Things To Act
Thursday, June 10, 2004
 
Campaign Finance, Bad Reporting
This article last Friday is particularly egregious, and therefore in line for savage refutation:

"The most coveted political seat in the state is being sold to the highest paying candidate, as the Republican gubernatorial primary race continues."

A) It's quite possible to argue that several other political seats (U.S. Senate, for instance) are coveted at least as much.
B) No it isn't. The gubernatorial seat in question will be determined by election. Saying otherwise is stupid. If this were an editorial, being stupid might be justified. However, since it's supposed to be news, it's just tacky.

"Quin Monson, assistant director for the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU, said it is clear higher campaign spending will give the candidate the advantage of more votes.

"Every additional dollar a candidate spends will simply provide him with more visibility," Monson said. "Definitely, more money will translate into more visibility and more votes.""

Note that the reporter does not seem to understand Dr. Monson's point, which is that spending additional money increases a candidate's performance over what he would have gotten had he not spent the additional money. It does not, as the reporter tries to twist it, mean that spending more money than his opponent gives a candidate more votes than his opponent.

""We can never outspend the Huntsman family or Jon Jr.," Starks told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We don't believe the person who spends the most money is always the best candidate or always the winner."

However, history tells the story about the candidate with the deepest pockets. For example, in the 2000 presidential election, President George W. Bush raised more than $193 million while his Democratic opponent Al Gore raised only $132 million.

Closer to home, in the 2002 Second Congressional District race, Democrat Jim Matheson won raising $400,000 more than his opponent Republican John Swallow raised."

The reporter's thesis is undermined rather badly by these examples, properly considered. Gore won more popular votes than Bush, and just barely lost the election. The 2nd District race was also quite close. Dozens of other factors could have swung either race, regardless of money spent. Further undermining this approach, plenty of other examples exist in which the higher funded candidate lost.

Ultimately, money leads to visibility, which is essential to win elections. Spending more money than one otherwise would have spent thus gives one more visibility than one otherwise would have gotten, up to a point. Eventually, diminishing returns set in, and each additional dollar spent returns less added value. Furthermore, many other variables affect a candidate's standing--preexisting impressions, news coverage, etc.

Then there's the problem of sorting out correlation and causation. Looking at any broad campaign finance trend to prove the effects of money on elections is difficult, because it's easy to hypothesize that candidates who are more popular tend to have an easier time raising money.

Finally, using the gubernatorial race to try to prove that money is everything is particularly silly given that Lampropolous didn't even make it out of convention.

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