Is Being Vice President Worth It?

Who wants to be Vice President? The position is generally regarded as a thankless job with little responsibility. In fact, until the 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804 the only way to become Vice President was to come in second place (first loser) in a Presidential election.

But being VP is often viewed as solid career positioning for those hoping to be President one day. I wanted to find out if this was really a smart career move so I did some digging into the political careers of every VP in U.S. history to find out if being the Vice President makes you a more electable Presidential candidate.


38 people have won a Presidential election.

There have been 44 Presidencies and 43 individuals have held the office (Grover Cleveland had 2 non-consecutive terms). 5 of those men assumed the Presidency as the result of a Presidential death or resignation and never went on to win the office in an election.

16 VPs unsuccessfully sought the office of the President before becoming Vice President.

28 Veeps sought the office of the President after being Vice President.

This includes the 9 VPs who assumed the Presidency because of a Presidential death or resignation and then ran for President in a proper election.

9 of these post-VP Presidential hopefuls were successful:

  • John Adams
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Martin Van Buren
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Harry S. Truman
  • Richard Nixon
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • George H.W. Bush

That means…

32% of the Veeps who ran for President won (9 of 28).

And…

24% of all Presidential election winners (9 of 38) had “Vice President” on their resume.

For perspective, the following traits are more strongly correlated with winning a Presidential election than having been VP:

But…

4 of the former VPs who went on to win a Presidential election had an unfair advantage over the other 5: they had “Vice President” AND “President” on their resumes.

That’s because they assumed the Presidency after a Presidential death, then subsequently ran for President. If you take these 4 out of the cohort of winners, former VPs only have a 13% win rate.


So, is being the Vice President a good idea if you want to be President? It’s hard to say definitively, but it’s far from a safe bet.

Full List of Vice Presidents
*= Died in office **= Resigned

Veep POTUS Became President Ran for POTUS BEFORE being Veep Ran for POTUS AFTER being Veep
John Adams George Washington Yes Yes Yes
Thomas Jefferson John Adams Yes Yes Yes
Aaron Burr Thomas Jefferson Yes
George Clinton*
Thomas Jefferson
Yes
James Madison
Elbridge Gerry* James Madison
Daniel D. Tompkins James Monroe Yes
John C. Calhoun**
John Quincy Adams
Yes
Yes
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren Andrew Jackson Yes Yes
Richard M. Johnson Martin Van Buren Yes Yes
John Tyler William Henry Harrison* Yes Yes Yes
George M. Dallas James K. Polk
Millard Fillmore Zachary Taylor* Yes Yes
William King* Franklin Pierce
John C. Breckinridge James Buchanan Yes
Hannibal Hamlin Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson Abraham Lincoln* Yes Yes Yes
Schuyler Colfax Ulyssess S. Grant Yes
Henry Wilson* Ulyssess S. Grant
William Wheeler Rutherford B. Hayes
Chester Arthur James A. Garfield* Yes
Thomas Hendricks* Grover Cleveland Yes
Levi P. Morton Benjamin Harrison Yes
Adlai E. Stevenson Grover Cleveland Yes
Garret Hobart* William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt William McKinley* Yes Yes
Charles Fairbanks Theodore Roosevelt Yes
James S. Sherman* William Howard Taft
Thomas R. Marshall Woodrow Wilson Yes
Calvin Coolidge Warren G. Harding* Yes Yes
Charles Dawes Calvin Coolidge
Charles Curtis Herbert Hoover
John Nance Garner Franklin D. Roosevelt Yes
Henry A. Wallace Franklin D. Roosevelt Yes
Harry S. Truman Franklin D. Roosevelt* Yes Yes
Alben Barkley Harry S. Truman Yes
Richard Nixon Dwight D. Eisenhower Yes Yes
Lyndon B. Johnson John F. Kennedy* Yes Yes Yes
Hubert Humphrey Lyndon B. Johnson Yes Yes
Spiro Agnew** Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford Richard Nixon** Yes Yes
Nelson Rockefeller Gerald Ford Yes
Walter Mondale Jimmy Carter Yes
George H.W. Bush Ronald Reagan Yes Yes Yes
Dan Quayle George H.W. Bush Yes
Al Gore Bill Clinton Yes Yes
Dick Cheney George W. Bush
Joe Biden Barack Obama Yes

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