Wednesday, May 18, 2011
How Much Does Money Matter in a Political Campaign?
But what about the money itself? How much influence does money actually have in a political campaign? History tells us that the answer is: not as much as you might think.
Whether by accident or intelligent design, the early primary states are small, and the media markets relatively inexpensive. Moreover, early primary voters don't get their information from campaign ads. They watch the debates, they attend townhall events, and they often interact directly with the candidates themselves. All of this serves to diminish the influence of money.
The history of politics is littered with the failed campaigns of those who couldn't translate big money into big votes. In 2004, Howard Dean famously screamed after a disappointing third place in Iowa, despite having spent his huge money advantage. In 2008, Ron Paul was an impressive fundraiser, but he could not expand beyond his libertarian fanbase. The same year, Barack Obama outspent Hillary Clinton several times over during the Pennsylvania primary. But the voters simply preferred Hillary and handed her a huge win--even though Obama had all but wrapped up the nomination before the contest in Pennsylvania began.
And perhaps the most relevant example comes from Romney himself during the 2008 Republican primary. In Iowa, Romney spent twenty times as much money as Huckabee did. Yet Huckabee beat him all the same. Iowa voters watched Huckabee at the debates and liked what they saw. They weren't persuaded by Romney or his commercials.
Money plays a greater role further down the road, where bigger states have more expensive media markets and individual voters aren't as engaged in the process. Typically, however, a primary is decided by who wins in the first few states. Judging by their history, early primary voters just aren't for sale.