Skip to main content
ABC News
VP Announcement Timing

It’s acknowledged that these next two-and-a-half weeks are the most exciting time for political junkies (and indeed FiveThirtyEight hopes to see many of you at each convention), but what about the precise timing of VP announcements? There are some interesting game theory ideas as well as some constraints around Obama’s unusual text message approach to his announcement.

Let’s throw out a few assumptions.

Assumption: the longer the wait, the higher the buildup. Delay picking will lead to a vigil-like frenzy among the media, but it also builds up anticipation about the quality of the candidate. The more of a big deal the pick seems, the more the need “to deliver” a big name or the Wow Effect.

Assumption: all things being equal, Fridays are the worst day to announce given that Saturday coverage is at its low ebb. If there are other options available, Friday won’t be picked.

Competing Assumptions: Days with nothing scheduled are ripe for a big announcement type event, but also Obama’s campaign delights in running a leak-free ship, leading to a more stylistic pleasure in catching the media somewhat off-guard.

Assumption: when you send a giant, millions-of-people text message, you set off a bunch of text message ringtones that make noise. That means you ought to wait as long as possible during a day so that people are awake. While most people texting VP to 62262 are self-selected Obama partisans who won’t hold a ringtone with breaking news against Obama, nobody likes to be woken up prematurely. It’s a tiny, but definite negative freeroll. In terms of battleground states, only Nevada in the Pacific Time Zone and Alaska in the Alaska Time Zone pose any kind of early ringtone risk here.

Assumption: you also want to announce in time to maximize evening news coverage on local and national nightly newscasts on the East Coast, which begin at 6pm eastern. You could announce right as coverage is beginning so as to give the “Breaking News” effect that would dominate particularly the national news half-hours, or you could announce a little beforehand so that the news outfits have a little more time and are a little less peevish at being given short notice.

Assumption: the longer Obama waits, the more names and numbers he can collect in his voter contacts/volunteer contacts database. Al Giordano has a clever post up today speculating that if Obama were to wait until the Wednesday of the convention, he could maximize the number of collected names who want to be in on the breaking announcement. For a campaign obsessed with building its ground operation, this upside has to be attractive. Of course, this cuts against the assumption that the longer the wait, the more pressure to deliver a Wow Factor. Then again, given that Obama speaks the next night, it gives a minimized window of VP focus. While the Wow Factor could disappoint, in the grand scope this one day would be a blip and almost immediately attention would be focused elsewhere: Obama’s speech, McCain’s pick, the Republican convention.

Assumption: McCain is better off having the most information when he makes his final choice, so waiting at least until Obama has picked is the logical move. Since Obama must pick no later than August 27 (the night the VP speaks) or August 26 (the traditional night for placing names in nomination), McCain can wait to pick. However, Labor Day weekend begins immediately after the Democratic convention ends. That Friday will be a low tide for attention. Would McCain similarly wait until his convention has started to announce?

Have we fully considered the possibility of McCain stepping on the Democratic Convention by announcing during the week in Denver? It’s unorthodox, it cuts against “unwritten rules” about allowing the other party its own convention, but are those unwritten rules open for question? If McCain announces, the media would have to cover it. They would have to talk about it in real time, no matter what was going on in Denver. Is it a function of McCain wanting specific reporters (all the A-listers will be in Denver before they head to St. Paul) to be on the scene when he announces that would inhibit him from breaking tradition and announcing during Denver Week? Or is it that personal between the candidates that McCain would want to stick it to Obama in this way? The sneeringly negative commercials seem to show a very personal umbrage/jealousy taken by the McCain camp at Obama’s “celebrity,” a niche formerly occupied exclusively by McCain. Would forcing the talking heads to spend time devoted to McCain during the Democrats’ week be just the blunting effect McCain would like to insert against runaway focus on the Democrat? Is it within the realm of possibility that for separate tactical reasons each candidate would consider announcing on Wednesday, August 27?

In the end it’s unlikely McCain would allow Obama the first clear rhetorical shot at framing McCain’s VP pick, which he would surely do in his Thursday speech if given the opportunity. Friday is a bad press day, but if the VP pick were announced bright and early it would immediately shift the discussion off of “Wasn’t Obama wonderful last night?” and onto the birthday boy’s running mate. ABC suggests that McCain’s planned 10,000 person rally in Dayton on Friday would be an optimal VP announcement time, and it’s hard to disagree.

Assumption: With FiveThirtyEight covering both conventions, travel demands, and Labor Day weekend, participating in our annual fantasy football draft is going to be a giant logistical pain this year. At least this one we can be certain of.