The Lessons of the Bloomberg and Steyer Campaigns
Thinking Citizen Blog — Sunday is Political Process, Campaign Strategy, and Candidate Selection Day
Is the lesson of the Bloomberg and Steyer campaigns that it’s all about the money or that it isn’t? I’ve heard experts passionately argue both sides. Are all opinions on the subject created equal? And more generally do the biggest spenders almost always win because of all the money or is the big fact that winners attract money? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG — what’ s the takeaway? $500 MM down the drain or well spent?
1. “The billionaire’s biggest contribution may be in exposing in spectacular fashion the canard that money can buy the Presidency. No candidate ever spent more money more quickly, and he was able to make himself a contender. But the money and ads were no substitute for a message that better motivated followers and resonated with voters.” (Wall Street Journal)
2. He succeeded in derailing the progressive freight train. “The strategy, however cynical, worked, even if the candidate didn’t.” (Charlie Warzel, New York Times.)
3. His debate performance in Las Vegas: “a real time reminder of all the things that money can’t buy.” (Bret Stephens, NYT)
NB: Hand guns were once marketed as “equalizers” (they put the physically weak on the same footing as the strong). Is money an “equalizer” that allows those without charisma or stature to compete with the charismatic and stature-privileged “haves” of the world?
TOM STEYER — spent $250 MM and won 0 delegates
1. But he did manage to qualify for the debates.
2. He did reach 3% in national polls.
3. He did win 11.3% of the primary vote in South Carolina.
NB; In general, self-financed candidates do not do well. “A candidate’s chance of winning a primary or general election tends to decrease as the amount of personal funds invested in their campaigns increases.” (Jennifer Steen, 2006) An exception: Bruce Rauner’s victory in the 2014 gubernatorial election in Illinois. He was defeated in 2018.
DOES MONEY CAUSE WINNING OR DOES WINNING ATTRACT MONEY?
1. Yes — the biggest spenders win most elections — 90% in the case of House races.
2. But don’t confuse cause and effect.
3. “Big money donors like to curry favor with candidates they know are a sure thing.”
NB: Remember: “80 to 90 percent of congressional races have outcomes that are effectively predetermined by the district’s partisan makeup.” (FiveThirtyEight)