A “kangaroo ticket” is a ticket for higher office in which the person at the bottom of the ticket is considered more electable or is more well-known than the person at the top.
The Chicago Tribune defines the term as: “A combination of nominees in which the running mate is more appealing than the presidential candidate (possibly coined to refer to a kangaroo’s propulsion from its hind legs, or to the weight it carries in its bottom half).”
The term dates back to Mississippi politics from the 1840s, as seen in this news clipping from the Vicksburg Whig, which describes the ticket of James K. Polk for President and Silas Wright for Vice President as a “kangaroo ticket,” since Wright was considered more electable. The editor explains his rationale for the term: “A Kangaroo Ticket, by G-d – strongest in the hind legs.”
While so-called “kangaroo tickets” are rare in national politics, there are some notable examples of the term being used throughout history, as on October 23, 1971, when the New York Times reported: “[John Connally would run for Vice President if asked by President Nixon, but] he would insist that the Nixon-Connally partnership be advertised as a ‘kangaroo ticket.’”
In a 1984 New York Post article, the author described one Texas politician’s reaction to FDR’s 1934 nomination as a “kangaroo ticket,” adding: “It’s stronger in the hindquarters than in the front.”
In 1860, during the election that eventually led to the Lincoln presidency, in the lead up to the Civil War, the little-known Constitutional Union Party put forth the ticket of John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Everett was an esteemed orator and lecturer from the North and Bell was a more reserved and lesser-known candidate from the South. This unusual combination of candidates earned them the label of “kangaroo ticket,” as reported in Douglas Egerton’s book about the election of 1860 called Year of Meteors.
Perhaps the most notable visible depiction of the concept of a “kangaroo ticket” can be seen here in this political cartoon from Judge Magazine, mocking the ticket of Grover Cleveland and Thomas Hendricks for the Democratic nomination in 1884.