Money in politics

From this week’s Bloomberg column from Tyler Cowen

Nor did Biden’s cash advantage give him a decisive edge against Trump, even if he wins the election in the final tally. The role of money in politics is overrated, and it may be falling still. It just doesn’t cost much to use social media effectively.

This report from the Centre for Responsive Politics projects a figure of $14 billion for the 2020 election. By Mid-October they report that Democrats had spent $6.9 billion, compared to $3.8 billion for Republicans. The figures have been reported by CNBC and the NYT, so are presumably accurate.

Trump had the best popular vote performance of any Republican ever, in the midst of a bungled pandemic, while being outspent by Democrats 2:1. A few things to consider…

  • The relationship between polarization and election spending is interesting. It seems possible that polarization increases donations, while simultaneously making political advertising less effective.
  • Democrats are generally the ones most vocal about the corrosive effect of money in politics, but judging by their fundraising, are the most effective at mobilizing it (at least certain types of it). Might this make Democrats less enthusiastic about changes to Citizens United?
  • If money is less effective than once thought, could it impact the democratic party’s internal politics. Does it reduce the cost to considering policy that alienates corporate donors?
  • Even if money is becoming less effective, there may be little incentive to raise less of it if parties are a) unsure about the exact level at which its impact diminishes, and b) convinced their opponents won’t follow suit. If raising money is relatively easy, its presumably always going to be better to have more than less. 
  • In addition, raising money probably has lots of positive spillovers for parties, they get to build relationships with voters and/or influential groups, they get to collect data, and they get to test messaging.

Please check out the full report, its full of fascinating breakdowns.

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