion of the president” (Baumgartner 2017: 1).


Although presidential favorability and job approval has been regularly measured since at least the Truman administration, it has only been a couple of decades that the same can be said about ratings for vice presidents. This research take advantage of this, relying on both presidential and vice presidential favorability and job approval polling numbers for the George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations. I attempted to gather data for each question (favorability and job approval) for each president and  vice president, from both public (e.g., pollingreport.com) and subscription-based (Roper Center for Public Opinion Research) sources, for every month in office. Missing data (17.3% of the total number of months for each question, for president or vice president) points were interpolated using James Stimson’s “W-Calc,” which also allowed me to collapse the various questions used by different organizations to measure these concepts into a single measure (Stimson 1991).

The final dataset included favorability and job approval ratings for the following presidents and vice presidents:

Favorability (Months) Job Approval (Months)
Quayle/Bush n=38 n=38
Gore/Clinton n=94 n=44
Cheney/Bush n=95 n=148
Biden/Obama n=76 n=53

The first step in my analysis was to check bivariate relationships between both types of presidential and vice presidential ratings. At first blush, with the exception of Bush-Quayle, there appears to be a fair degree of congruence between presidential and vice presidential ratings. This can be seen in Figures 1-3, which simply charts rating scores by month, for each administration.

Next I constructed time-series models, with presidential ratings as the dependent variable, to test these relationships. Vice presidential ratings served as the primary independent variable in each, but I also included measures for term in office, whether the president’s party had a majority in either or both houses of Congress, public favorability toward the president’s party, and the percentage of negative news about the vice president. Results suggest that presidential favorability had a significant effect on vice presidential favorability in the cases of both Quayle (p < .001) and Gore (p < .01). Presidential job approval had a significant effect on vice presidential job approval for Gore (p < .01), Cheney (p < .001) and Biden (p < .05). When all four administrations were combined into a single model, presidential ratings for both favorability and job approval were significantly associated with vice presidential ratings (both random and fixed effects models, p < .001).

The understanding that the vice presidency has grown in importance over the recent past ought to be tempered by the reality that most people seem unaware of this change. Vice presidents still live in the shadow of their presidents. Of course it might be easy to dismiss these findings, asking why we should care about public opinion about the vice president. However it is important to remember that vice presidents are one of only two nationally elected public officials. The lack of independent public opinion associated with their tenures suggests that they may be less than fully accountable in a democratic sense.


Baumgartner, Jody C. 2015. The Vice Presidency: From the Shadow to the Spotlight. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Baumgartner, Jody C. 2017. “Under the Radar: Public Support for Vice Presidents.” Presidential Studies Quarterly (DOI: 10.1111/psq.12381).

Goldstein, Joel K. 2016. The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas.

Stimson, James A. 1991. Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles, and Swings. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Jody C Baumgartner, Professor of Political Science
East Carolina University
Greenville NC 27834
e: jodyb@jodyb.net
p: 252-328-2843

Joel K. Goldstein – The U.S. Vice Presidency and Presidential Power

This is a guest post by Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law

The American vice presidency has had a complicated relationship with the concept of presidential power.  The complication traces both to the dynamic nature of the vice presidency over time and its multi-faceted relationship to presidential power in virtually any period.  The second office has changed dramatically in recent decades, especially during the last 40 years, as I recount in my new book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden (Kansas, 2016)Yet even that very positive development has not removed intricacies inherent in the relationship of the second office to presidential power.

The vice presidency was created for instrumental reasons related to filling the presidency so it could exercise its constitutional power.  Fearing that parochial attachments would obstruct the election of a national president after George Washington, the framers gave each elector two votes for president with the constraint that no more than one vote could be cast for someone from the elector’s state.  The existence of the vice presidency would, the farmers hoped, discourage strategic voting by attaching a consequence to the second votes.  The office was an expedient to allow selection of a president, a prerequisite to the exercise of presidential power.  But the design failed to anticipate the development of national political parties which disrupted the framers’ plan.  Accordingly, the original electoral system lasted for only 15 years until the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution installed the current arrangement by which electors vote separately for the two offices.

During that first decade and one-half and long beyond, the vice presidency was given two formal duties which reflected an anomalous relationship to presidential power.  The vice president’s ongoing duty was to preside over the Senate and to break tie votes in that body.  As such, the vice president, as president of the Senate, was a legislative officer and accordingly part of the system of separation of powers and checks and balances that the framers thought would prevent the concentration and abuse of power, presidential and otherwise.  Yet the vice president was also made the first presidential successor who would discharge the “powers and duties” of the presidency in case the president died, resigned, was removed or was disabled.  Whereas the vice president’s ongoing duty made him adverse to presidential power, his contingent role made him heir to those very powers.  The former provided little power, the latter, all the executive power the Constitution conferred, a reality captured by the insight of the first vice president, John Adams, who said, “I am vice president.  In this I am nothing.  But I may be everything.”

The reality Adams described essentially lasted through the first 35 vice presidents, through and including the tenure of Alben Barkley (1949-1953).  With few exceptions, vice presidents spent most of their professional time performing their duty to preside over the Senate.  Seven of the 35 succeeded to the presidency following the death of their predecessor (two later vice presidents succeeded presidents who did not complete their terms due to death or resignation) and became “everything”; but while vice president, they and the others were closer to nothing, at least with respect to their relationship to presidential power.

The growth of presidential power associated with the New Deal and World War II changed the vice presidency, a development I described in my first book on the office, The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution (Princeton, 1982).  That growth allowed presidential nominees to select their running mates beginning in the 1940s, thereby associating the two officers politically.  It made the qualifications and preparation of the first successor more material especially given the advent of the nuclear age and the Cold War.  The president was expected to respond to more domestic and international issues.  These developments drew the vice president into the executive branch beginning especially with the vice presidency of Richard M. Nixon.  Nixon and his next five successors, through and including Nelson A. Rockefeller (1974-1977), headed executive branch commissions, engaged in foreign travel and performed other political chores for the administrations.

Although these vice presidents moved from the legislative to the executive branch, as vice presidents they remained somewhat peripheral to presidential power.  When President Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked at an August, 1960 press conference to name an idea Nixon had contributed to the administration, he famously responded, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember,” a devastating answer for Nixon whose presidential campaign messaging was predicated on the superior experience he had gained at Eisenhower’s side.  More than a decade and one-half later, Rockefeller disparaged the second office as “simply standby equipment,” a description that suggested that it remained “nothing” or lose to it absent a succession.

Three institutional barriers kept these vice presidents from getting too close to presidential power even as they entered the executive branch.  Presidents hesitated to give vice presidents significant duties since the vice president was the one subordinate the president could not remove until the term ended.  The vice president’s successor function role inhibited close relations between the two as presidents suspected the motives and loyalty of someone whose ambitions would be realized by their own demise.  Finally, presidents lacked a vision for how to make the vice president significant.

The vice presidency made its most significant institutional advance during the vice presidency of Walter F. Mondale (1977-1981) as the office moved to the center of the presidency.  It did so, in part, because Mondale was able to circumvent or remove the barriers that had kept earlier vice presidents separate from presidential power.  In essence, Mondale proposed, and President Jimmy Carter embraced, a new vision of the vice president as a close presidential adviser and trouble-shooter who would have no ongoing portfolio.  Carter, who was disposed to elevating the office, gave Mondale the resources to make success possible—regular and extensive access to Carter in private and group sessions, access to the information Carter received, staff support and involvement of Mondale’s staff in White House operations, and visible presidential support for Mondale, through word and deed.  Carter gave Mondale a prize West Wing office symbolizing his importance and facilitating his involvement.  This new vision and accompanying resources gave Mondale an ongoing role as part of Carter’s inner circle and as someone who could handle presidential level missions, at home and abroad.

The presence of a significant, ongoing role allowed Mondale to circumvent the barrier the contingent, successor role had presented.  The new vision presented Mondale as part of the effort to make the Carter administration succeed, not as someone standing by to succeed the president.  Avoidance of portfolios coupled with Mondale’s investment in Carter’s success and their mutual trust made the vice president’s possession of a fixed term a less imposing barrier.

The Mondale vice presidency succeeded even as Carter’s presidency was rejected in the 1980 election.  It created a workable model for vice presidential contributions, what I have called the White House vice presidency, and expectations of vice-presidential involvement.  Carter’s and Mondale’s successors, beginning with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, adopted the Mondale model and this new institutional vision and its associated resources have now lasted for the last 40 years across six administrations, three from each major political party.  To be sure, vice-presidential influence has varied and different vice presidents have emphasized different aspects of the job.  And some have abandoned Mondale’s aversion to portfolios and have assumed some specific portfolios generally involving interdepartmental matters.  Yet all have served as general presidential advisers and trouble-shooters with access and information.

This new institution makes the vice presidency a much more consequential office than it has been for most of American history.   Yet it continues the office’s ambivalent relationship to presidential power even as it introduces entirely new considerations into the analysis.  In an important sense, the White House vice presidency expands presidential capacity by helping presidents deal with an increasingly challenging international and domestic arena.  The president needs help, not simply from staff assistants, but from high-level, politically attuned officers who can provide politically sensitive advice and handle assignments that need attention at the most senior levels.  By empowering the vice president, the president creates a surrogate who can pinch hit for him in discharging highly significant matters.

The advising role of the White House vice presidency reflects the complicated relationship of the office to presidential power.  The presence of the vice president as a senior presidential adviser, as the “last person in the room” in Joe Biden’s formulation, contributes to the exercise of presidential power by giving the president the counsel of a senior politician who largely shares his perspective and interests.  That role also, in a sense, creates an additional informal check of sorts on presidential power.  It can be used as a means to make certain the president has a full range of advice before making decisions as Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Biden among others did.  It also can introduce someone in the inner circle who can tell the president things they do not want to hear and which others may shy away from saying.  Here the vice president’s fixed term and stature provides some security that some others may not feel.  Of course, vice presidents remain dependent on presidents but presidents now also rely on their first subordinate, to help achieve their political and governmental objectives.

The development of the White House vice presidency has benefitted vice presidents by relieving them from the drudgery and many of the associated frustrations of their office.  Yet its greatest contribution has been enhancing the capacity of the presidency to respond to the demands it faces in a wise and effective manner.

The Philippines – Presidential Elections 2016: The Controversial President?

On May 9, 2016, a total of 18,069 national and local positions were decided at elections in the Philippines. Five candidates ended on the final ballot list for the presidential race, although the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had tipped seven to make it to the certified list of “nuisance candidates” out of the total of 130 candidates who filed to run for the certificates of candidacy.[i] They are:

The unofficial tally reports Duterte as the winner of the presidential race, more than six million votes ahead of the second place candidate, Roxas. In the vice-presidential race, Representative Leni Robredo leads Senator Ferdinand Marcos by 200,000 votes. Voters have a vote each for the presidential and vice-presidential races, and surveys leading up to elections show that respondents are not constrained by the presidency and vice-presidency teams running for elections. In fact, split ticket voting – i.e., votes for president and vice-president candidates from different teams – appear to be the norm.

In the run-up to the elections, the presidential race was dogged by the issue of citizenship and residency, specifically for then-front-runner Senator Grace Poe. Poe had scored an early victory in November 2015, when the Senate Electoral Tribunal ruled against the disqualification case against her. However, shortly thereafter, in a 34-page document, the Comelec disqualified Poe from the presidential race for failing to meet the residency requirement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court; in March, 2016, the Court overruled Comelec in a 9-6 ruling to pave the way for Poe’s presidential candidacy.

Meanwhile, the progression of the case against Poe also saw an erosion of support for her candidacy, and an increase in support for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte had repeatedly denied interest in the presidency, despite equally persistent rumours of the possibility of his presidential run; the candidate finally announced his candidacy in November, due to his “disappointment” at the Senate Tribunal ruling for Poe. Despite or because of a series of controversial stances – Duterte may well be the Philippines answer to Donald Trump in the US – Duterte quickly overtook Poe as front-runner in election surveys. In the last weeks of the political campaign, Duterte’s maintained more than 10 percentage points ahead of his rivals, despite eliciting international criticism for an off-color rape joke made, and notwithstanding allegations of the mayor’s hidden assets that included 49 properties.

The lead-up to the elections also suggests that a Duterte’s presidency is likely to remain as controversial as his candidacy. The candidate has promised to run the country as he did with Davao City, and that has given cause for alarm. In particular, “Duterte Harry” has threatened to punish criminals without due process, including shooting them or feeding them to the fishes. Given Duterte’s alleged involvement with the Davao death squads – where masked vigilantes gunned down criminal- and drug-dealing suspects – such pronouncements are not easily dismissed. The mayor has also promised to abolish Congress if elected, to end corruption. In response, President Aquino II tried to unite the other presidential candidates against Duterte’s run to avert regress of democratic- and political rights in the country. However, as the unofficial results indicate, these have not upended Duterte’s presidency. Without doubt, the next six years will see some contentious initiatives out of the new president.

[i] Those who make a mockery of the election system; those who seek to confuse voters through similarity of names between candidates; and those who have no bona fide or good faith in running for office.

The Philippines – Presidential Election 2016: Is the Vice-Presidency a Venue?

Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for the Philippines on May 9, 2016. The President and Vice-President are elected separately, so that the elected candidates may come from different parties. Such is the case with current President Benigno Aquino III, from the Liberal Party (LP), and Vice-President Jejomar Binay, formerly of the Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). President Aquino III is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a second term, but there are no limitations on the Vice President for seeking the presidency. While it may seem that a vice-presidential term is strong endorsement for a candidate to seek the presidency, recent developments in the Philippines provide an interesting take on the whether the vice-presidency is a tenable venue to the presidency.

Although the President and the Vice-President may be from different parties, relations are not necessarily strained. After all, VP Binay was a 30-year member of the PDP-Laban, i.e., when it was headed by the late-Senator Benigno Aquino. VP Binay was also considered a strong supporter of the President’s mother, former President Corazon Aquino. Indeed, as recently as 2013, President Aquino III’s LP and Vice-President Binay’s PDP-Laban engaged in a period of team- and coalition-building to launch Team PNoy – comprising a coalition of the LP, the PDP-Laban, the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the National Unity Party, and the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party – that partnered with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to field 12 candidates for senatorial elections that year.

Notwithstanding that history as well as ongoing work-relations between the President and Vice-President, ties failed to concretize to the point where the President endorsed the VP for the presidency. Instead, the President endorsed LP Manuel Roxas II, the original candidate-elect for the LP in 2010 who stepped aside for Aquino III to run as presidential nominee for the party. This is notwithstanding polls showing Mar Roxas as the least favoured presidential candidate; the President’s endorsement of Mar Roxas also came after the Vice President made clear that he was after the endorsement.

In part, the competition-versus-cooperation relations may be stoked by the horse-race mentality from approval polls that appear to regularly pit President against the Vice-President. In part, it may be VP Binay’s ongoing struggle against corruption raps. In part, it may also be due to the VP’s clear and unequivocal pursuit of the presidency: in early 2014, VP Binay resigned from his party of 30 years to launch the UNA party in preparation for his 2016 presidential bid. The president of the PDP-Laban, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, has signaled clearly that the party will not be endorsing VP Binay for the presidency; of course, he and VP Binay had a major falling out just prior to the VP’s resignation from the PDP-Laban.

With President Aquino III’s endorsement of Mar Roxas, Vice-President Binay’s retort was to resign from the cabinet, charging mistreatment as well as incompetence in the current administration. That, in turn, elicited the Presidential Palace’s rejoinder: too late to be complaining about the administration after five years in it? The back-and-forth, if not the events prior to that, certainly underline that the vice presidency is not a shoo-in for the presidency;