What Republican Spending Advantage?


New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that money is overrated as a means of winning elections. Citing several examples of big-spending candidates who went down in flames, along with the inconclusive findings of research on the subject, Brooks says spending is "almost never the difference between victory and defeat" and functions mostly as a "talisman." Even if you think money is more important than Brooks makes it out to be, the numbers he cites for this year's elections are a striking rebuttal to Democrats who are pre-emptively blaming their expected losses next month on a Republican advantage in independent spending:

The vast majority of campaign spending is done by candidates and political parties. Over the past year, the Democrats, most of whom are incumbents, have been raising and spending far more than the Republicans.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats in the most competitive House races have raised an average of 47 percent more than Republicans. They have spent 66 percent more, and have about 53 percent more in their war chests. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 7, Democrats running for the House and the Senate spent $1.50 on advertising for every $1 spent by Republicans….

It is true that Republicans have an edge when it comes to outside expenditures. This year, for example, the United States Chamber of Commerce is spending $22 million for Republicans, while the Service Employees International Union is spending about $14 million for Democrats.

But independent spending is about only a tenth of spending by candidates and parties. Democrats have a healthy fear of Karl Rove, born out of experience, but there is no way the $13 million he influences through the group American Crossroads is going to reshape an election in which the two parties are spending something like $1.4 billion collectively.

NEXT: Fear of Government: A Chart

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  1. Because of the citizens united decision, we are no longer a democracy and are now a totalitarian dictatorship because it is now possible for our leaders to be influenced by special interests.

    1. ^^this^^

    2. Damn, beat me to it.

      Pretty much every news story about the election for the last couple of weeks has operated with the unsupported assumption that vast sums of money from corporations (probably foreign) are flowing to the Republicans. Usually described as “a flood of corporate money” or other aquatic terms like “tidal wave”. There never is any real numbers or research behind it, but they will usually prop up an ‘expert’ to expand on the ‘fact’ of the influx of corporate money to the Republicans. The ‘expert’ is usually a reporter, but sometimes a poly-sci professor. They are quick to opine about how dangerous the flood of corporate money is, but they always seem to skip the part where they actually document the existence of the flood.

      1. the part where they actually document the existence of the flood.

        Genesis, right? I’m a bit rusty on my bible studies.

        1. Naw. The one that happened about 6,000 years later:

      2. Even after the CoC proved that it was not possible for them to be using foriegn money and pointed that out to Obama and Gibbs, both continue to make that claim.

        Preident Obama is a god damned liar and he fucking knows it but doesn’t care.

        Obama Senior: Did you chop down my cherry tree?

        Obama Junior (covered in cherrywood chips, holding and ax and sweating profusely: No, dad.

        1. Bush did it. He just asked me to hold this axe for him while he went to get a Slurpee.

      3. Or that Team Blue gets these donations too.

        You know, because Team Blue is principled against that eeeeeeeeeeeeeevil corporate money. Capitalism and corporations and greed and golden parachutes, or something.

  2. Republicans have an edge this year because they are not Democrats. End of story.

    1. Kinda like Obama benefited mightily from being “not Bush”. Hell, he picked up a Nobel prize for being “not Bush”.

      Funny how he turned out to be “pretty much Bush” in the end.

      1. He’s certainly “less Bush” than McCain would have been.

        But you are right. Technical factors heavily favored the Democrats last election, just like technical factors heavily favor the Republicans this time.

        1. For anyone keeping score:

          Bush = 1 Bush
          Obama = 1.5 Bush
          McCain = 2+ Bush

          1. I’m not sure about that. McCain might have given on wiretapping when David Brooks wrote a “I am very disappoint” column in NYT.

  3. There was a bit in the original Freakanomics book on this:…..cs_th.html

    When candidates obtain large amounts of money it is usually because they are seen to be the best candidate or the one mostly likely to win. Based on Levitt’s study of campaign spending by the same candidates against the same competitors over decades of US congressional elections, it was found that ‘the amount of money spent by the candidates hardly matters at all. A winning candidate can cut his spending in half and lose only 1% of the vote. Meanwhile, a losing candidate who doubles his spending can expect to shift the vote in his favor by only that same 1%’. The Freakonomics authors conclude that campaign spending has a very small impact on election outcomes, regardless of who does the spending.

    1. I think that this is a good point to be made. Corporations and other powerful entities want to be seen as supporting the winners. Republicans are going to win this year for other reasons, so of course the corporations who want to suckle the government teat are going to back them. It would be interesting to see numbers on who contributes to whom in various election years.

    2. But this year is different. Citizens United and stuff.

      You know.

  4. “New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that money is overrated as a means of winning elections.”

    When you’re doing analysis like this, it’s important to look at things from the perspective of the participants–the question isn’t about how David Brooks votes.

    Despite David Brooks ingenious observation, if I were a candidate running for office, I’d think having more money would be better than having less.

    From Candidate A’s perspective, isn’t it more about how well he does if he spends $2 million vs. spending $5 million?

    …and having more money to spend always being comparatively better than having less to spend?

    Regardless of how much your opponent spends.

    1. There’s a chicken and the egg phenomenon here. That is, are politicians likely to be elected because they have a lot of money, or do they have lots of money because they are likely to be elected? That is, donors are more likely to donate to a candidate they think will win than one they think won’t. The failure of a lot of self-funded candidates show that money alone won’t buy an office. A current example would be Meg Whitman, who has spent over $100 million of her own money in California and probably will lose.

      1. Very good points,.

      2. Even in Meg Whitman’s case, it isn’t about how much her opponent is spending.

        It’s about how much she should spend based on a marginal analysis.

        Especially in eMeg’s case, the question isn’t how well she’ll do versus her opponent on spending; it’s about how well she’ll do if she spends more versus how well she’ll do if she spends less.

        It’s hard to imagine how spending more could be bad for a candidate–unless their advertising is deeply offensive or wrong somehow, and then the problem isn’t with the spending.

        1. Spending more helps a little, but not much. Freakonomics said doubling your spending gets you 1% more of the vote and halving your spending gets you 1% less-assuming you are considered a serious candidate in the first place.

          Basically, once you are considered a serious candidate with a chance of winning, spending more is only barely useful.

          1. But this year is DIFFERENT!


      3. “are politicians likely to be elected because they have a lot of money, or do they have lots of money because they are likely to be elected”

        Yes, certainly, which is why the first race is to lock up donors and chase everyone else out. (See Rahm Emanuel in Chicago right now.)

        That said, as we in advertising have always known, all advertising can do is take you to the point where you can either succeed or fall on your face… in front of the whole frickin’ world.

  5. What, Brooks is A-OK this week?

  6. Normally I like David Brooks, but the numbers in this article are just plain wrong…
    The enthusiasm gap, anti-business policies from obama are the reasons why there’s more money on the right than the left.
    Plenty of good critiques of this article out there on the internet…

    1. 2nd for eric@12:10. Brooks misrepresented the numbers to make his point. If he had reported the actual fundraising data, (see e.g. this story from Bloomberg for an example of Rove’s actual dollar figures vs. the $13 mil reported by Brooks) they would have refudiated his argument. Can’t have that! So instead he just … made some shit up.

      1. It’s what I do.

  7. Liberals live in a world in which it’s shameful for Michael Huffington to spend his money on electing himself, but right and proper for his ex-wife to spend it on electing other people under the guise of news.

  8. Yo, Hit n’ Run:

    Howsabout an open thread where the Reason staffers and the commentariat can go on record with their predictions for the elections?

    Then bump it back up to the top on November 3, for mockery and abuse.

  9. Can you imagine what a fundraising visit from Rahm Emmanuel must be like?

    Beefy strategists cracking their knuckles in the background, while he goes through your desk. . . .

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