Dole, Ridge and the Vice Presidency

The following article appeared in The Polling Report, August 5 1996, Vol.12, No.15

Once cited as a battleground state, Pennsylvania has slipped, perhaps irretrievably, out of Bob Dole's grasp. The latest Keystone Poll, conducted July 19-22 among 500 registered Pennsylvania voters, shows that Bill Clinton holds a stunning 24 point edge over his GOP challenger, 56% to 32%. Dole garners majority support only among the strongest Republicans.

General Election Trial Heat: Vote Choice by Party Affiliation

% of Reg. Dole Clinton Und. Voters % % % 100 ALL registered voters 32 56 12 23 Strong Republican 72 24 4 21 Not strong Republican 49 30 21 9 Lean Republican 37 53 10 5 Independent 19 69 13 11 Lean Democrat 14 75 11 12 Not strong Republican 9 84 7 19 Strong Democrat 1 96 2

Despite Whitewater, Filegate, the active Paula Jones lawsuit, and continued bad news from the Special Prosecutor, Clinton increased his lead by seven points from April when he held a comfortable 51% to 34% advantage. Clinton's newly found popularity among the state's voters is a reversal from his standing in 1994 when his unpopularity contributed to the defeat of Democratic statewide candidates.

President Clinton's Favorability Scores Among Pennsylvania Voters

July April Sept. Oct. 1996 1996 1995 1994 % % % % Favorable 44 45 40 32 Not favorable 35 33 38 46 Haven't heard enough/Und. 22 22 22 22

One beneficiary of President Clinton's unpopularity in 1994 was Tom Ridge, an obscure six-term Republican congressman who was seeking Pennsylvania's governorship. At that time, Ridge was the "candidate no one knew from the city no one's ever seen," as one reporter put it. The geographic reference was to Ridge's home town, Erie, a small manufacturing city in the rural northwestern corner of the state--a place that had never before produced a Pennsylvania governor.

Today, Ridge's position is very different. He is, at the moment, one of Dole's top prospects for the vice presidential nomination. Bob Woodward called him the "sleeper" among Republican governors. The Washington newspaper Roll Call, which until recently did not even include Ridge in the vice presidential sweepstakes, put his odds to win the nomination at 5 to 1, tying him with Governors Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and John Engler of Michigan. Only Senator John McCain, of Arizona ,at 4 to 1, runs better.

Placing Tom Ridge or any governor on the national ticket raises a central question: Will the selection of a governor help Bob Dole win in November? If Pennsylvania is any indication, the answer is a resounding "No." The addition of Ridge to the Republican ticket does not increase Dole's chances of winning the state's 23 electoral votes.

Pennsylvanians are genuinely flattered by the attention Ridge is getting from Dole and the national media. After all, Pennsylvania has provided only one vice president: George Dallas, who labored in the James K. Polk administration. Nearly half (46%) of Pennsylvania voters think Ridge should accept the Republican nomination if offered by Dole, although Republicans (53%) and Independents (51%) are more likely than Democrats (38%) to say Ridge should accept.

More important, a majority (57%) of the state's voters say Ridge's presence on the ticket would make no difference in their vote choice. In fact, equal numbers of voters say Ridge makes them less likely to vote for Dole as more likely to vote for Dole (19% in each case).

But there is one group of voters where Ridge makes a difference: undecided voters. Nearly four in ten (38%) undecided voters say that Ridge would make them more likely to vote for Dole, while only one in ten (8%) undecided voters would be less likely to vote for Dole with Ridge on the ticket. Unfortunately for Dole, Clinton's lead is so large and the undecided vote is so small, Ridge's standing among the state's undecided voters does not materially enhance Dole's prospects in Pennsylvania.

A bored national press corps has given far too much attention to the Republican vice presidential selection. Outside of John F. Kennedy's selection of Lyndon Johnson in 1960, there is little evidence that a vice presidential candidate can jump start a failing campaign or change the outcome of a presidential election. The data from Pennsylvania merely confirm this historical truth.


This article was written by G. Terry Madonna and Berwood A. Yost
Madonna is Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. Yost is the Director of the Center for Opinion Research at the same institution. Together, they produce the Keystone Poll for KYW-TV3, Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Daily News, and the Harrisburg Patriot.