People on both sides of the aisle seem to be unhappy with the amount of money involved in American presidential campaigns. After all, with the introduction of super PACs, candidates and their supporters are spending more in a month than many earn in a lifetime. However, I’m becoming less convinced that money matters all that much in a candidates success.
Now, a couple of disclaimers and caveats to start. First, electoral systems and domestic politics are not my areas of expertise, so I welcome any insights from Evan because he knows far more about these subfields of political science. Second, I do think that one needs some degree of wealth to run successfully. After all, campaigning is expensive, so unless you meet a minimum wealth threshold, high office is probably off limits. In other words, my argument is not that wealth is irrelevant, just that it has massively decreasing returns after a certain point.
I am beginning to believe this primarily because this election season seems to be openly defying the logic of more money wins. After all, Jeb, the most well-funded candidate on the Republican side, was one of the first major candidates to drop out. He was able to spend more, he had the backing of the donor class, and the establishment supported him. Nevertheless, no matter how much he spent, he didn’t seem to get any traction. Recently, Rubio and his PACs spent something along the lines of 20 million in Florida over a two-week stretch all in the hopes of stopping Trump. Needless to say, that was 20 million down the drain. Finally, Bernie outspent Clinton in Ohio, North Carolina, and Missouri, yet he got absolutely killed yesterday.
Do I think there is too much money in politics? Almost certainly. There are probably more efficient ways to spend the millions that get blown on ads, and the campaign season is way too long. It sucks up air time and it forces politicians to start campaigning so early that they barely have time to govern. Do I think all that money has a significant impact on the outcome of the election? Probably not. Admittedly, my data is purely anecdotal, and I’m using a small-n sample size without process tracing, so my methodology would never stand up to peer review. Nevertheless, I’m becoming less and less convinced that anyone can just spend their way to the White House. I’m curious what you think, Evan. And I’m also interested in what readers think. Definitely let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed something.