Just how much impact does money have on an election? There's been a lot thrown around for this election. I weighed in on the Supreme Court's recent money fiasco in Mocking the Supreme Court decision on election finance. However, David Brook's analysis of campaign spending and its influence on elections brings a different perspective on the role of money. Brooks' research found that Democrats, most of whom are incumbents have been "raising and spending far more than the Republicans." Despite their largesse, the Democrats have been sinking in the polls. Brooks' conclusion is that the advertisement buys just don't make that much difference.
Political scientists have studied campaign spending for years, Brooks says, and found that campaign spending has no outsize role on the election--in spite of what candidates, the consultants and the political press imagine.
There are numerous situations in which money seems to have made no impact whatsoever. As Brooks points out, when Phil Gramm and John Connally ran for president, money just didn't make much difference. In 2006, Republican incumbents raised over $100 million more than Democrats, but still lost the election. Today's NYTimes has an article about Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina's financial investment. Whitman and Fiorina have put in far more money than their Democratic rivals, yet it seems to no avail. In fact, Whitman with all her billions is running 10 points behind Jerry Brown. She will be the third wealthy candidate to lose a major California election. Fiorina is still a bit behind Ms. Boxer.
The most significant media coverage is about the the skyrocketing spending of independent groups. Although Democratic incumbents have raised far more than the their rivals, the spending of independent groups for Republicans far outweighs the Democratic groups. Thanks to the Supreme Court.
Will Karl Rove and all the independent monies reshape the election? I think yes. Brooks says no. Should I trust Brooks' research?
So what do you do when a writers's research findings differ from your gut? Of course, if it's unimportant, you probably ignore the research. But elections are important to me. When the summary of research is a rejection of my gut, my intuition and my emotions--and it's important--I look for more research and another expert. Fortunately, I happen to know another expert, Dr. Phil Shively of the University of Minnesota, who is an expert on US voter behavior and finances.
Here's what Shively had to say about Brooks' rsearch: "Brooks had it right. Generally speaking, beyond some threshold level huge additional amounts of money for a campaign don't make that much difference. Just do a thought experiment--how much effect do you think the last Michelle Bachman ad you saw had on you?" My response to his question? Zip. Nada. Absolutely no effect whatsover. I still wouldn't vote for her if I lived in her district--which I don't. So with both Brooks and Shively in agreement, I've learned something. I was wrong about the Supreme Court's decision. The money from independent sources won't impact an election significantly.
But Shively went on to say something even more important about the money chasing. "The really corrosive effect of the big spending, I think, is the effect it has on public oficials. They can't resist raising as much money as possible, just in case it does make a difference. And that means that they spend much of their time in office chasing donations, and feel beholden to those who have given." So in the final analysis, that's the real issue of importance.
Well, what do you think? How do you respond to the research?