Since the U.S. Constitution was first instituted, there have been 48 vice presidents. They’ve supported presidents in seeing the country through wars, economic expansions and contractions, a global pandemic - and much more.
A president’s success depends on the strength of their team, so it’s only natural that as second-in-command, the pick for a VP carries significant weight; and, as Visual Capitalist's Iman Ghosh notes, in some cases, they can even make or break the race to secure a spot in the White House.
In this graphic, we take a look at the hand-picked running mates of presidential hopefuls since 1940, including the upcoming November 2020 elections.
Running More Than Once
The graphic highlights 33 running mates, out of which nine have ran for VP more than once. Here’s how their number of terms compare, and who continued on to become an eventual presidential candidate:
Of the running mates since WWII, Republicans Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush are the only two to have served as president after being vice presidents for two previous terms—unless Joe Biden wins in November 2020.
What career paths did aspiring VPs take before running on the big ticket?
Interestingly, 2 of 3 running mates profiled in today’s graphic had a prior background as a lawyer before choosing to enter politics.
A curious exception to the typical career path is that of former professional football player Jack Kemp, who was chosen as the running mate for Bob Dole’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1996.
At the President’s Right Hand
The vice president is the first in line of succession for the Oval Office, in the event that the sitting president dies, resigns, or is removed from office. Throughout history, nine VPs have ascended to presidency this way, of which three occurred since 1940.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Harry S. Truman ascended to the presidency.
Lyndon B. Johnson became the President upon John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
Following evidence of political corruption, Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973. He was replaced by Gerald Ford, who then became President after Nixon’s post-Watergate resignation in 1974.
Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are three Presidents who have been through the impeachment process, but were later acquitted by the Senate. Otherwise, the list of VPs ending up as the commander-in-chief might look much more different.
The Youngest and Oldest Running Mates
Based on the first time they ran on the ticket, the average running mate is 54 years old. In contrast, the average presidential candidate is 58 years old.
Comparing the age difference between presidential candidates and their running mates paints a unique picture. The biggest age gaps both occurred in 2008:
There was a 28-year difference between older candidate John McCain (72) and younger VP pick Sarah Palin (44) on the Republican ticket. On the Democratic side, younger candidate Barack Obama (47) and older VP pick Joe Biden (66) saw a 19-year gap.
Harry S. Truman’s historic win in 1948 was considered a surprising political longshot. His running mate, Alben W. Barkley was the oldest running mate ever picked, 71 years at the time.
Meanwhile, Richard Nixon was one of the youngest running mates to be chosen, 39 years in 1956—second only to John C. Breckinridge (36 years old in 1856). Finally, at age 92 years in 2020, Walter Mondale is the oldest living former VP.
Cracking the Glass Ceiling
Last but not least, there have only been three women selected as VP running mates to date.
- Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman VP nominee for the Democratic Party in 1984.
- Although she had only two years of political experience as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin was the first female Republican VP nominee in 2008.
- Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor with almost four years of experience as a Senator, is the first woman of color to be nominated on any major party’s ticket in 2020.
Palin herself shared a few words of wisdom for Harris across the aisle:
Congrats to the democrat VP pick Climb upon Geraldine Ferraro’s and my shoulders, and from the most amazing view in your life consider lessons we learned...
- Sarah Palin (via Instagram)
Could Harris become the first ever right-hand woman? We’ll find out in a few months.