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Citizens United Not End of the World

The results are in from the 2012 presidential election and the winner is… not money. We’ve certainly heard ample warnings, especially from Democrats, about the all-powerful torrent of money that was going to buy the 2012 elections as a result of the Citizens United ruling. But as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads SuperPAC, and his affiliated 501C(4) Crossroads GPS amply demonstrate, money’s ability to influence anything is remarkably limited. The Center for Responsive Politics tallied it up like so:

In the presidential election, American Crossroads dropped $84.6 million opposing Obama and spent almost $5 million just in the last week, while Crossroads GPS reported spending $15.3 million of its own throughout the cycle. Although most of the two groups’ funds were spent opposing Democratic candidates, they also threw in just more than $13 million supporting Romney.

Minus the millions spent against the president, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were invested heavily in congressional elections, spending the most in Senate races. Including Obama and Romney, American Crossroads spent money for or against 20 federal candidates in 14 races, while Crossroads GPS focused on 27 in 24 contests.

By our calculations, American Crossroads came out on the winning side in three of its 14 races, with one still too close to call — that’s about 21 percent. GPS did only slightly better, getting its desired outcome in just seven of the 24 elections it spent on; one contest also remains undecided. GPS’ success rate comes to 29 percent.

Of course, political scientists have been saying ‘I told you so’ for a while now. Garret Jones glosses the literature on the subject:

In the olden days, scientists knew that money didn’t noticeably matter for incumbents: If incumbents won or lost it wasn’t because of differences in campaign spending.  But in crude regressions, it looked like money mattered for challengers. Now, with fancier regressions, it appears money matters little for challengers as well, especially in well-studied, data-heavy House elections.

The old results were driven by omitted variables: Weak incumbents drew in stronger challengers, and hence more challenger cash.  The challenger cash was asign of the challenger’s relative strength, not much of a cause of her relative strength.

The evidence is that money is not as important in determining outcomes of election as people think. Apparently, we aren’t puppets of the rich and powerful who mindlessly follow the plutocrat with the deepest pockets. Apparently, democracy isn’t a total sham. Apparently voters follow their own perception of their own interests and values when they vote and are not so easily bamboozled as campaign consultants would have politicians believe.

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